Parliament of Australia

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Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia
45th Parliament
Coat of arms or logo
Houses Senate
House of Representatives
Founded 9 May 1901
Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia
Since 6 February 1952
The Hon. Tony Smith MP, Liberal
Since 10 August 2015
Seats 226 (150 MPs, 76 Senators)
Australian House of Representatives, 45th Parliament.svg
House of Representatives political groups

Government (76)
     Liberal (45)
     LNP (21) [a]
     National (10)

Opposition (69)
     Labor (69)

Crossbench (5)
     Greens (1)
     Xenophon (1)
     Katter (1)
     Independent (2) [b]

Australian Senate August 2016.svg
Senate political groups

Government (29)
     Liberal (20)
     LNP (5) [c]
     National (3)
     CLP (1) [d]

Opposition (26)
     Labor (26)

Crossbench (19)
     Greens (9)
     Xenophon (3)
     One Nation (3)
     Lambie (1)
     Hinch (1)
     Liberal Democrat (1)
     Conservatives (1) [e]

Vacant (2)
     Vacant (2) [f] [g] [h]

Instant-runoff voting
Single transferable vote
2 July 2016
Senate last election
2 July 2016 (full)
Meeting place
Parliament House Canberra Dusk Panorama.jpg
Parliament House
Canberra, ACT, Australia
Coat of Arms of Australia.svg
This article is part of a series on the
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The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, variously referred to as the Australian Parliament, the Commonwealth Parliament or the Federal Parliament, is the legislative branch of the government of Australia. It consists of three elements: the Queen of Australia, the Senate and the House of Representatives.[3] The Queen is represented by the Governor-General.[4] The combination of two elected houses, in which the members of the Senate represent the six States and the two self-governing Territories while the members of the House represent electoral divisions according to population, is modelled on the United States Congress. Through both houses, however, there is a fused executive, drawn from the Westminster System.[5]

The lower house, the House of Representatives, currently consists of 150 members, each elected from single member constituencies, known as electoral divisions (commonly referred to as "electorates" or "seats") using full-preference Instant-runoff voting. This tends to lead to the chamber being dominated by two major parties, the Liberal/National Coalition and the Labor Party. The government of the day must achieve the confidence of this House in order to gain and remain in power.

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 the Single transferable vote proportional representation system and as a result, the chamber features a multitude of parties vying for power. The governing party or coalition rarely has a majority in the Senate and usually needs to negotiate with other parties and Independents to get legislation passed.

Although elections can be called early, each 3 years the full House of Representatives and half of the Senate is dissolved and goes up for reelection. A deadlock breaking mechanism known as a Double Dissolution can be used to dissolve the full Senate as well as the House in the event that the Upper House refuses to pass a piece of legislation twice.

The two Houses meet in separate chambers of Parliament House (except in a rare joint sitting) on Capital Hill in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.

Current Parliament[edit]

The current Parliament is the 45th Australian Parliament. The most recent federal election was held on 2 July 2016 and the 45th Parliament first sat on 30 August.

The outcome of the 2016 election saw the first-term incumbent Liberal/National Coalition re-elected with 76 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, a bare one-seat majority government − the closest federal majority result since the 1961 election. The Coalition lost 14 seats. The Shorten Labor opposition won 69 seats, an increase of 14 seats. On the crossbench the Australian Greens, the Nick Xenophon Team, Katter's Australian Party, and independents Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan won a seat each.[6][7]

The Senate result saw the Liberal/National Coalition with 30 seats (−3), Labor with 26 (+1), the Greens with 9 (−1), One Nation with 4 (+4) and Nick Xenophon Team with 3 (+2). Derryn Hinch won a seat, while Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm, Family First's Bob Day, and Jacqui Lambie retained their seats. The number of crossbenchers increased by two to a record 20. The Liberal/National Coalition required at least nine additional votes to reach a Senate majority, an increase of three.[8][9][10] The Liberal/National Coalition and Labor parties agreed that the first elected six of twelve Senators in each state would serve a six-year term, while the last six elected in each state would serve a three-year term, despite two previous bipartisan senate resolutions to use an alternative method to allocate long and short term seats. By doing this, Labor and the Coalition each gained one Senate seat from 2019.[11][12][13][14]

