Cabinet of Australia
The Cabinet of Australia is the council of senior Ministers of the Crown, responsible to Parliament. The Cabinet is appointed by the Governor-General, on the advice of the Prime Minister and serves at the former's pleasure. The strictly private Cabinet meetings occur once a week to discuss vital issues and formulate policy. Outside of the cabinet there are a number of junior ministers, responsible for a specific policy area and reporting directly to any senior Cabinet minister.
The Constitution of Australia does not recognise the Cabinet as a legal entity, and its decisions have no legal force. All members are also in the Executive Council, a body which is – in theory, though rarely in practice – chaired by the Governor-General, and which meets solely to endorse and give legal force to decisions already made by the Cabinet. For this reason, there is always a member of the Cabinet holding the title Vice-President of the Executive Council.
Until 1956 all members of the ministry were members of the Cabinet. The growth of the ministry in the 1940s and 1950s made this increasingly impractical, and in 1956 Liberal Prime Minister Robert Menzies created a two-tier ministry, with only senior ministers holding Cabinet rank. This practice has been continued by all governments since, except the Whitlam Government.
When the non-Labor parties have been in power, the Prime Minister has advised the Governor-General on all Cabinet and ministerial appointments at his own discretion, although in practice he consults with senior colleagues in making appointments. When the Liberal Party and its predecessors (the Nationalist Party and the United Australia Party) have been in coalition with the National Party or its predecessor the Country Party, the leader of the junior Coalition party has had the right to nominate his party's members of the Coalition ministry, and to be consulted by the Prime Minister on the allocation of their portfolios.
When the Labor Party first held office under Chris Watson, Watson assumed the right to choose members of the Cabinet. In 1907, however, the party decided that future Labor Cabinets would be elected by members of the Parliamentary Labor Party, the Caucus, and this practice was followed until 2007. The Prime Minister retained the right to allocate portfolios. In practice, Labor Prime Ministers exercised a predominant influence over who was elected to Labor Cabinets, although leaders of party factions also exercised considerable influence.
Before the 2007 election, Kevin Rudd announced that if Labor won the election he would dispense with this tradition and appoint the ministry himself. In fact, the Caucus rule requiring the election of ministers remains in place. At the first Caucus meeting after the election, Rudd announced the members of his chosen ministry, and the Caucus then elected them unopposed, thus preserving the outward form of Caucus election.
Following the 2010 federal election the Australian Labor Party secured the support of three independents and one Green member of the House of Representatives to enable it to form a government. On 11 September 2010, the Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced her new Cabinet which included the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Since the introduction of the two-tier ministry, meetings of Cabinet are attended by members only, although other ministers may attend if an area of their portfolio is on the agenda. Cabinet meetings are chaired by the Prime Minister, and a senior public servant is present to write the minutes and record decisions.
Cabinet collective responsibility
The Australian Cabinet follows the traditions of the British parliamentary cabinet system, in following the principle of cabinet collective responsibility. While the Cabinet is responsible to parliament for making policy decisions, Cabinet discussions are confidential and are not disclosed to the public apart from the announcement of decisions. This secrecy is necessary to ensure that items of national security are not made public, and so that ministers can speak freely and disagree with each other during discussions.
Ministers are bound by a principle of cabinet solidarity, meaning that once cabinet has made a decision, all ministers must publicly support and defend that decision, regardless of their personal views on the subject.
Cabinet documents are held separately from other documents, and may be destroyed once no longer in use, or when a change of government occurs. Since 1986, minutes and records of Cabinet meetings are embargoed from public release or disclosure for 30 years.
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The Opposition in parliament appoints from its ranks a Shadow Cabinet to monitor government ministers and present itself as an alternative government. The portfolios of shadow ministers usually correspond with those of the government. When the Liberal and National parties are in Opposition, the Shadow Cabinet is appointed by the Leader of the Opposition in consultation with the Leader of the Nationals. When Labor has been in Opposition, the Caucus has elected the Shadow Ministry and the Leader has allocated portfolios. Smaller opposition parties often appoint spokespersons for Cabinet portfolios, but these are not referred to as a Shadow Cabinet.
- Current Australian Commonwealth ministry
- List of female cabinet ministers of Australia
- Shadow Cabinet of Australia
- FAQ: Executive Government - The Cabinet, Parliamentary Education Office.
- Australia's system of government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australia).
- Cabinet Handbook, 5th Edition, p32, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (Australia).
- Introduction to the Cabinet and its records, National Archives of Australia.
- "The Abbott government ministry in full". Sydney Morning Herald. 22 December 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2014.