Parliament of Australia

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Parliament of Australia
44th Parliament
Coat of arms or logo
Type
Type Bicameral
Houses Senate
House of Representatives
History
Founded 9 May 1901
Leadership
Monarch Elizabeth II
Since 6 February 1952
Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove
Since 28 March 2014
President of the Senate John Hogg, Labor
Since 26 August 2008
Speaker of the House of Representatives Bronwyn Bishop, Liberal
Since 12 November 2013
Structure
Seats 226
76 senators
150 MPs
Australian Senate, 44th Parliament (2013–2014).svg
Senate political groups

Government (33)

Opposition (31)

Crossbench (11)

Vacant (1)

*4 LNP senators sit in the Liberal party room and 1 in the National party room
Australian House of Representatives, 44th Parliament.svg
House of Representatives political groups

Government (90)

Opposition (54)

Crossbench (5)

Vacant (1)

*16 LNP MPs sit in the Liberal party room and 6 in the National party room
Elections
Senate last election 7 September 2013
House of Representatives last election 7 September 2013
Meeting place
Parliament House, Canberra.jpg
Parliament House
Canberra, ACT, Australia
Website
www.aph.gov.au

The Parliament of Australia, officially "The Parliament of the Commonwealth" but commonly referred to as the Commonwealth Parliament or the Federal Parliament, is the legislative branch of the government of Australia. It consists of three elements: the Queen, the Senate and the House of Representatives.[1] The Queen is represented by the Governor-General.[2] The combination of two elected houses, in which the members of the Senate represent the six States and the two major self-governing Territories while the members of the House represent constituencies according to population, is modelled on the United States Congress. Through both houses, however, there is a fused executive, drawn from the Westminster System.[3]

The upper house, the Senate, consists of 76 members: twelve for each state, and two each for the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. Senators are elected using a form of proportional voting. The lower house, the House of Representatives, currently consists of 150 members, who represent districts known as electoral divisions (commonly referred to as "electorates" or "seats"). The number of members is not fixed, but can vary with boundary changes resulting from electoral redistributions, which are required on a regular basis. The most recent overall increase in the size of the House, which came into effect at the 1984 election, increased the number of members from 125 to 148. It reduced to 147 at the 1993 election, returned to 148 at the 1996 election, and has been 150 since the 2001 election. Each division elects one member using compulsory preferential voting. The two Houses meet in separate chambers of Parliament House on Capital Hill in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.

The previous Parliament, as elected at the 2010 election, was the 43rd Federal Parliament since Federation. It was the first hung parliament in the House of Representatives since the 1940 election, with Labor and the Coalition winning 72 seats each of 150 total. Six crossbenchers held the balance of power: Greens MP Adam Bandt and independent MPs Andrew Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor declared their support for Labor on confidence and supply, independent MP Bob Katter and National Party of Western Australia MP Tony Crook declared their support for the Coalition on confidence and supply. The resulting 76–74 margin entitled Labor to form a minority government. The Labor government increased their parliamentary majority on 24 November 2011 from 75–74 to 76–73 when the Coalition's Peter Slipper became Speaker of the House of Representatives, replacing Labor's Harry Jenkins. This majority was reduced to 75 once more, when Wilkie withdrew his support for the Gillard government on 21 January 2012. This reduced to 74 once more with Slipper not voting when he temporarily stood down from the Speaker's role, and Anna Burke (ALP) became acting Speaker. National Party of Western Australia MP Tony Crook joined the Coalition in 2012, increasing the Coalition's numbers to 72. Craig Thomson was elected as an ALP member but quit the party in 2012. This means that the Government holds 71 seats and the opposition holds 72. The situation changed yet again on 9 October 2012, when Peter Slipper resigned as Speaker and returned to the back bench, resuming his voting rights as an independent member. Anna Burke was elected Speaker in her own right the same day.

In the 76-seat Senate, where no party tends to have a majority of seats, the Greens gained the sole balance of power with a total of nine seats, previously holding a shared balance of power with the Family First Party and independent Nick Xenophon. Labor holding 31 seats, they require an additional eight non-Labor votes to pass legislation. The Coalition holds 34 seats, while the two remaining seats are occupied by Xenophon and Democratic Labor Party Senator John Madigan.