Bob Day, of the Family First Party resigned from the Senate on 1 November 2016 following the collapse of his business. The eligibility of him to run for the 2016 election is a matter that will be decided by the Court of Disputed Returns before any replacement can be appointed.[15]

Rodney Culleton, who had left Pauline Hanson's One Nation on 19 December 2016 to become an independent, also had his eligibility to run in the 2016 election questioned based on a larceny conviction. On 3 February 2017, the High Court decided that, since Culleton's liability to a two-year sentence for larceny had been in place at the time of the 2016 election, he had been ineligible for election and that this was not affected by the subsequent annulment of that conviction; the Court also held that the resulting vacancy should be filled by a recount of the ballot, in a manner to be determined by a single Justice of the Court.[16]

He had also been declared bankrupt by the Federal Court on 23 December. Under the Constitution, a bankrupt person is disqualified from sitting in the federal parliament, so on the 11 January 2017, after being officially informed of the bankruptcy finding, the President of the Senate declared Culleton's seat vacant. A later appeal against the bankruptcy ruling was dismissed.[17]

On 7 February 2017, South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi resigned from the Liberal Party, to form a new party called the Australian Conservatives.[18]


The Commonwealth of Australia came into being on 1 January 1901 with the federation of the six Australian colonies. The inaugural election took place on 29 and 30 March and the first Australian Parliament was opened on 9 May 1901 in Melbourne 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 western annexe of the Royal Exhibition Building. After the official opening, 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 until 1927). (The western annexe was demolished in the 1960s.)

It had always been intended that the national Parliament would sit in a new national capital.[19] This was a compromise at Federation due to the rivalry between the two largest Australian cities, Sydney and Melbourne, which both wished to become the new capital. The site of Canberra was selected for the location of the nation's capital city in 1908.[20]

On 9 May 1927, Parliament was moved to the new national capital, where it met in what is now called Old Parliament House. This building was to house the Parliament for more than 60 years. A new Parliament House was opened on 9 May 1988 by Queen Elizabeth II.

The Big Picture, opening of the Parliament of Australia, 9 May 1901, by Tom Roberts
Victorian Parliament House, where the Federal Parliament met until 1927
Old Parliament House as viewed from the front

Composition and electoral systems[edit]

The Constitution establishes the Commonwealth Parliament as being made of three components, the Queen of Australia, The Senate and the House of Representatives.

Most of the constitutional functions of the Crown are given to the Governor-General, whom the Monarch appoints on the advice of the Prime Minister to act as their representative in Australia. 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.


Senate ballot paper used in Victoria for 2016

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 US Senate has been 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. 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, the Jervis Bay Territory and since 1 July 2016, Norfolk Island.[21] While only half of the State Senate seats go up for re-election each three years as they serve six year terms, all of the Territory Senators must face the voters every three years.

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. The system for electing Senators has changed several times since Federation. The original arrangement involved a first-past-the-post block voting or "winner takes all" system, on a state-by-state basis. This was replaced in 1919 by preferential block voting. Block voting tended to produce landslide majorities and even "wipe-outs". For instance, from 1920 to 1923 the Nationalist Party of Australia had 35 of the 36 Senators, and from 1947 to 1950, the Australian Labor Party had 33 of the 36 Senators.[22]

In 1948, single transferable vote proportional representation on a state-by-state basis became the method for electing Senators. This change has led to the rise of a number of minor parties such as the Democratic Labor Party, Australian Democrats and Australian Greens who have taken advantage of this system to achieve parliamentary representation and the balance of power. From the 1984 election, group ticket voting was introduced in order to reduce a high rate of informal voting but in 2016, group tickets were abolished to avoid undue influence of preference deals amongst parties that were seen as distorting election results[23] and a form of optional preferential voting was introduced.

