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

Quick Answers

Parliament and governance

What is Australia's system of governance?

Australia is both a representative democracy and a constitutional monarchy.

A representative democracy is a system in which the people vote for delegates to represent their interests in a parliament. In Australia, members of parliament are elected to the Senate or the House of Representatives to represent the Australian people and make laws on their behalf.

A constitutional monarchy is a system in which a king or queen is the head of state, but must act in accordance with a constitution. In Australia, the powers of the Queen have been delegated to her representative, the Governor-General.


More information: Fact sheet – Government

What is a democracy?

A democracy is a system of government in which the people have a say about how they are governed. There are different kinds of democracy:

  • A direct democracy gives citizens the power to make decisions.
  • A representative democracy is a system in which the people vote for delegates to represent their interests in a parliament.
  • A deliberative democracy involves elements of both direct and representative democracy.

Australia is a representative democracy.


More information: House of Representatives Infosheet 20 – The Australian system of government

What is the Australian Constitution?

The Australian Constitution is the set of rules by which Australia is governed. It came into effect on 1 January 1901, as part of an Act of the British Parliament. The Constitution includes details about:

  • the composition of the federal Parliament, which includes the Queen (represented by the Governor-General), The Senate and the House of Representatives
  • the powers of the federal Parliament
  • how law-making responsibilities are shared between the federal and state parliaments
  • the role of the executive government and the courts.

More information: Fact Sheet – Australian Constitution

What is separation of powers?

The principle of separation of powers proposes that the power to govern should be divided between different groups, to avoid any one group having all the power. The power is divided between the Parliament that makes laws (legislative power), the executive government that administers laws (executive power), and the courts that interpret and apply laws (judicial power).

In Australia, the principles of separation of powers and 'responsible government' work together to guide the way in which law is made and managed.


More information:

Fact Sheet – Separation of Powers: Parliament, Executive and Judiciary

What is the Governor-General's job?

The Governor-General is the Queen's representative in Australia. They are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, usually for a term of five years. The Australian Constitution sets out some of the duties of the Governor-General, which include:

  • giving royal assent (final approval) to a bill passed by the Parliament
  • starting the process for a federal election
  • appointing times for sessions of Parliament to be held
  • acting as Commander-in-Chief of the defence forces.

The Governor-General also performs ceremonial roles such as delivering a speech at the opening of a new federal Parliament, swearing-in the Prime Minister and ministers, and meeting foreign heads of state and ambassadors. The Governor-General also performs many civic duties throughout Australia.


More information: Fact Sheet – Governor-General

What is the Australian Parliament?

The Australian Parliament consists of the Queen (represented by the Governor-General), the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The Australian Parliament has four main roles:

  • making and changing federal laws
  • representing the people of Australia
  • providing a place where government is formed
  • keeping a check on the work of the government.

The Australian Parliament is located in Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory.


More information: Fact Sheet – Parliament

How is the Australian Parliament formed?

At a federal election, eligible citizens vote for people to represent them in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Each member of the House of Representatives is elected to represent one of the 150 electorates around Australia.

Each senator is elected to represent their state or territory in the Senate.

Elections for the House of Representatives are held at least every three years. Half-Senate elections are usually held at the same time, to elect half of the 72 state senators plus the four senators representing the two territories.

Once the election result is finalised, the successful candidates are announced and the writs (official election documents) are returned to the Governor-General or state governors.

Federal elections are run by the Australian Electoral Commission.


More information: Fact Sheet – Federal Elections

What is an electorate?

An electorate is an area of Australia represented by one member of the House of Representatives. Australia is currently divided into 150 federal electorates. On average, each electorate has 150 000 citizens, which includes 100 000 voters. The size and shape of electorates are managed by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). As Australia's population changes, the AEC changes electorate boundaries to ensure they have approximately the same number of voters.


More information: Fact Sheet – Federal Elections

What is the process for opening a new federal Parliament?

After each federal election, a new Australian Parliament is formed. This new Parliament must meet no later than thirty days after the election process has been finalised.