History[edit]

The Big Picture, opening of the Parliament of Australia, 9 May 1901, by Tom Roberts

The Commonwealth Parliament was opened on 9 May 1901 in Melbourne, Victoria by Prince George, Duke of Cornwall and York, later King George V. The only building in Melbourne that was large enough to accommodate the 14,000 guests was the Royal Exhibition Building. Thereafter, from 1901 to 1927, the Parliament met in Parliament House, Melbourne, which it borrowed from the Parliament of Victoria (which sat, instead, in the Royal Exhibition Building). However, it had always been intended that the national Parliament would sit in a new national capital.[4] On 9 May 1927, it moved to the new national capital of Canberra, where it met in what is now called Old Parliament House. Intended to be temporary, this building was to house the Parliament for more than 60 years. The new and permanent Parliament House was opened on 9 May 1988 by Queen Elizabeth II.

Composition[edit]

Canberra from Mount Ainslie: across the lake are Old Parliament House and then the new Parliament House

Under Section 1 of the Constitution, the Queen of Australia is one of the components of Parliament. The constitutional functions of the Crown are given to the Governor-General, whom the Monarch appoints on the advice of the Prime Minister. Specifically, the Constitution gives the Governor-General the power to assent to legislation, refuse to assent, or to reserve a bill for the Queen's pleasure. However, by convention, the Governor-General does not exercise these powers other than in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister.

The upper house of the Australian Parliament is the Senate, which consists of 76 members. Like the United States Senate, on which it was partly modelled, the Australian Senate includes an equal number of Senators from each state, regardless of population. Unlike it, however, the Australian Senate has always been directly elected. (The U.S. Senate was directly elected only from 1913.)

The Constitution allows Parliament to determine the number of Senators by legislation, provided that the six original states are equally represented. Furthermore, the Constitution provides that each original state is entitled to at least six senators. However, neither of these provisions applies to any newly admitted states, or to territories. Pursuant to an Act of Parliament passed in 1973, senators are elected to represent the territories (excluding Norfolk Island). Currently, the two Northern Territory Senators represent the residents of the Northern Territory as well as the Australian external territories of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The two Australian Capital Territory Senators represent the Australian Capital Territory and the Jervis Bay Territory.

Until 1949, each state elected the constitutional minimum of six Senators. This number increased to ten from the 1949 election, and was increased again to twelve from the 1984 election.

Parliament may determine the number of members of the House of Representatives. However the Constitution provides that this number must be "as nearly as practicable, twice the number of Senators"; this requirement is commonly called the "nexus provision." Hence, the House presently consists of 150 members. Each state is allocated seats based on its population; however, each original state, regardless of size, is guaranteed at least five seats. The Constitution does not guarantee representation for the territories. Parliament granted a seat to the Northern Territory in 1922, and to the Australian Capital Territory in 1948; these territorial representatives, however, had only limited voting rights until 1968.

From 1901 to 1949, the House consisted of either 74 or 75 members (the Senate had 36). Between 1949 and 1984, it had between 121 and 127 members (the Senate had 60 until 1975, when it increased to 64). In 1977, the High Court ordered that the size of the House be reduced from 127 to 124 members in order to comply with the nexus provision. In 1984, both the Senate and the House were enlarged; since then the House has had between 148 and 150 members (the Senate has 76).

A number of people have been members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives at different times in their parliamentary career (see List of people who have served in both Houses of the Australian Parliament for details.)

Individuals with foreign citizenship are prohibited from sitting in either house of parliament by Section 44 of the Constitution of Australia. In the landmark case Sue v Hill the High Court of Australia ruled that the United Kingdom is a foreign power for purposes of this section despite the fact that at the time of the drafting of the Constitution all Australians were British subjects.