Section 15 of the Constitution provides that a casual vacancy of a State Senator shall be filled by the State Parliament. If the previous Senator was a member of a particular political party the replacement must come from the same party, but the State Parliament may choose not to fill the vacancy, in which case Section 11 requires the Senate to proceed regardless. If the State Parliament happens to be in recess when the vacancy occurs, the Constitution provides that the State Governor can appoint someone to fill the place until fourteen days after the State Parliament resumes sitting.

House of Representatives[edit]

2016 House of Representatives ballot paper used in the Division of Higgins

The House of Representatives is made up of single member electorates with roughly the same population. As is convention in the Westminster System, the party or coalition of parties that has the majority in this House forms the Government with the leader of that party of coalition becoming the Prime Minister. If the government loses the confidence of the House, they are expected to call a new election or resign.

Parliament may determine the number of members of the House of Representatives but 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 to comply with the nexus provision.[24] 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).

From the beginning of Federation until 1918, first-past-the-post voting was used in order to elect members of the House of Representatives but since the 1918 Swan by-election which Labor unexpectedly won with the largest primary vote due to vote splitting amongst the conservative parties, the Nationalist Party of Australia government, a predecessor of the modern-day Liberal Party of Australia, changed the lower house voting system to Instant-runoff voting, which in Australia is known as full preferential voting, as of the subsequent 1919 election. This system has remained in place ever since, allowing the Coalition parties to safely contest the same seats.[25] Full-preference preferential voting re-elected the Bob Hawke government at the 1990 election, the first time in federal history that Labor had obtained a net benefit from preferential voting.[26]

Both houses[edit]

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

It is not possible to be simultaneously a member of both the Senate and the House of Representatives,[27] but a number of people have been members of both houses at different times in their parliamentary career (see List of people who have served in both Houses of the Australian Parliament).

Only Australian citizens are eligible for election to either house.[28] They must not also hold citizenship of a "foreign power".[29] When the Constitution was drafted, all Australians were British subjects, so the word "foreign" meant non-British. But, in the landmark case Sue v Hill (1999), the High Court of Australia ruled that, at least since the Australia Act 1986, Britain has been a "foreign power", so that British citizens are also excluded.[30]

Compulsory voting was introduced for federal elections in 1924. The immediate justification for compulsory voting was the low voter turnout (59.38%) at the 1922 federal election, down from 71.59% at the 1919 federal election. Compulsory voting was not on the platform of either the Stanley Bruce-led Nationalist/Country party coalition government or the Matthew Charlton-led Labor opposition. The actual initiative for change was made by Herbert Payne, a backbench Tasmanian Nationalist Senator who on 16 July 1924 introduced a private member's bill in the Senate. Payne's bill was passed with little debate (the House of Representatives agreeing to it in less than an hour), and in neither house was a division required, hence no votes were recorded against the bill.[31] The 1925 federal election was the first to be conducted under compulsory voting, which saw the turnout figure rise to 91.4%. The turnout increased to about 95% within a couple of elections and has stayed at about that level since.

Australian Federal Police officers armed with assault rifles have been situated in both chambers of the Federal Parliament since 2015. It is the first time in Australian history that a parliament has possessed armed personnel.[32]


The Australian Senate chamber
The Senate chamber at Old Parliament House
The House of Representatives chamber at Old Parliament House

Each of the two Houses elects a presiding officer. The presiding officer of the Senate is called the President; that of the House of Representatives 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.[33]

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. The session of the relevant house is suspended until a quorum is present. 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.


The Constitution of Australia, where the functions and powers of Parliament are outlined

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.[34] 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:".[35]

The Commonwealth legislative power is limited to that granted in the Constitution. Powers not specified are considered "residual powers", and remain the domain of the states. Section 51 grants the Commonwealth power over areas such as taxation, external affairs, defense and marriage. Section 51 also allows State parliaments to refer matters to the Commonwealth to legislate.

Section 96 of the Australian Constitution gives the Commonwealth Parliament the power to grant money to any State, "on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit." In effect, the Commonwealth can make grants subject to States implementing particular policies in their fields of legislative responsibility. Such grants, known as "tied grants" (since they are tied to a particular purpose), have been used to give the federal parliament influence over state policy matters such as public hospitals and schools.

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.


