About Parliament – The House of Representatives
Video duration: 4 min 27
NARRATOR: The federal Parliament has two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives. This is the House of Representatives, which is often called the 'people's House'.
Members of the public stand in voting booths then one person places their vote in the House of Representatives ballot box.
NARRATOR: At election time, the people of Australia vote in their local regions to elect one person to represent them in the House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives chamber.
NARRATOR: 150 people are elected as members in the House, many of them representing political parties.
The Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, speaks from the despatch box to members in the House of Representatives.
NARRATOR: The House of Representatives is where government is formed.
A diagram of the seating plan of the House of Representatives demonstrates that more than half the total number of seats is required for a majority.
NARRATOR: The political party or coalition that has the support of the majority of Members in the House, which means at least 76, forms the government. The leader of the government then becomes the Prime Minister.
The Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, speaks from the despatch box to members in the House of Representatives.
NARRATOR: The next largest party forms the Opposition or 'alternative government'.
NARRATOR: To remain in government, a party or coalition must maintain the support of the majority of members of the House of Representatives. This is the principle of 'responsible government'.
House of Representatives votes being counted after an election.
NARRATOR: After the election in August 2010, neither of the two main political parties won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives.
A diagram of the seating plan of the House of Representatives together with vision of the Australian Labor Party, Independents Mr Robert Oakeshott MP, Mr Tony Windsor MP and Mr Andrew Wilkie MP, and Australian Greens member Mr Adam Bandt MP, equals 76.
NARRATOR: However, the government was able to be formed after the Australian Labor Party reached an agreement with Independent members and a minor party representative.
The House of Representatives chamber.
NARRATOR: This situation is called a 'minority government', and has not occurred in the federal Parliament since 1940!
NARRATOR: The House of Representatives has many traditions which date back to the early British Parliament. One such tradition is the use of green to represent the House and another is the ceremonial use of the Mace.
NARRATOR: In the House of Representatives, each day begins with the Speaker entering the chamber preceded by the Serjeant-at-Arms holding the Mace. The Mace is then placed on the central Table, pointing to the government side.
The former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Harry Jenkins MP, in the Speaker's chair in the chamber.
NARRATOR: The Mace is an important symbol of the authority of the Speaker and of the House itself.
Political caricature showing the Duke of Wellington and two colleagues fighting three adversaries with maces. Artwork by John Doyle, courtesy of the UK Parliament.
NARRATOR: This is a tradition dating back to medieval times when the mace was used as a weapon to protect the King.
NARRATOR: The chamber of the House of Representatives is arranged in a horseshoe shape with the Speaker sitting at the front. Members sit in the surrounding seats to carry out the business of Parliament and represent the people of Australia.
NARRATOR: Members of the government sit to the right of the Speaker, and the Opposition, along with Independent and minor party members, sit to the left.
Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, the Hon Peter Garrett MP, debates a bill in the House of Representatives chamber.
NARRATOR: Members spend a little over half their time considering ideas for new laws.
Mr Robert Oakeshott MP and Mr Luke Hartsuyker MP debate various bills in the House of Representatives chamber.
NARRATOR: Most new laws, or changes to old ones, begin in the House of Representatives.
NARRATOR: As well as debating laws, members can speak in the House of Representatives about important local and national issues.
Mr Wyatt Roy MP and the Hon Kate Ellis MP speaking in the House of Representatives chamber.
NARRATOR: In the chamber, members discuss a range of matters in the national interest.
The Hon Joe Hockey at a public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics.
NARRATOR: In parliamentary committees, they listen to the views of the community and make recommendations for government action.
The Hon Kevin Andrews MP questions Prime Minister the Hon Julia Gillard MP during Question Time.
NARRATOR: During Question Time, members question government ministers about their actions and decisions.
Mr Sid Sidebottom MP speaking in the House of Representatives chamber.
NARRATOR: Each member of the House of Representatives is also a spokesperson for their local region.
Mr Ken Wyatt AM, MP and the Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP speaking in the House of Representatives chamber.
NARRATOR: This means members of the House can consider how their decisions will impact on local regions around Australia.
NARRATOR: More information about the House of Representatives is available from the Parliamentary Education Office website.
- Quick Answers – The Senate and the House of Representatives
- Fact Sheets – House of Representatives
- Fact Sheets – Speaker of the House of Representatives
- Fact Sheets – Government
- Fact Sheets – Mace