Quick Answers

People in Parliament House

Who works in Australia's Parliament House?

Parliament House is a busy place, with 4000 to 5000 people working in the building on sitting days, including:

  • members of parliament and their staff
  • parliamentary officers and public servants who support the work of the Parliament and the government
  • the press gallery
  • employees who provide services such as broadcasting, computing, cleaning and catering.

More information: Parliament NOW – Who's who

What is a member of parliament?

Members of parliament have been elected by Australian voters to represent them in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. There are a total of 226 members of parliament: 150 in the House of Representatives (referred to as members or MPs) and 76 in the Senate (referred to as senators).


More information: Fact Sheet – Members of the House of Representatives / Fact Sheet – Senators

What does a senator do?

Seventy-six senators are elected to the Senate. Twelve senators represent each state and two senators represent each territory. In the Senate, their duties include:

  • preparing and delivering speeches and debating bills (proposed laws)
  • proposing amendments to bills and debating the proposed changes
  • representing the interests of people in their state or territory
  • raising concerns about issues of national and state/territory interest
  • listening to ministerial statements and papers presented by ministers
  • considering recommendations of parliamentary committee reports.

When not in the chamber, senators may be working on parliamentary committees to gather information and prepare reports about important issues. They also work with individuals and communities in their state or territory.


More information: Fact Sheet – Senators

What does a member of the House of Representatives do?

There are 150 members elected to the House of Representatives (also referred to as MPs).  Each member represents one of the 150 electorates in Australia. In the House of Representatives, their duties include:

  • preparing and delivering speeches and debating bills (proposed laws)
  • proposing amendments to bills and debating the proposed changes
  • representing the interests of people in their electorates
  • raising concerns about issues of national and electorate interest
  • listening to ministerial statements and papers presented by ministers
  • considering recommendations of parliamentary committee reports.

When not in the chamber, MPs may be working on parliamentary committees to gather information and prepare reports about important issues. They also work with individuals and communities in their electorate.


More information: Fact Sheet – Members of the House of Representatives

What is the Prime Minister's job?

The Prime Minister is the head of the Australian Government and is also a member of parliament. They lead the parliamentary party or coalition of parties with the support of the majority of members in the House of Representatives.

The Prime Minister has many tasks, including:

  • chairing meetings in which the government discusses policy and examines bills (proposed laws)
  • selecting members of the government to be ministers
  • meeting with top-level ministers in Cabinet to decide government policy
  • acting as the chief government spokesperson
  • representing the Australian Government overseas
  • advising the Governor-General about constitutional issues, as well as the appointment of ambassadors and heads of government departments.

More information: Fact Sheet – Prime Minister

How is the Prime Minister selected?

The Prime Minister is a member of parliament, who is elected as leader of the party in government. The Prime Minister is chosen as leader by a vote of party members. The government can vote to replace the Prime Minister with another member of the government at any time.


More information: Fact Sheet – Prime Minister

How long can the Prime Minister keep their job?

A Prime Minister can keep their job as long as they:

  • are a member of parliament
  • belong to the parliamentary party or coalition of parties that has formed government with the support of the majority of members in the House of Representatives
  • have the support of their party.

Australia has no maximum period of service for a Prime Minister, unlike countries such as the United States, where the President can only serve for two four-year terms.


More information: Fact Sheet – Prime Minister

What is the Leader of the Opposition's job?

The Leader of the Opposition is a member of parliament who leads the largest party or coalition of parties that is not in government. The role of the Leader of the Opposition includes:

  • leading meetings of the opposition and the Shadow Cabinet
  • choosing members of the opposition to be shadow ministers
  • acting as the chief opposition spokesperson.

More information: Fact Sheet – Leader of the Opposition

Are there leaders in the Senate?

The government and opposition both have leaders in the Senate, although they do not have the authority of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, who work in the House of Representatives. The Leader of the Government in the Senate is chosen by a vote of government senators. Likewise, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate is chosen by a vote of opposition senators.


More information: Fact Sheet – Leadership in the Parliament

What is a minister's job?

As a leading member of the government, a minister is given a specific area of responsibility, also known as a portfolio. Most ministers are in charge of a government department or assist in the administration of a department, such as the Department of Defence. Ministers work with their departments, as well as community organisations and professional associations to prepare new laws and change old laws which need updating or improving.

The most high-profile portfolios are usually given to the most experienced government members, who become Cabinet ministers.


More information: Fact Sheet – Ministers and Shadow Ministers

What is a shadow minister's job?

A shadow minister is a member of the opposition that has been given the special responsibility of keeping a check on a government minister and their portfolio. For example, the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing examines the actions of the Minister for Health and Ageing and the Department of Health and Ageing. A shadow minister also speaks about policies on behalf of the opposition. If the opposition wins government at a federal election, a shadow minister is likely to become a minister.


More information: Fact Sheet – Ministers and Shadow Ministers

What is a party whip's job?

A party whip is a member of parliament who is selected as a parliamentary party official. The whip is like a team manager, organising the activities of party members in the Parliament. Each party has whips who work in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Their responsibilities include:

  • planning what will happen in the chamber and who will speak on each sitting day
  • making sure party members attend and vote together during a division
  • counting and recording a division vote
  • providing advice and support for party members
  • ensuring that party decisions are properly carried out.