A Senate committee room in Parliament House, Canberra

In addition to the work of the main chambers, both the Senate and the House of Representatives also have a large number of committees which deal with matters referred to them by their respective houses. They provide the opportunity for all Members and Senators to ask questions of ministers and public officials as well as examine policy and legislation.[36]

Types of committees include:

Standing Committees, which are established on a permanent basis and are responsible for scrutinising bills and topics referred to them by the chamber; examining the government's budget and activities (in what is called the budget estimates process); and for examining departmental annual reports and activities.

Select Committees, which are temporary committees, established in order to deal with particular issues.

Domestic Committees, which are responsible for administering aspects of the Parliament's own affairs. These include the The Selection Committees of both houses that determine how the Parliament will deal with particular pieces of legislation and private members business and the Privileges Committees that deal with matters of Parliamentary Privilege.

Legislative Scrutiny Committees, which examine legislation and regulations to determine their impact on individual rights and accountability.

Joint Committees are also established to include both members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Relationship with the Government[edit]

Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove with members of the Second Turnbull Ministry

Under the Constitution, the Governor General has the power to appoint and dismiss "Ministers of State" who administer government departments. In practice, the Governor General chooses ministers in accordance with the traditions of the Westminster System that the Government be drawn from the party or coalition of parties that has a majority in the House of Representatives, with the leader of the largest party becoming Prime Minister.

These ministers then meet in a council known as Cabinet. Cabinet meetings are strictly private and occur once a week where vital issues are discussed and policy formulated. The Constitution does not recognise the Cabinet as a legal entity; it exists solely by convention. Its decisions do not in and of themselves have legal force. However, it serves as the practical expression of the Federal Executive Council, which is Australia's highest formal governmental body.[37] In practice, the Federal Executive Council meets solely to endorse and give legal force to decisions already made by the Cabinet. All members of the Cabinet are members of the Executive Council. While the Governor-General is nominal presiding officer, he almost never attends Executive Council meetings. The Governor-General is bound by convention to follow the advice of the Executive Council on almost all occasions, giving it de facto executive power.[38] A senior member of the Cabinet holds the office of Vice-President of the Executive Council and acts as presiding officer of the Executive Council in the absence of the Governor-General. The Federal Executive Council is the Australian equivalent of the Executive Councils and privy councils in other Commonwealth realms such as the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.

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 due to the convention that the Prime Minister be a member of the lower house. 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.

Role of the Senate[edit]

The Australian Senate

The Constitution of Australia established the Senate as part of the new system of dominion government in newly federated Australia. From a comparative governmental perspective, the Australian Senate exhibits distinctive characteristics. Unlike upper houses in other Westminster system governments, the Senate is not a vestigial body with limited legislative power. Rather it was intended to play – and does play – an active role in legislation. Rather than being modelled solely after the House of Lords, as the Canadian Senate was, the Australian Senate was in part modelled after the United States Senate, by giving equal representation to each state. The Constitution intended to give less populous states added voice in a Federal legislature, while also providing for the revising role of an upper house in the Westminster system.

The constitutional text denies the Senate the power to originate or amend appropriation bills, in deference to the conventions of the classical Westminster system. Under a traditional Westminster system, the executive government is responsible for its use of public funds to the lower house, which has the power to bring down a government by blocking its access to supply – i.e. revenue appropriated through taxation. The arrangement as expressed in the Australian Constitution, however, still leaves the Senate with the power to reject supply bills or defer their passage – undoubtedly one of the Senate's most contentious and powerful abilities.

The ability to block supply was the origin of the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis. The Opposition used its numbers in the Senate to defer supply bills, refusing to deal with them until an election was called for both Houses of Parliament, an election which it hoped to win. The Prime Minister of the day, Gough Whitlam, contested the legitimacy of the blocking and refused to resign. The crisis brought to a head two Westminster conventions that, under the Australian constitutional system, were in conflict – firstly, that a government may continue to govern for as long as it has the support of the lower house, and secondly, that a government that no longer has access to supply must either resign or be dismissed. The crisis was resolved in November 1975 when Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed Whitlam's government and appointed a caretaker government on condition that elections for both houses of parliament be held.[39] This action in itself was a source of controversy and debate continues on the proper usage of the Senate's ability to block supply and on whether such a power should even exist.

