Government of Australia
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Government of Australia

The Government of the Commonwealth of Australia,
also referred to as the Australian Government, Commonwealth Government or the Federal Government
is the federal democratic administrative authority of Australia. The Commonwealth of Australia, a federal constitutional
monarchy under a parliamentary democracy, was formed in 1901 as a result of an agreement
among six self-governing British colonies, which became the six states. The terms of this contract are embodied in
the Australian Constitution, which was drawn up at a Constitutional Convention and ratified
by the people of the colonies at referendums. The structure of the Australian Government
may be examined in light of two distinct concepts, namely federalism and the separation of powers
into executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Separation of powers is implied from the structure
of the Constitution which breaks down the branches of government into separate chapters. The Australian federal system is a unique
mixture of the Westminster and U.S. systems of federal representative democracy, with
important elements of both present. Commonwealth Government
Section 1 of the Australian Constitution creates a democratic legislature, the bicameral Parliament
of Australia which consists of the Queen of Australia and two houses, the Senate and the
House of Representatives. Section 51 of the Constitution provides for
the Commonwealth Government’s legislative powers and allocates certain powers and responsibilities
to the Commonwealth government. All remaining responsibilities are retained
by the six States. Further, each State has its own constitution,
so that Australia has seven sovereign Parliaments, none of which can encroach on the functions
of any other. The High Court of Australia arbitrates on
any disputes which arise between the Commonwealth and the States, or among the States, concerning
their respective functions. The Commonwealth Parliament can propose changes
to the Constitution. To become effective, the proposals must be
put to a referendum of all Australians of voting age, and must receive a “double majority”:
a majority of all votes, and a majority of votes in a majority of States. The Commonwealth Constitution also provides
that the States can agree to refer any of their powers to the Commonwealth. This may be achieved by way of an amendment
to the Constitution via referendum. More commonly powers may be transferred by
passing other acts of legislation which authorise the transfer and such acts require the legislative
agreement of all the state governments involved. This “transfer” legislation may have a “sunset
clause”, a legislative provision that nullifies the transfer of power after a specified period,
at which point the original division of power is restored… In addition, Australia has several territories,
three of which are self-governing: the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory
and Norfolk Island. The legislatures of these territories exercise
powers delegated to them by the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth Parliament retains the
power to override territorial legislation and to transfer powers to or from the territories. Australian citizens living in the Australian
Capital Territory and the Northern Territory are directly represented in the Commonwealth
Parliament. Norfolk Islanders are not represented federally
per se, but residents of Norfolk Island are entitled to enrol in a mainland Australian
division in a state with which they have a connection, or the Division of Canberra in
the ACT, or the Division of Solomon in the NT. Enrolment for Norfolk Islanders is not compulsory,
but once enrolled, they must vote. Australia’s other territories that are regularly
inhabited Islands) are not self-governing. Instead, these territories are largely governed
by Commonwealth law, with Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands also having local governments. The largely uninhabited Coral Sea Islands
was established as a Territory of the Commonwealth in 1969 while Ashmore and Cartier Islands
has been a territory since 1933 and administered under the laws of the Northern Territory. The federal nature of the Commonwealth and
the structure of the Parliament of Australia were the subject of protracted negotiations
among the colonies during the drafting of the Constitution. The House of Representatives is elected on
a basis which reflects the differing populations of the States. Thus New South Wales has 48 members while
Tasmania has five. But the Senate is elected on a basis of equality
among the States: all States elect 12 Senators, regardless of population. This was intended to allow the Senators of
the smaller States to form a majority and amend or even reject bills originating in
the House of Representatives. The ACT and the NT also elect two senators
each. The third level of government after Commonwealth
and State/Territory is Local government, in the form of shire, town or city. These bodies such as Councils are composed
of elected representatives, usually serving on a part-time basis. Government is undertaken by three inter-connected
arms of government: Legislature: The Commonwealth Parliament
Executive: The Sovereign of Australia, whose executive power is exercisable by the Governor-General,
the Prime Minister, Ministers and their Departments Judiciary: The High Court of Australia and
subsidiary Federal courts. The Separation of powers is the principle
whereby the three arms of government undertake their activities separate from each other:
the Legislature proposes laws in the form of Bills, and provides a legislative framework
for the operations of the other two arms. The Sovereign is formally a part of the Parliament,
but takes no active role in these matters the Executive enacts the laws by Royal Assent,
administers the laws and carries out the tasks assigned to it by legislation
the Judiciary hears cases arising from the administration of the law, using both statute
law and the common law. The Australian courts cannot give advisory
opinions on the constitutionality of laws the other arms cannot influence the Judiciary. Until the passage of the Australia Act 1986,
and associated legislation in the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland, some Australian cases could be referred to the British Judicial Committee