Procedure[edit]

The Australian Senate chamber

Each of the two Houses elects a presiding officer. The presiding officer of the Senate is called the President; that of the House is the Speaker. Elections for these positions are by secret ballot. Both offices are conventionally filled by members of the governing party, but the presiding officers are expected to oversee debate and enforce the rules in an impartial manner.

The Constitution authorises Parliament to set the quorum for each chamber. The quorum of the Senate is one-quarter of the total membership (nineteen); that of the House of Representatives is one-fifth of the total membership (thirty). In theory, if a quorum is not present, then a House may not continue to meet. In practice, members usually agree not to notice that a quorum is not present, so that debates on routine bills can continue without other members having to be present. Sometimes the Opposition will "call a quorum" as a tactic to annoy the Government or delay proceedings, particularly when the Opposition feels it has been unfairly treated in the House. It is the responsibility of the Government whips to ensure that, when a quorum is called, enough Government members are present to make up a quorum.

Both Houses may determine motions by voice vote: the presiding officer puts the question, and, after listening to shouts of "Aye" and "No" from the members, announces the result. The announcement of the presiding officer settles the question, unless at least two members demand a "division", or a recorded vote. In that case the bells are rung throughout Parliament House summoning Senators or Members to the chamber. During a division, members who favour the motion move to the right side of the chamber, whereas those opposed move to the left. They are then counted by the "tellers" (Government and Opposition whips), and the motion is passed or defeated accordingly. In the Senate, in order not to deprive a state of a vote in what is supposed to be a states' house, the President is permitted a vote along with other Senators (however, that right is rarely exercised); in the case of a tie, the President does not have a casting vote and the motion fails. In the House of Representatives, the Speaker does not vote, except in the case of a tie (see casting vote).

In the event of conflict between the two Houses over the final form of legislation, the Constitution provides for a simultaneous dissolution of both Houses – known as a double dissolution. If the conflict continues after such an election, the governor-general may convene a joint sitting of both Houses to consider the disputed legislation. This has occurred on only one occasion, after the election following the 1974 double dissolution. However, there are other occasions when the two houses meet as one: see Joint meetings of the Australian Parliament.

Functions[edit]

The main foyer in Parliament House
Interior of Parliament House

The principal function of the Parliament is to pass laws, or legislation. Any Senator or Member may introduce a proposed law (a bill), except for a money bill (a bill proposing an expenditure or levying a tax), which must be introduced in the House of Representatives. In practice, the great majority of bills are introduced by ministers. Bills introduced by other Members are called private members' bills. All bills must be passed by both Houses to become law. The Senate has the same legislative powers as the House, except that it may not amend money bills, only pass or reject them. The enacting formula for Acts of Parliament is simply "The Parliament of Australia enacts:".

The Parliament performs other functions besides legislation. It can discuss urgency motions or matters of public importance: these provide a forum for debates on public policy matters. Senators and Members can move motions of censure against the government or against individual ministers. On most sitting days in both Houses there is a session called Question Time at which Senators and Members address questions to the Prime Minister and other ministers. Senators and Members can also present petitions from their constituents. Both Houses have an extensive system of committees in which draft bills are debated, evidence is taken and public servants are questioned. There are also joint committees, composed of members from both Houses.

Relationship with the Government[edit]

A minister is not required to be a Senator or Member of the House of Representatives at the time of their appointment, but their office is forfeited if they do not become a member of either house within three months of their appointment.

This provision was included in the Constitution (section 64) to enable the inaugural Ministry, led by Edmund Barton, to be appointed on 1 January 1901, even though the first federal elections were not scheduled to be held until 29 and 30 March.

After the 1949 election, Bill Spooner was appointed a Minister in the Fourth Menzies Ministry on 19 December, however his term as a senator did not begin until 22 February 1950.

The provision was also used after the disappearance and presumed death of the Liberal Prime Minister Harold Holt in December 1967. The Liberal Party elected John Gorton, then a Senator, as its new leader, and he was sworn in as Prime Minister on 10 January 1968 (following an interim ministry led by John McEwen). On 1 February, Gorton resigned from the Senate to stand for the 24 February by-election in Holt's former House of Representatives electorate of Higgins. For 22 days (2 to 23 February inclusive) he was Prime Minister while a member of neither house of parliament.