The blocking of supply alone cannot force a double dissolution. There must be legislation repeatedly blocked by the Senate which the government can then choose to use as a trigger for a double dissolution.[40]


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.[41]


A-PAC logo

Radio broadcasts of Parliamentary proceedings began on 10 July 1946.[42] They were originally broadcast on Radio National. 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 Governor-General; the swearing-in of Governors-General; and addresses to the Parliament by visiting heads of state.

In 2009, the Pay TV company Foxtel launched A-PAC or the "Australian Public Affairs Channel". It features live broadcasts from Australia's Parliament House in Canberra (including sittings of the House of Representatives, the Senate, parliamentary Committee meetings and political press conferences), the parliaments of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland as well as sittings of the United States Congress, live broadcasts of speeches from the Australian National Press Club and a program which provides coverage of the New Zealand and British parliaments.[43]

Access to free extensive daily proceedings of both chambers as well as committee hearings is also available live on the Internet.[44]

Lower house primary, two-party and seat results since 1910[edit]

A two-party system has existed in the Australian House of Representatives since the two non-Labor parties merged in 1909. The 1910 election was the first to elect a majority government, with the Australian Labor Party concurrently winning the first Senate majority. A two-party-preferred vote (2PP) has been calculated since the 1919 change from first-past-the-post to preferential voting and subsequent introduction of the Coalition. 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 2PP vote Seats
ALP L+NP Oth. ALP L+NP ALP L+NP Oth. Total
2 July 2016 election 34.7% 42.0% 23.3% 49.6% 50.4% 69 76 5 150
28 Jun – 1 Jul 2016 Newspoll 35% 42% 23% 49.5% 50.5%
7 September 2013 election 33.4% 45.6% 21.0% 46.5% 53.5% 55 90 5 150
3–5 Sep 2013 Newspoll 33% 46% 21% 46% 54%
21 August 2010 election 38.0% 43.3% 18.7% 50.1% 49.9% 72 72 6 150
17–19 Aug 2010 Newspoll 36.2% 43.4% 20.4% 50.2% 49.8%
24 November 2007 election 43.4% 42.1% 14.5% 52.7% 47.3% 83 65 2 150
20–22 Nov 2007 Newspoll 44% 43% 13% 52% 48%
9 October 2004 election 37.6% 46.7% 15.7% 47.3% 52.7% 60 87 3 150
6–7 Oct 2004 Newspoll 39% 45% 16% 50% 50%
