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

The colonial parliaments of Australia

Closer Look – A Short History of Parliament [PDF 3.40Mb, 13 pages]

Before Australia was a nation, it was a collection of British colonies. Each colony was under the rule of a governor or lieutenant governor, who acted on behalf of the British Parliament. By 1860 all the colonies, apart from Western Australia, had been granted partial self-government (Western Australia became self-governing in 1890).

Each had its own written constitution, parliament and laws, although the British Parliament retained the power to make laws for the colonies and could over-rule laws passed by the colonial parliaments. Through the 1800s people in each colony were granted the right to elect their own parliaments. However, voting eligibility was often restricted to males with a certain amount of wealth and land.

StateUpper House establishedLower House establishedFirst elections
NSW

1823

Legislative Council

1856

Legislative Assembly

1843

(elections two-thirds of Legislative Council)

Vic

1851

Legislative Council

1856

Legislative Assembly

1856

(elections for both Houses)

Tas

1825

Legislative Council

1856

House of Assembly

1856

(elections for both Houses)

SA

1836

Legislative Council

1857

(elections for both Houses)

1857

(elections for both Houses)

Qld

1860 (abolished 1922)

Legislative Council

1860

Legislative Assembly

1860

(elections for both Houses)

WA

1832

Legislative Council

1890

Legislative Assembly

1870

(elections two-thirds of Legislative Council)

When the territories were created they were governed by the federal government. The Northern Territory was granted its own government in 1978, and the ACT followed in 1988. The territory governments have only one chamber, the Legislative Assembly, which is elected by the people of the territories.

Federal Parliament in Australia

In the 1890s many colonial leaders began working towards uniting the colonies as one country with its own constitution. The Australian Constitution was drafted at a series of conventions (meetings) by representatives of the colonies and was approved by referendums held in each colony. In July 1900 Australian delegates went to London with a draft of the Constitution to present to the British Parliament. The Parliament passed the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 which gave effect to the Constitution.

The Constitution united the six self-governing colonies, as separate states, within the Commonwealth of Australia. It established that:

  • power would be shared between the federal and state parliaments
  • members of parliament would be elected
  • federal Parliament would be bicameral (consist of two houses), and represent the population overall (the House of Representatives) and the people in the states (the Senate).

The Constitution established a federal system of governance that consisted of three branches—the Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary—and described the roles they play in governing Australia. The Parliament, also referred to as the legislature, can make and change laws; the Executive administers or puts laws into action; and the Judiciary interprets the laws.

Australia adopted the British convention of responsible government, in which the Executive, made up of the Prime Minster and ministers, is drawn from, and accountable to, the Parliament. In order to remain in government, a party or coalition must maintain the support of the majority of members in the House of Representatives. This ensures that the Executive is accountable to the Parliament and does not abuse its power.