of the Privy Council for final appeal. With this act, Australian law was made unequivocally
sovereign, and the High Court of Australia was confirmed as the highest court of appeal. The theoretical possibility of the British
Parliament enacting laws to override the Australian Constitution was also removed. Legislature The Legislature makes the laws, and supervises
the activities of the other two arms with a view to changing the laws when appropriate. The Australian Parliament is bicameral, consisting
of the Queen of Australia, a 76-member Senate and a 150-member House of Representatives. Twelve Senators from each state are elected
for six-year terms, using proportional representation and the single transferable vote, with half
elected every three years. In addition to the state Senators, two senators
are elected by voters from the Northern Territory Islands), while another two senators are elected
by the voters of the Australian Capital Territory. Senators from the territories are also elected
using preferential voting, however, their term of office is not fixed: it starts on
the day of a general election for the House of Representatives and ends the day before
the next such election day. The members of the House of Representatives
are elected by preferential voting from single-member constituencies allocated among the states
and territories roughly in proportion to population. In ordinary legislation, the two chambers
have coordinate powers, but all proposals for appropriating revenue or imposing taxes
must be introduced in the House of Representatives. Under the prevailing Westminster system, the
leader of the political party or coalition of parties that holds the support of a majority
of the members in the House of Representatives is invited to form a government and is named
Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet are responsible
to the Parliament, of which they must, in most circumstances, be members. General elections are held at least once every
three years. The Prime Minister has a discretion to advise
the Governor-General to call an election for the House of Representatives at any time,
but Senate elections can only be held within certain periods prescribed in the Constitution. The most recent general election was on 7
September 2013. The Commonwealth Parliament and all the state
and territory legislatures operate within the conventions of the Westminster system,
with a recognised Leader of the Opposition, usually the leader of the largest party outside
the government, and a Shadow Cabinet of Opposition members who “shadow” each member of the Ministry,
asking questions on matters within the Minister’s portfolio. Although the government, by virtue of commanding
a majority of members in the lower house of the legislature, can usually pass its legislation
and control the workings of the house, the Opposition can considerably delay the passage
of legislation and obstruct government business if it chooses. The day-to-day business of the house is usually
negotiated between a designated senior Minister, who holds the title Leader of the House, and
an Opposition frontbencher known as the Manager of Opposition Business in the House. The current Leader of the Opposition in the
Commonwealth parliament is Bill Shorten. Executive
Head of state The Australian Constitution dates from 1901,
when the Dominions of the British Empire were not sovereign states, and does not use the
term “head of state”. In practice, the role of head of state of
Australia is divided between two people, the Queen of Australia and the Governor-General
of Australia, who is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia. Though in many respects the Governor-General
is the Queen’s representative, and exercises various constitutional powers in her name,
they are also independently vested with many important powers by the Constitution. The Sovereign of Australia, currently Queen
Elizabeth II, is also the Sovereign of fifteen other Commonwealth realms including the United
Kingdom. Like the other Dominions, Australia gained
legislative independence from the Parliament of the United Kingdom by virtue of the Statute
of Westminster 1931, which was adopted in Australia in 1942 with retrospective effect
from 3 September 1939. By the Royal Style and Titles Act 1953, the
Australian Parliament gave the Queen the title Queen of Australia, and in 1973 titles with
any reference to her status as Queen of the United Kingdom and Defender of the Faith as
well were removed, making her Queen of Australia. Section 61 of the Constitution provides that
‘The executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen and is exercisable by
the Governor‑General as the Queen’s representative, and extends to the execution and maintenance
of this Constitution, and of the laws of the Commonwealth’. Section 2 of the Australian Constitution provides
that a Governor-General shall represent the Queen in Australia. In practice, the Governor-General carries
out all the functions usually performed by a head of state, without reference to the
Queen. The question of whether the Queen is Australia’s
head of state became a political one during the 1999 Australian republic referendum, when
opponents of the move to make Australia a republic claimed that Australia already had
an Australian as head of state in the person of the Governor-General, who since 1965 has
invariably been an Australian citizen. The former Governor-General, Major General
Michael Jeffery, said in 2004: “Her Majesty is Australia’s head of state but I am her
representative and to all intents and purposes I carry out the full role.” However, in 2005, he declined to name the
Queen as head of state, instead saying in response to a direct question, “The Queen
is the Monarch and I represent her, and I carry out all the functions of head of state.” The Governor-General represents Australia
internationally, making and receiving State visits. In 2009 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described
the Governor-General as the Australian head of state, announcing an overseas visit by
Quentin Bryce by saying, “A visit to Africa of this scale by Australia’s Head of State
will express the seriousness of Australia’s commitment”. Under the conventions of the Westminster system
the Governor-General’s powers are almost always exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister
or other ministers. The Governor-General retains reserve powers