10 November 2001 election 37.8% 43.0% 19.2% 49.0% 51.0% 65 82 3 150
7–8 Nov 2001 Newspoll 38.5% 46% 15.5% 47% 53%
3 October 1998 election 40.1% 39.5% 20.4% 51.0% 49.0% 67 80 1 148
30 Sep – 1 Oct 1998 Newspoll 44% 40% 16% 53% 47%
2 March 1996 election 38.7% 47.3% 14.0% 46.4% 53.6% 49 94 5 148
28–29 Feb 1996 Newspoll 40.5% 48% 11.5% 46.5% 53.5%
13 March 1993 election 44.9% 44.3% 10.7% 51.4% 48.6% 80 65 2 147
11 Mar 1993 Newspoll 44% 45% 11% 49.5% 50.5%
24 March 1990 election 39.4% 43.5% 17.1% 49.9% 50.1% 78 69 1 148
11 July 1987 election 45.8% 46.1% 8.1% 50.8% 49.2% 86 62 0 148
1 December 1984 election 47.6% 45.0% 7.4% 51.8% 48.2% 82 66 0 148
5 March 1983 election 49.5% 43.6% 6.9% 53.2% 46.8% 75 50 0 125
18 October 1980 election 45.2% 46.3% 8.5% 49.6% 50.4% 51 74 0 125
10 December 1977 election 39.7% 48.1% 12.2% 45.4% 54.6% 38 86 0 124
13 December 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 December 1972 election 49.6% 41.5% 8.9% 52.7% 47.3% 67 58 0 125
25 October 1969 election 47.0% 43.3% 9.7% 50.2% 49.8% 59 66 0 125
26 November 1966 election 40.0% 50.0% 10.0% 43.1% 56.9% 41 82 1 124
30 November 1963 election 45.5% 46.0% 8.5% 47.4% 52.6% 50 72 0 122
9 December 1961 election 47.9% 42.1% 10.0% 50.5% 49.5% 60 62 0 122
22 November 1958 election 42.8% 46.6% 10.6% 45.9% 54.1% 45 77 0 122
10 December 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 April 1951 election 47.6% 50.3% 2.1% 49.3% 50.7% 52 69 0 121
10 December 1949 election 46.0% 50.3% 3.7% 49.0% 51.0% 47 74 0 121
28 September 1946 election 49.7% 39.3% 11.0% 54.1% 45.9% 43 26 5 74
21 August 1943 election 49.9% 23.0% 27.1% 58.2% 41.8% 49 19 6 74
21 September 1940 election 40.2% 43.9% 15.9% 50.3% 49.7% 32 36 6 74
23 October 1937 election 43.2% 49.3% 7.5% 49.4% 50.6% 29 44 2 74
15 September 1934 election 26.8% 45.6% 27.6% 46.5% 53.5% 18 42 14 74
19 December 1931 election 27.1% 48.4% 24.5% 41.5% 58.5% 14 50 11 75
12 October 1929 election 48.8% 44.2% 7.0% 56.7% 43.3% 46 24 5 75
17 November 1928 election 44.6% 49.6% 5.8% 48.4% 51.6% 31 42 2 75
14 November 1925 election 45.0% 53.2% 1.8% 46.2% 53.8% 23 50 2 75
16 December 1922 election 42.3% 47.8% 9.9% 48.8% 51.2% 29 40 6 75
13 December 1919 election 42.5% 54.3% 3.2% 45.9% 54.1% 25 38 2 75
5 May 1917 election 43.9% 54.2% 1.9% 22 53 0 75
5 September 1914 election 50.9% 47.2% 1.9% 42 32 1 75
31 May 1913 election 48.5% 48.9% 2.6% 37 38 0 75
13 April 1910 election 50.0% 45.1% 4.9% 42 31 2 75
Polling conducted by Newspoll and published in The Australian. Three percent margin of error.