On a number of occasions when Ministers have retired from their seats prior to an election, or stood but lost their own seats in the election, they have retained their Ministerial offices until the next government is sworn in.

Privileges[edit]

Members of the Australian Parliament do not have legal immunity: they can be arrested and tried for any offence. They do, however, have Parliamentary privilege: they cannot be sued for anything they say in Parliament about each other or about persons outside the Parliament. This privilege extends to reporting in the media of anything a Senator or Member says in Parliament. The proceedings of parliamentary committees, wherever they meet, are also covered by privilege, and this extends to witnesses before such committees.

There is a legal offence called contempt of Parliament. A person who speaks or acts in a manner contemptuous of the Parliament or its members can be tried and, if convicted, imprisoned. The Parliament used to have the power to hear such cases itself, and did so in the Browne–Fitzpatrick privilege case, 1955. This power has now been delegated to the courts. There have been few convictions. In May 2007, Harriet Swift, an anti-logging activist from New South Wales was convicted and reprimanded for contempt of Parliament, after she wrote fictitious press releases and letters purporting to be Federal MP Gary Nairn as an April Fools' Day prank.[5]

Broadcasting[edit]

Radio broadcasts of Parliamentary proceedings began on 10 July 1946.[6] They were originally broadcast on ABC Radio. Since August 1994 they have been broadcast on ABC NewsRadio, a government-owned channel set up specifically for this function. It operates 24 hours a day and broadcasts other news items when parliament is not sitting.

The first televised parliamentary event was the historic 1974 Joint Sitting. Regular free-to-air television broadcasts of Question Time began in August 1990 from the Senate and February 1991 from the House of Representatives. One chamber's Question Time is televised live, and the other chamber's Question Time is recorded and broadcast later that day. Other free-to-air televised broadcasts include: the Treasurer's Budget speech and the Leader of the Opposition's reply to the Budget two days later; the opening of Parliament by the Queen; the swearing-in of Governors-General; and addresses to the Parliament by visiting heads of state.

Access to free extensive daily proceedings is now available live on the Internet.[7]

Lower house primary, TPP and seat results since 1937[edit]

ALP = Australian Labor Party, L+NP = grouping of Liberal/National/LNP/CLP Coalition Parties (and predecessors), Oth = other parties and independents.