More information: Fact Sheet – Party Whip

What is a backbencher's job?

Backbenchers are members of parliament who are not ministers or shadow ministers. Government and opposition backbenchers sit in the back rows of seats in the Senate or the House of Representatives. As well as participating in debates on bills and other parliamentary business, backbenchers spend much of their time dealing with electorate issues and working on parliamentary committees.


More information: Fact Sheet – Backbenchers and Frontbenchers

Why are some members of parliament called 'Honourable'?

A member of parliament who is or has been a minister or Presiding Officer may use the title 'Honourable'. This title may be used for the rest of their life and reflects the honour and responsibility of having been a minister or Presiding Officer.


More information: Parliament NOW – Who's who

Who are parliamentary officers?

Parliamentary officers work for the Parliament and have important duties to support the Parliament. They are not members of parliament and are not elected to represent the Australian people. The parliamentary officers include the Clerks and Deputy Clerks in both chambers, the Serjeant-at-Arms in the House of Representatives and the Usher of the Black Rod in the Senate.


More information: Parliament NOW – Who's who

What do the Clerks do?

The Senate and the House of Representatives each have a Clerk, who is the top-level parliamentary officer in each chamber.

The Clerk's responsibilities include:

  • assisting the Presiding Officer to run the chamber, advising on standing orders (rules of the chamber), preparing documents, arranging processes for the order of business, and certifying the passage of bills
  • recording the actions and decisions of the chamber in a daily publication
  • assisting with ceremonial occasions, such as the opening of Parliament and the swearing-in of new members of parliament.

When the Clerks are not in the chambers, they each run a department which organises the operations of the Parliament and assists members of parliament in their work.


More information: Fact Sheet – Clerks

What does the Usher of the Black Rod do?

The Usher of the Black Rod is a parliamentary officer in the Senate, whose duties include:

  • carrying the Black Rod while escorting the President into and out of the chamber, to start and finish each sitting day
  • assisting the President to maintain order and recording the attendance of senators in the chamber
  • standing guard during a division vote when all chamber doors are locked
  • looking after security in the chamber
  • delivering messages or bills from the Senate to the House of Representatives
  • playing an important role in special ceremonial occasions, such as the opening of Parliament.

When the Usher of the Black Rod is not in the chamber, they work in the Department of the Senate, providing important services to the Parliament.


More information: Fact Sheet – Usher of the Black Rod

What does the Serjeant-at-Arms do?

The Serjeant-at-Arms is a parliamentary officer in the House of Representatives, whose duties include:

  • carrying the Mace while escorting the Speaker into and out of the chamber, to start and finish each sitting day
  • assisting the Speaker to maintain order and recording the attendance of members in the chamber
  • standing guard during a division vote when all chamber doors are locked
  • looking after security in the chamber
  • delivering messages or bills from the House of Representatives to the Senate
  • playing an important role in special ceremonial occasions, such as the opening of Parliament.

When the Serjeant-at-Arms is not in the chamber, they work in the Department of the House of Representatives, providing important services to the Parliament.


More information: Fact Sheet – Serjeant-at-Arms

What is a political party?

A political party is an organisation that represents a particular group of people or set of ideas. A party aims to have members elected to Parliament, so they can contribute to the way Australia is governed. Political parties have branches all around Australia. Party members in each branch can suggest ideas for policies, help to choose candidates for elections, and assist with election campaigns.

Political parties must register with the Australian Electoral Commission and conform to regulations in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

Currently, the two largest political parties in Australia are the Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Labor Party.


More information: Fact Sheet – Political Parties

What is a parliamentary party?

A political party becomes a parliamentary party when it has members elected to a parliament at the federal, state/territory or local level.

A parliamentary party works as a team and generally votes the same way on issues before the parliament. Party members are given different tasks so that the work is shared and individuals can focus on particular issues.


More information: Fact Sheet – Political Parties

What parties are in the federal Parliament?

The current federal Parliament is made up of members from the Liberal Party of Australia, the Nationals, the Australian Labor Party, the Australian Greens, the Country Liberal Party, the Democratic Labor Party, Katter’s Australian Party and Palmer United Party. There are also Independent members of parliament who do not belong to any political party.


More information: Fact Sheet – Political Parties

What is a coalition?

A coalition is formed when two or more political parties join together. In Parliament, parties may form a coalition to create a bigger group and gain more power. Parties that form a coalition sit next to each other and generally vote the same way on issues in the Parliament.

The Liberal Party of Australia and the Nationals have formed the longest-running coalition in the federal Parliament.


More information: Fact Sheet – Political Parties

What is the press gallery?

The press gallery is made up of approximately 250 journalists and related staff who work for newspapers, television, radio stations and other organisations that collect and publish information.

The press gallery also describes the area of Parliament House in which journalists work. This includes offices, broadcast studios and the special viewing areas above the Presiding Officer's chair in both the Senate and House of Representatives chambers.


More information: Fact Sheet – Press Gallery

What is the role of the media?

The media informs the public about what is happening in the Australian Parliament. Members of parliament give interviews so they can explain what they are doing and what is happening in Parliament.

The media can select the news they think is important or interesting, and report it through television, newspapers, radio and other mediums. Journalists have a professional responsibility to find the truth and to compare information from different sources. The media has an important role in scrutinising the Parliament.


More information: Fact Sheet – Press Gallery