Historical party composition of the Senate[edit]

The Senate has included representatives from a range of political parties, including several parties that have seldom or never had representation in the House of Representatives, but which have consistently secured a small but significant level of electoral support, as the table shows.[i]

Plurality-at-large voting
Year Total ALP Prot. Free T. Other
1901–1903 36 8 11 17
1903–1906 36 14 8 12 2 (Trenwith, 1 RTP)
1906–1910 36 15 6 14 (AS) 1 (Trenwith)
Year Total ALP Cmlth Liberal Other
1910–1913 36 22 14
1913–1914 36 29 7
1914–1917 36 31 5
Year Total ALP Nationalist Other
1917–1920 36 12 24
Preferential block voting
Year Total ALP Nationalist
1920–1923 36 1 35
Year Total ALP Coalition
1923–1926 36 12 24
1926–1929 36 8 28
1929–1932 36 7 29
1932–1935 36 10 26
1935–1938 36 3 33
1938–1941 36 16 20
1941–1944 36 17 19
1944–1947 36 22 14
1947–1950 36 33 3
Single transferable vote
Year Total ALP Coalition DLP Other
1950–1951 60 34 26
1951–1953 60 28 32
1953–1956 60 29 31
1956–1959 60 28 30 2
1959–1962 60 26 32 2
1962–1965 60 28 30 1 1 (Turnbull)
1965–1968 60 27 30 2 1 (Turnbull)
1968–1971 60 27 28 5 1 (Turnbull)
1971–1974 60 26 26 5 3 (Turnbull, Townley, Negus)
Year Total ALP Coalition LM/AD Other
1974–1975 60 29 29 1 1 (Townley)
1975–1978 64 27 35 1 1 (Harradine)
1978–1981 64 26 35 2 1 (Harradine)
1981–1983 64 27 31 5 1 (Harradine)
1983–1985 64 30 28 5 1 (Harradine)
Single transferable vote (Group voting ticket)
Year Total ALP Coalition AD NDP Other
1985–1987 76 34 33 7 1 1 (Harradine)
1987–1990 76 32 34 7 1 2 (Harradine, Vallentine)
Year Total ALP Coalition AD Greens Other
1990–1993 76 32 34 8 1 1 (Harradine)
1993–1996 76 30 36 7 2 1 (Harradine)
1996–1999 76 28 37 7 2 2 (Harradine, Colston)
Year Total ALP Coalition AD Greens ON Other
1999–2002 76 29 35 9 1 1 1 (Harradine)
2002–2005 76 29 35 8 2 1 1 (Harradine)
Year Total ALP Coalition AD Greens FF Other
2005–2008 76 28 39 4 4 1
2008–2011 76 32 37 5 1 1 (Xenophon)
Year Total ALP Coalition DLP Greens Other
2011–2014 76 31 34 1 9 1 (Xenophon)
Year Total ALP Coalition DLP Greens FF PUP LDP AMEP Other
2014-2016 76 25 33 1 10 1 3 1 1 from 1 to 4 [j]
Single transferable vote (Optional preferential voting)
Year Total ALP Coalition Greens ON FF NXT LDP Other
2016-2019 76 26 30 9 4 1 3 1 From 2 to 4 [k]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 15 LNP MPs sit in the Liberal party room and 6 in the National party room
  2. ^ Current independent MPs: Andrew Wilkie (Denison) and Cathy McGowan (Indi).
  3. ^ 3 LNP Senators sit in the Liberal party room and 2 in the National party room
  4. ^ Sits in National party room
  5. ^ Cory Bernardi resigned from the Liberal Party on 7 February 2017 and founded the Australian Conservatives.
  6. ^ Bob Day resigned from the Senate on 1 November 2016.
  7. ^ Sen Rodney Culleton left Pauline Hanson's One Nation on 19 December 2016. On 23 December the Federal Court ordered sequestration of his assets, which involved a declaration of bankruptcy, but with a 21-day stay on the order, to expire on 13 January 2017. Under Constitution s 44(iii) a bankrupt person is disqualified from sitting in the federal parliament. On 11 January, after receiving an official copy of the court's judgement, the President of the Senate declared Culleton's seat vacant. Culleton's appeal against this judgement was dismissed.[1]
  8. ^ On 7 November 2016 the Senate referred the questions of the eligibility of Day and Culleton, as well as the issue of what should be done if either of them is found to have been ineligible, to the High Court. On 3 February 2017 the Court decided that, since Culleton's liability to a two-year sentence for larceny had been in place at the time of the 2016 election, he had been ineligible for election and that this was not affected by the subsequent annulment of that conviction; the Court also held that the resulting vacancy should be filled by a recount of the ballot, in a manner to be determined by a single Justice of the Court.[2]
  9. ^ The table has been simplified in the following ways:
  10. ^ Xenophon; Madigan (from DLP); Lambie, Lazarus (from PUP)
  11. ^ Lambie, Hinch, Culleton (from One Nation, Bernardi (from the Liberal Party)