At the opening of the Parliament, all senators and members of the House of Representatives gather in the Senate where the Parliament is officially opened and the Governor-General gives a speech.

Members of the House of Representatives are sworn in and elect a Speaker. Territory senators are sworn in on the same day; however, newly-elected state senators are not sworn in until the following 1 July when their term begins.

A recent addition to the opening of Parliament is an Indigenous 'Welcome to Country' ceremony, held for the first time in February 2008 before the opening of the 42nd Parliament.


More information: Fact Sheet – Preparing for a New Parliament

How often does the Parliament of Australia meet?

The Parliament of Australia meets for approximately seventy days a year, known as sitting days. Sittings are held from Monday to Thursday, usually for one to two weeks at a time. When Parliament is not sitting, members of parliament spend most of their time working in their electorate, state or territory offices or on parliamentary committees.


More information: Parliament NOW – What's on

What is the difference between the Australian Parliament and the Australian Government?

The Australian Parliament and the Australian Government are not the same.

The Australian Parliament consists of the Queen (represented by the Governor-General), the Senate and the House of Representatives. The main roles of the Parliament are to represent the people of Australia, make and change laws, provide a place where government is formed and scrutinise the work of government.

The Australian Government is formed by the party or coalition of parties with the support of a majority of members in the House of Representatives. A Government minister must be a member of the House of Representatives or a senator. The main roles of the Government are to make important national decisions, develop policy, introduce bills (proposed laws), implement laws and manage government departments.


More information: Fact Sheet – Parliament / Fact Sheet – Government

How is the government formed?

The government is formed by the party or coalition of parties with the support of the majority (more than half) of the 150 members elected to the House of Representatives. Even though government is formed in the House of Representatives, some senators are also government members.


More information: Fact Sheet – Government

What is the Australian Government?

The people of Australia elect a federal government to take responsibility for making decisions on behalf of the nation. The government manages important national issues like defence, immigration or the environment. In the Parliament, the government introduces proposals for new laws or changes to existing ones, called bills. Bills passed by the Parliament become laws, which the government must put into action. The government also represents Australia overseas.


More information: Fact Sheet – Government

What is minority government?

Usually, government is formed by the party or coalition of parties that has a majority (more than half) of the 150 members in the House of Representatives. If no party or coalition wins a majority in the House of Representatives at a federal election, the result is called a hung parliament. If any party or coalition can then gain the support of a majority of members through an agreement with Independent and/or minor party members, they may form a government. This is known as a minority government.

Independents and members of minor parties may choose to support a particular party or coalition to form government; however, they do not necessarily support the government on all bills (proposed laws).


More information: Fact Sheet – Government

What is responsible government?

The principle of responsible government proposes that the government should be accountable to the Parliament, to ensure that the government does not abuse its power. The government must retain the support of the majority of members in the House of Representatives to stay in power.

In Australia, the principles of responsible government and separation of powers work together to guide the way in which law is made and managed.


More information: Fact Sheet – Government

What is executive government?

The executive government is made up of the Prime Minister and ministers. Each must be a member of the House of Representatives or a senator. The executive is responsible for putting into action the laws passed by Parliament. Each minister leads a government department or assists in the administration of a department. The executive oversees the work of the Australian Public Service and ensures laws are properly administered.


More information: Fact Sheet – Government

What is the Cabinet?

The Cabinet is a group of top-level ministers within the executive government, led by the Prime Minister. The Cabinet is the main decision-making body of government.

Cabinet usually meets in the highly-secure Cabinet Room in Parliament House. During Cabinet meetings, the Prime Minister and ministers discuss important or sensitive issues which affect the nation. Cabinet meetings are held in secret to allow Cabinet members to speak freely about issues and to allow the government to discuss ideas before being scrutinised by the Parliament and the media.


More information: Fact Sheet – Cabinet

What is ministerial responsibility?

