Australian Parliament

This fact sheet explores the structure and key functions of the Australian Parliament. It covers Parliament’s roles of law-making, representing Australians, the formation of government, and checking the work of the government.

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 4 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.

Law-making

The Parliament makes new laws and amends—changes—existing laws. To make or amend a law, a bill must be introduced into the Parliament. A bill is usually a response to a problem or a way to improve things for the people of Australia. Most bills are introduced by a minister, although other members of parliament can introduce their own bills. Bills are debated and voted on by members of parliament.

To become a law a bill must be agreed to by a majority vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and be given Royal Assent by the Governor-General. A law is then also known as an Act of Parliament. For information on how many bills have been introduced or passed in this parliament, see Parliamentary Statistics.

Representing Australians

Members of parliament represent the views and interests of Australians.

There are 151 members of parliament elected to the House of Representatives. Each member represents 1 of the 151 electorates in Australia. There is approximately the same number of voters in each electorate.

Seventy-six senators represent Australian states and territories. There are 12 senators from each state and 2 senators each from the Australian Capital Territory and Northern 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.

Members of parliament also represent Australians by considering how bills and decisions of Parliament will affect those in their electorate or state/territory.

Formation of government

The Australian Government is formed by the party (or coalition of parties) with the support of the majority of members in the House of Representatives. Although the government is formed in the House of Representatives, both the government and opposition also have party members elected to the Senate.

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:

  • investigating bills in debates and committees
  • reviewing government decisions
  • participating in Senate estimates hearings 3 times a year, to investigate how the government has spent tax-payers' money
  • questioning the government each day in Question Time in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Parliamentary scrutiny helps to make sure the government acts responsibly when making decisions, spending public money and serving the interests of the people.

Parliament of Australia.

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

Parliamentary Education Office (peo.gov.au)

Description

This diagram illustrates the composition of the Australian Parliament. The Australian Parliament is made up of the Queen (represented by the Governor-General), the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Roles and responsibilities of the Australian Parliament.

Roles and responsiblities of the Australian Parliament: representation, legislation, formation of government, scrutiny.

Parliamentary Education Office (peo.gov.au)

Description

This diagram illustrates the roles and responsibilities of the Australian Parliament. The Australian Parliament: represents the people of Australia; makes and proposes Australian law; scrutinises the actions of the government; and is where government is formed.

Australian Parliament House.

The front of Australian Parliament House with the Great Verandah and the flagmast. In the foreground is water.

DPS Auspic

Description

This photo shows the front of Parliament House with the Great Verandah and the flagmast. In the foreground Michael Nelson Jagamara's Possum and Wallaby Dreaming mosaic is surrounded by water.