The Australian Parliament consists of the Queen (represented by the Governor-General), the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Parliament is located in Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory.
In 1901 the Australian Constitution established the Australian Parliament, also known as the federal Parliament or the Commonwealth Parliament.
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 Parliament makes new laws and amends existing laws. To make or amend a law, a bill (a proposed law) must be introduced into the Parliament. Most bills are introduced by ministers, although non-government members of parliament may introduce their own bills. Bills are debated and voted on by members of parliament.
A bill becomes a law if it is passed with a majority vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate and is given Royal Assent (approval) by the Governor-General. A law is then also known as an Act of Parliament. Each year, Parliament introduces about 200 bills and passes about 160 bills (see Bills and Laws). A bill is usually a response to a problem or a way to improve things for the people of Australia.
Members of parliament represent the views and interests of Australians.
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. On average, 94 000 voters live in each electorate.
Seventy-six senators represent Australian states and territories. There are twelve senators from each state and two senators from each territory.
Members of parliament represent their electorates or states/territories by finding out about people's interests and concerns and by speaking about them in Parliament. Members of parliament assist constituents who may be having difficulties with issues such as pensions, migration and taxation (see Members of the House of Representatives and Senators).
Members of parliament also represent the people by considering how bills and decisions of Parliament will affect those in their electorate or state/territory.
Formation of government
The Parliament provides an institution in which the government is formed from the party (or coalition) with the support of the majority of members in the House of Representatives. As the government is made in the House of Representatives, it can also be unmade if it does not retain the confidence, or support, of the majority of members. Although the government is formed in the House of Representatives, both the government and opposition also have members elected to the Senate (see Government).
The government manages important national issues like trade, immigration or the environment. Laws passed by the Parliament are put into action by the government. The government also represents Australia internationally.
Checking the work of the government
The Parliament scrutinises (closely examines) the work of the government in several ways, including:
- examining bills, in chamber debates and parliamentary committees
- analysing government decisions in major policy debates
- participating in Senate estimates hearings three times a year, to investigate how the government has spent tax-payers' money
- questioning the government each day at Question Time in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Parliamentary scrutiny helps to ensure the government acts responsibly when managing Australia's affairs, spending public money and serving the interests of the people.