The principle of ministerial responsibility proposes that ministers should be responsible for the actions and decisions of the government departments they lead, even if something goes wrong. This aims to encourage ministers to keep a close check on their department's activities. Ministers are also expected to answer questions and be accountable for the actions of their departments, including during Question Time and Senate estimates hearings.


More information: Fact Sheet – Ministers and Shadow Ministers

What are government departments and what do they do?

Government departments carry out the decisions of the government, provide government services to the public and put laws into action.

A minister oversees each department. For example, the Minister for Defence is the head of the Department of Defence, which is responsible for implementing laws and policies about the defence of Australia.


More information: Fact Sheet – Ministers and Shadow Ministers

How is the opposition formed?

The opposition is formed by the largest party or coalition of parties that does not have the support of the majority (more than half) of the 150 members in the House of Representatives and cannot form government. Even though the opposition is formed in the House of Representatives, some senators are also in the opposition.


More information: Fact Sheet – Opposition

What is the role of the opposition?

The opposition examines and questions the government about its actions and policies. The opposition can do this by debating government bills (proposed laws), asking ministers to explain their decisions during Question Time and by examining government spending during Senate estimates hearings. This is called scrutiny.

Members of the opposition also represent the interests of their electorate or state/territory and provide the people of Australia with alternative ideas to the government.


More information: Fact Sheet – Opposition

What is the Shadow Cabinet?

The Shadow Cabinet is made up of top-level shadow ministers, led by the Leader of the Opposition. It is the main decision-making body of the opposition. The Shadow Cabinet decides on opposition policies, keeps the government accountable and presents alternative ideas.


More information: Fact Sheet – Ministers and Shadow Ministers

What is a referendum?

In Australia, a referendum refers to a proposal to change the Australian Constitution. A change to the Constitution must first be submitted to Parliament as a bill (a proposed law), and then be submitted to voters in all states and territories in a referendum. To be successful, a referendum must be supported by a majority of all voters and a majority of voters in a majority of states. This is called a double majority.

Since 1901, there have been 19 referendums proposing 44 changes to the Constitution; only eight changes have been agreed to.


More information: Fact Sheet – Referendums and Plebiscites

What is a plebiscite?

In Australia, a plebiscite asks the people to vote on whether Parliament should make or change a law, or implement a policy. Unlike a referendum, a plebiscite does not refer to a vote about changing the Australian Constitution and does not have any legal force. A plebiscite is a form of direct democracy because it provides citizens with an opportunity to affect Parliament's decisions about important issues.

There have been two national plebiscites since 1901. These requested the people's approval for military conscription during World War I; both were defeated.


More information: Fact Sheet – Referendums and Plebiscites

What is a double dissolution?

A double dissolution is the simultaneous dissolution, or shutting down, of both the Senate and the House of Representatives by the Governor-General. This results in the termination of all business before the Parliament and the calling of a federal election for all seats in the House of Representatives and all seats in the Senate. This is different to the usual electoral process, when only half the Senate is contested and some Senate work may continue.

A double dissolution only occurs when the two houses are deadlocked over the passage of a bill (proposed law).


More information: Fact Sheet – Double Dissolution

How can the community affect decision-making in Parliament?

The Parliament's role is to make decisions on behalf of all Australians; it is interested in finding out what the community thinks about important issues. There are many ways the community can get involved with the Parliament, including:

  • creating or signing a petition to request action from the Parliament
  • writing a submission and/or giving evidence to a parliamentary committee
  • writing to members of parliament to express concerns or discuss ideas or issues.

Contact details for members of parliament can be found on the Australian Parliament House website. Most members also have their own websites and some stay in contact with people via social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.


More information: Fact Sheet – Getting Involved in Parliament

What is a petition?

A petition is a written request by a group of citizens for the Parliament to take action on a particular issue. It is the oldest and most direct way that citizens can draw attention to a problem and ask the Parliament to help them. The Senate and the House of Representatives each have rules about how and in what form a petition can be presented to the chamber.

The petition with the largest number of signatures – 792 985 – was presented to the House of Representatives in 2000, asking the government not to increase taxes on beer.


More information: Fact Sheet – Petitions