This website will be progressively updated as the final outcome of the election of 2 July is known, and as the 45th Parliament meets.

Learning

Roles of the executive

Closer Look – Parliament and Congress [PDF 1.59Mb, 16 pages]

Leaders of the executive governments of Australia and the US – the Prime Minister and the President – share their responsibilities with members of their respective Cabinets. Each Cabinet member is a high-ranking member of the government and is responsible for the leadership of a government department.

The following table provides an overview of the distinguishing features of both nations' executive governments:

The executive
AustraliaUnited States

Composition

  • Executive government consists of the Prime Minister and ministers.
  • The Prime Minister and high-ranking ministers meet in Cabinet. The deliberations of Cabinet are confidential.
  • Each minister is an elected member of parliament as well as being responsible for the management of their department.

Composition

  • Executive government consists of the President and department secretaries (the heads of the executive government departments).
  • The President and high-ranking executive members meet in private in Cabinet.
  • Department secretaries cannot be elected to either of the houses of Congress.

Appointment

  • The Prime Minister is the leader of the party or coalition (partnership of parties) who forms the government, and has been chosen as leader by a vote of the parliamentary members of this party.
  • The Prime Minister normally selects ministers who are then commissioned by the Governor-General.

Appointment

  • The President selects and removes department secretaries.
  • The Senate must confirm (agree to) the appointment of each department secretary and many other senior executive officials.

Responsibility

  • The executive is responsible to the Parliament and each minister must answer to the Parliament for the operation of their department and the laws they introduce and administer.
  • The executive can be scrutinised in both the House of Representatives and Senate particularly in Question Time.
  • The executive can also be scrutinised by parliamentary committees which examine laws, the conduct of public administration and policy issues. Senate Estimates Committees examine government spending.

Responsibility

  • Secretaries are responsible to the President and must answer to the President for the operation of their department.
  • Department secretaries may be called on by Congress to explain their actions during the committee hearings process, which can examine laws, government responsibilities and actions, and internal administrative tasks.

Size

  • Executive government, which is also known as the ministry, can be made up of no more than thirty ministers.
  • High-ranking ministers who are in charge of major departments form the Cabinet.
  • Junior ministers are not members of Cabinet, though they do attend Cabinet meetings from time to time.

Size

  • The Cabinet is made up of the President and 15 secretaries (equivalent to ministers).
  • Various other positions have been given Cabinet-rank status. These include the Vice-President and other officers such as the White House Chief of Staff.

Removal

  • There is no limit to the number of terms a Prime Minister can serve. The Prime Minister may be replaced if members of the government elect a new leader or if the government loses the support of the majority of members in the House of Representatives.
  • Ministers lose their appointment if the Governor-General withdraws their commission. This can occur on the advice of the Prime Minister or if the minister vacates their seat in Parliament or fails to retain it in a federal election.

Removal

  • The President may be replaced if they are not re-elected or are convicted following impeachment.
  • The President can serve a maximum of two four-year terms.
Similarities

In both systems:

  • the day-to-day running of the nation is carried out by the executive government
  • Cabinet meetings are secret (unlike the legislature) and are not subject to public scrutiny
  • ministers and secretaries are responsible for the operation of major departments and high-ranking ministers and secretaries make up the Cabinet
  • executive government is scrutinised by the legislature.