Acting prime minister
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An acting prime minister is a cabinet member (often in Westminster system countries) who is serving in the role of prime minister, whilst the individual who normally holds the position is unable to do so. The role is often performed by the deputy prime minister (where that position exists), or by another senior minister. The office is commonly used when the prime minister is absent from the territory of that nation, or when the prime minister is in ill health.
An acting prime minister should be distinguished from a caretaker prime minister, which refers to an outgoing prime minister following an electoral defeat, and who by convention does not implement new policies or an interim prime minister who is appointed to perform a similar role to a caretaker prime minister, but who is typically not a prime minister at the time of being appointed.
Within a Commonwealth nation, the office of Acting Prime Minister, like that of Prime Minister is found only in convention, and is not legislated. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, or an equivalent ministry, drafts, reviews and publishes any formal conventions (though these are expressly non-binding in a court of law).
According to House of Representatives Practice, an official publication of the Parliament of Australia, the Prime Minister of Australia "may make temporary ministerial arrangements without reference to the Governor-General. A Minister may act for another Minister on account of absence from Australia or from the Ministry or due to ill health. The Acts Interpretation Act confers upon an Acting Minister the same power and authority with respect to the absent Minister's statutory responsibilities."
The position of acting prime minister is a special case of an acting minister, and generally occurs when the prime minister is travelling overseas, is on vacation, or is in ill health. In the early 20th century, when travel by ship was still the norm, it was not uncommon for there to be an acting prime minister for months on end. The deputy prime minister is usually designated as the acting prime minister, although another senior member of the government may fill the role if both the prime minister and deputy prime minister are unavailable. An acting prime minister is required quite frequently – for instance, between 3 December 2007 and 23 February 2009 (during Kevin Rudd's first term), Julia Gillard acted as prime minister on 16 separate occasions.
The term acting prime minister is sometimes also applied to someone who is temporarily appointed prime minister following a death in office (more commonly called a caretaker prime minister or an interim prime minister). Examples include Frank Forde (seven days following John Curtin's death), Earle Page (19 days following Joseph Lyons' death), and John McEwen (22 days following Harold Holt's disappearance). Unlike those who merely acted in the absence of a prime minister, Forde, Lyons, and McEwen were officially commissioned by the Governor-General and took the oath of office; they are considered prime ministers in their own right.
- Chapter 2 House, Government and Opposition, House of Representative Practice (5th edition). Published by the Parliament of Australia.
- Dates and individuals who acted as Acting Prime Minister