House of Representatives results and polling
Primary vote TPP vote Seats
ALP L+NP Oth. ALP L+NP ALP L+NP Oth. Total
7 Sep 2013 election 33.4% 45.6% 21.1% 46.5% 53.5% 55 90 5 150
3–5 Sep 2013 poll 33% 46% 21% 46% 54%
21 Aug 2010 election 38.0% 43.3% 18.8% 50.1% 49.9% 72 72 6 150
17–19 Aug 2010 poll 36.2% 43.4% 20.4% 50.2% 49.8%
24 Nov 2007 election 43.4% 42.1% 14.5% 52.7% 47.3% 83 65 2 150
20–22 Nov 2007 poll 44% 43% 13% 52% 48%
9 Oct 2004 election 37.6% 46.7% 15.7% 47.3% 52.7% 60 87 3 150
6–7 Oct 2004 poll 39% 45% 16% 50% 50%
10 Nov 2001 election 37.8% 43.0% 19.2% 49.0% 51.0% 65 82 3 150
7–8 Nov 2001 poll 38.5% 46% 15.5% 47% 53%
3 Oct 1998 election 40.1% 39.5% 20.4% 51.0% 49.0% 67 80 1 148
30 Sep–1 Oct 1998 poll 44% 40% 16% 53% 47%
2 Mar 1996 election 38.7% 47.3% 14.0% 46.4% 53.6% 49 94 5 148
28–29 Feb 1996 poll 40.5% 48% 11.5% 46.5% 53.5%
13 Mar 1993 election 44.9% 44.3% 10.7% 51.4% 48.6% 80 65 2 147
11 Mar 1993 poll 44% 45% 11% 49.5% 50.5%
24 Mar 1990 election 39.4% 43.5% 17.1% 49.9% 50.1% 78 69 1 148
11 Jul 1987 election 45.8% 46.1% 8.1% 50.8% 49.2% 86 62 0 148
1 Dec 1984 election 47.6% 45.0% 7.4% 51.8% 48.2% 82 66 0 148
5 Mar 1983 election 49.5% 43.6% 6.9% 53.2% 46.8% 75 50 0 125
18 Oct 1980 election 45.2% 46.3% 8.5% 49.6% 50.4% 51 74 0 125
10 Dec 1977 election 39.7% 48.1% 12.2% 45.4% 54.6% 38 86 0 124
13 Dec 1975 election 42.8% 53.1% 4.1% 44.3% 55.7% 36 91 0 127
18 May 1974 election 49.3% 44.9% 5.8% 51.7% 48.3% 66 61 0 127
2 Dec 1972 election 49.6% 41.5% 8.9% 52.7% 47.3% 67 58 0 125
25 Oct 1969 election 47.0% 43.3% 9.7% 50.2% 49.8% 59 66 0 125
26 Nov 1966 election 40.0% 50.0% 10.0% 43.1% 56.9% 41 82 1 124
30 Nov 1963 election 45.5% 46.0% 8.5% 47.4% 52.6% 50 72 0 122
9 Dec 1961 election 47.9% 42.1% 10.0% 50.5% 49.5% 60 62 0 122
22 Nov 1958 election 42.8% 46.6% 10.6% 45.9% 54.1% 45 77 0 122
10 Dec 1955 election 44.6% 47.6% 7.8% 45.8% 54.2% 47 75 0 122
29 May 1954 election 50.0% 46.8% 3.2% 50.7% 49.3% 57 64 0 121
28 Apr 1951 election 47.6% 50.3% 2.1% 49.3% 50.7% 52 69 0 121
10 Dec 1949 election 46.0% 50.3% 3.7% 49.0% 51.0% 47 74 0 121
28 Sep 1946 election 49.7% 39.3% 11.0% 54.1% 45.9% 43 26 5 74
21 Aug 1943 election 49.9% 23.0% 27.1% 58.2% 41.8% 49 19 6 74
21 Sep 1940 election 40.2% 43.9% 15.9% 50.3% 49.7% 32 36 6 74
23 Oct 1937 election 43.2% 49.3% 7.5% 49.4% 50.6% 29 44 2 74
Polling conducted by Newspoll and published in The Australian. Three percent margin of error.


See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Constitution of Australia, section 1.
  2. ^ Constitution of Australia, section 2.
  3. ^ Williams, George; Brennan, Sean; Lynch, Andrew (2014). Blackshield and Williams Australian Constitutional Law and Theory: Commentary and Materials (6 ed.). Leichhardt, NSW: Federation P. p. 2. ISBN 9781862879188. .
  4. ^ Constitution of Australia, section 125: "The seat of Government of the Commonwealth shall be determined by the Parliament, and shall be within territory which shall have been granted to or acquired by the Commonwealth, and shall be vested in and belong to the Commonwealth, and shall be in the State of New South Wales, and be distant not less than one hundred miles from Sydney. Such territory shall contain an area of not less than one hundred square miles, and such portion thereof as shall consist of Crown lands shall be granted to the Commonwealth without any payment therefor. The Parliament shall sit at Melbourne until it meet at the seat of Government."
  5. ^ Sydney Morning Herald, "Activist contempt over April Fools stunt", 31 May 2007. Accessed 1 June 2007.
  6. ^ Parliamentary Library: Australian Political Records (Research Note 42 1997–98)[dead link]
  7. ^ "Live Broadcasting: Parliament of Australia". Webcast.aph.gov.au. Retrieved 2013-09-08. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Gavin Souter, Acts of Parliament: A narrative history of Australia's federal legislature (1988)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°18′25″S 149°07′32″E / 35.30694°S 149.12556°E / -35.30694; 149.12556