similar to those possessed by the Queen in the United Kingdom. These are rarely exercised, but during the
Australian constitutional crisis of 1975 Governor-General Sir John Kerr used them independently of the
Queen and the Prime Minister. Australia has periodically experienced movements
seeking to end the monarchy. In a 1999 referendum, the Australian people
voted on a proposal to change the Constitution. The proposal would have removed references
to the Queen from the Constitution and replaced the Governor-General with a President nominated
by the Prime Minister, but subject to the approval of a two-thirds majority of both
Houses of the Parliament. The proposal was defeated. The Australian Republican Movement continues
to campaign for an end to the monarchy in Australia, opposed by Australians for Constitutional
Monarchy and Australian Monarchist League. Executive Council The Federal Executive Council consists of
the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and Ministers. It is a formal body which exists to give legal
effect to decisions made by the Cabinet, and to carry out various other functions. Members of the Executive Council are entitled
to be styled “The Honourable”, a title which they retain for life. The Governor-General usually presides at Council
meetings, but a Minister with the title Vice-President of the Executive Council serves as the link
between the government and the Council. Cabinet The Constitution of Australia does not recognise
the Cabinet, and its decisions have no legal force. All members of the ministry must be sworn
as members of the Federal Executive Council, a body which is chaired by the Governor-General
and which meets solely to endorse and give legal force to decisions already made by the
Cabinet. That is why there is always a member of the
ministry holding the title Vice-President of the Executive Council. Until 1956 all members of the ministry were
members of the Cabinet. The growth of the ministry in the 1940s and
1950s made this increasingly impractical, and in 1956 Robert Menzies created a two-tier
ministry, with only senior ministers holding Cabinet rank, also known within parliament
as the front bench. This practice has been continued by all governments
except the Whitlam Government. When the non-Labor parties are in power, the
Prime Minister makes all Cabinet and ministerial appointments at their own discretion, although
in practice they consult with senior colleagues in making appointments. When the Liberal Party and its predecessors
have been in coalition with the National Party or its predecessor the Country Party, the
leader of the junior Coalition party has had the right to nominate their party’s members
of the Coalition ministry, and to be consulted by the Prime Minister on the allocation of
their portfolios. When the Labor first held office under Chris
Watson, Watson assumed the right to choose members of his Cabinet. In 1907, however, the party decided that future
Labor Cabinets would be elected by the members of the Parliamentary Labor Party, the Caucus,
and the Prime Minister would retain the right to allocate portfolios. This practice was followed until 2007. Between 1907 and 2007, Labor Prime Ministers
exercised a predominant influence over who was elected to Labor ministries, although
the leaders of the party factions also exercised considerable influence. Prior to the 2007 general election, the then
Leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd, said that he and he alone would choose the ministry
should he become Prime Minister. His party won the election and he chose the
ministry, as he said he would. The cabinet meets not only in Canberra but
also in various other Australian state capitals, most frequently Sydney and Melbourne. Kevin Rudd was in favour of the Cabinet meeting
in other places, such as major regional cities. There are Commonwealth Parliament Offices
in each State Capital, with those in Sydney located in Phillip Street. Departments
There are 17 departments of the Australian Government. Attorney-General’s Department
Department of Agriculture Department of Communications
Department of Defence Department of Education
Department of Employment Department of Social Services
Department of Finance and Deregulation Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Department of Health Department of Human Services
Department of Immigration and Border Protection Department of Infrastructure and Regional
Development Department of Industry
Department of Environment Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Department of Veterans’ Affairs The Treasury
Caretaker governments There are times when the government acts in
a “caretaker” capacity, principally in the period prior to and immediately following
a general election. Judiciary The Judiciary interprets the laws, using as
a basis the laws as enacted and explanatory statements made in the Legislature during
the enactment. High Court of Australia
Federal Court of Australia Family Court of Australia
Federal Magistrates Court See also
Abbott Ministry Australian federal budget
Australian Public Service References
Footnotes ^ Prior to 1931, the junior status of dominions
was shown in the fact that it was British ministers who advised the King, with dominion
ministers, if they met the King at all, escorted by the constitutionally superior British minister. After 1931 all dominion ministers met the
King as His ministers as of right, equal in Commonwealth status to Britain’s ministers,
meaning that there was no longer either a requirement for, or an acceptance of, the
presence of British ministers. The first state to exercise this both symbolic
and real independence was the Irish Free State. Australia and other dominions soon followed. Citations External links
Australian Federal Government Government departments Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Attorney-General’s Department
Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Department of Defence
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
Department of Finance and Deregulation Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Department of Health Department of Human Services
Department of Immigration and Citizenship Department of Innovation, Industry, Science
and Research Department of Infrastructure and Transport
Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government
Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Department of Veterans’ Affairs The Treasury


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