This fact sheet explores the role and functions of the Australian Government, including who is in the government, how it is formed, minority government and the principle of responsible government.
The Australian Government is part of the Australian Parliament. At a federal election, the party or coalition of parties with the support of the majority of members elected to the House of Representatives becomes the government. They remain the government until they lose the support of the majority of members, which rarely happens outside of a federal election.
Although government is formed in the House of Representatives, there are also members of the government in the Senate. The government may or may not hold the majority of seats in the Senate.
Majority and minority government
Usually a single party or coalition of parties is voted in with a majority in their own right, which is known as a majority government. If no political party or coalition achieves a majority in the House of Representatives, the result is called a hung parliament. It is still possible for a government to be formed if a majority can be achieved through agreement with independent and/or minor party members. This type of government is known as a minority government.
The responsibilities of the Australian Government include:
- developing national policy, for example, plans for managing trade, foreign affairs, immigration and the environment.
- introducing bills – ideas for new laws or changes to existing ones – into Parliament.
- putting laws into action, through government departments.
- making important decisions on behalf of Australians, such as whether or not to send Australian troops to war zones.
- representing Australia overseas, through key spokespersons such as the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
The leader of the Australian Government is the Prime Minister, who is a member of the House of Representatives. They are elected by their party to lead their team, and have the power to choose other members of the government for important roles. The Prime Minister gives areas of responsibility for how Australia is run – a portfolio – to selected members of the government who become ministers for that portfolio.
Members of the government who are not ministers are backbenchers. They do a range of work for the government, including researching, participating in committees, making speeches and voting on bills.
To remain in government, a party or coalition must maintain the support of the majority of members in the House of Representatives. This is part of the principle of responsible government. It ensures the government is accountable to the Parliament.
In Australia, the principle of responsible government works together with the principle of the separation of powers to guide the way in which law is made and managed.
The government side of the House of Representatives.
Penny Bradfield/DPS AUSPIC
The Prime Minister and members of the government in the House of Representatives.
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