  1. ^ "Rod Culleton: Former One Nation senator loses appeal against court bankruptcy verdict". 4 February 2017. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  2. ^ Re Culleton [No 2] [2017] HCA 4 (3 February 2017).
  3. ^ Constitution of Australia, section 1.
  4. ^ Constitution of Australia, section 2.
  5. ^ 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. .
  6. ^ Wroe, David (1 August 2016). "Labor takes seat of Herbert, leaving Malcolm Turnbull with majority of just one seat". Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  7. ^ "House of Reps 2016 election results: AEC". Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  8. ^ "AEC (@AusElectoralCom) - Twitter". Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  9. ^ "Federal Election 2016: Senate Results". Australia Votes. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 3 July 2016. Retrieved 4 July 2016. 
  10. ^ "Senate photo finishes". 2016-07-12. Retrieved 2016-07-30. 
  11. ^ Cormann raises ‘first elected’ plan to halve Senate terms for crossbenchers: The Australian 12 December 2016
  12. ^ Hutchens, Gareth (12 August 2016). "Senate terms: Derryn Hinch and Greens' Lee Rhiannon given three years". Retrieved 3 February 2017 – via The Guardian. 
  13. ^ ALP-LNP deal to force senators back to poll in three years: The Australian 13 August 2016
  14. ^ Hunter, Fergus (12 August 2016). "Coalition and Labor team up to clear out crossbench senators in 2019". Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  15. ^ "Court finds witnesses not enough to prove Bob Day breached constitution". 27 January 2017. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  16. ^ Re Culleton [No 2] [2017] HCA 4 (3 February 2017).
  17. ^ "Rod Culleton: Former One Nation senator loses appeal against court bankruptcy verdict". 4 February 2017. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  18. ^ Uhlmann, Chris; Norman, Jane (7 February 2017). "Cory Bernardi to split with Coalition to form Australian Conservatives party". ABC News Australia. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 7 February 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2017. 
  19. ^ 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."
  20. ^ Lewis, Wendy; Balderstone, Simon; Bowan, John (2006). Events That Shaped Australia. New Holland. p. 106. ISBN 978-1-74110-492-9. 
  21. ^ "Norfolk Island Electors". Australian Electoral Commission. 2016. Retrieved 13 August 2016. 
  22. ^ "Papers on Parliament No. 34 Representation and Institutional Change: 50 Years of Proportional Representation in the Senate". 1999. Retrieved 23 February 2017. 
  23. ^ "Senate voting changes explained in AEC advertisements". 26 April 2016. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  24. ^ Attorney-General (NSW); Ex Rel McKellar v Commonwealth [1977] HCA 1; (1977) 139 CLR 527 (1 February 1977)
  25. ^ Green, Antony (2004). "History of Preferential Voting in Australia". Antony Green Election Guide: Federal Election 2004. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2007-07-01. 
  26. ^ "The Origin of Senate Group Ticket Voting, and it didn't come from the Major Parties". Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  27. ^ Constitution of Australia, section 43.
  28. ^ Constitution of Australia, section 34(ii); Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth), section 163(1)(b), following the establishment of an Australian citizenship from 1949.
  29. ^ Constitution of Australia, section 44(i).
  30. ^ Section 44(i) extends beyond actual citizenship, but in Sue v Hill only the status of British Citizen was in question.
  31. ^ ""The case for compulsory voting"; by Chris Puplick". 30 June 1997. Retrieved 16 June 2010. 
  32. ^ Massola, James (9 February 2015). "Armed guards now stationed to protect Australian MPs and senators in both chambers of Federal Parliament". Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  33. ^ "House of Representatives Practice, 6th Ed – Chapter 6 - The Speaker, Deputy Speakers and officers". 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2017. 
  34. ^ Constitution, section 53.
  35. ^ "House of Representatives Practice, 6th Ed – Chapter 10 - Legislation". 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2017. 
  36. ^ "Committees". Retrieved 22 February 2017. 
  37. ^ "Federal Executive Council Handbook". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 7 January 2015. 
  38. ^ "Democracy in Australia – Australia's political system" (PDF). Australian Collaboration. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  39. ^ Kerr, John. "Statement from John Kerr (dated 11 November 1975) explaining his decisions.". Retrieved 11 January 2017. 
  40. ^ Green, Antony. "An Early Double Dissolution? Don't Hold Your Breath!". Antony Green's Election Blog. ABC. Retrieved 1 August 2016. 
  41. ^ Sydney Morning Herald, "Activist contempt over April Fools stunt", 31 May 2007. Accessed 1 June 2007.
  42. ^ "Parliamentary Library: Australian Political Records (Research Note 42 1997–98)". Archived from the original on 3 February 1999. Retrieved 12 September 2008. 
  43. ^ "Rudd hails new A-Span TV network". ABC News. 8 December 2008. Retrieved 8 December 2008. 
  44. ^ "Watch Parliament". Retrieved 22 February 2017. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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