House of Representatives

This fact sheet explores the House of Representatives, one of the two chambers of the Australian Parliament. It includes information about the role, appearance and history of the House.

The House of Representatives is a part of the Australian Parliament which also consists of the Queen (represented by the Governor-General) and the Senate. The House of Representatives is also known as the lower house. Members of the House of Representatives are elected by the people of Australia.

Role

The House of Representatives is made up of 151 members. Each member represents one of Australia's 151 electorates. There is approximately the same number of voters in each electorate.

The Australian Government is formed in the House of Representatives by the party, or coalition of parties, with the support of the majority of members in the House.

In the House of Representatives:

  • members represent the views of Australians and discuss matters of national and international importance
  • national laws are made and changed by debating and voting on bills—proposed laws. A bill must be agreed to in identical form in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and given Royal Assent by the Governor-General. It then becomes a law
  • the work of the government is scrutinised—closely examined—especially in Question Time and through committees.

Appearance

The House of Representatives is green. The tradition of a green lower house comes from the House of Commons in the British Parliament. The grey-green tones used in the House of Representatives are softer shades, typical of the Australian landscape.

The seats in the House of Representatives are arranged in rows to form a U-shape. The Speaker of the House of Representatives sits at the open end of the U-shape and is responsible for the orderly running of the chamber. Government members sit to the right of the Speaker and opposition members sit to the left. The Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition sit in front of their respective teams at a central table. Minor parties and independents sit in the central curved part of the U-shape.

The House of Representatives has 4 raised viewing galleries. One is directly above the Speaker and is reserved for the press gallery. The other galleries on either side of the chamber are open to the public. Members of the press gallery and the public may visit the chamber at any time.

Federation Chamber

The Federation Chamber is the second chamber of the House of Representatives, which can operate at the same time as the House. All members of the House are members of the Federation Chamber. It has a similar layout to the House, with U-shaped seating for members as well as seating for the media, public and advisors.

This chamber was set up in 1994 as the Main Committee, and renamed the Federation Chamber in February 2012. It was established to streamline the House's busy schedule and to increase the time available for conducting non-controversial business. Despite its original name, the Federation Chamber does not hold committee meetings. Its work includes:

  • debating bills on which there is expected to be agreement
  • debating committee reports
  • conducting private members' business, which allows members to speak on any topic, particularly matters in their electorate.

The rules used in the Federation Chamber are almost identical to those used in the House, although divisions are not held in the Federation Chamber. If a decision requires a division it must be referred back to the House. All decisions made in the Federation Chamber are reported to the House of Representatives before moving to the next stage. When a division is called in the House of Representatives, activities in the Federation Chamber are suspended so that members can go to the House to vote.

Federation Chamber meetings are chaired by the Deputy Speaker of the House or members of the Speaker's panel. The Federation Chamber can function with a quorum—minimum number—of only 3 members, including the chair.

Reporting

Parliamentary proceedings are recorded and broadcast on ABC TV and radio, A-PAC (Australian Public Affairs Channel) and on the Parliament House website. Hansard reporters produce a daily record of what is said in the House of Representatives and Federation Chamber.

History

The physical appearance of the House of Representatives and some of its practices are derived from the British Parliament. However, the drafters of the Australian Constitution also looked to the United States (US) Congress when deciding on the form of the Australian Parliament. For example, the names 'House of Representatives' and 'Senate' were borrowed from the US system.

Although the House of Representatives has links with both the British Parliament and the US Congress, it has developed its own unique style and procedures over the last century.

The House of Representatives chamber

The green House of Representatives chamber. There are people sitting in seats arranged in a U-shape.

DPS Auspic

Description

This image is of a large room with green furnishings. The seats are arranged around a large central table. There is a large chair at the open end of the U-shaped seats that is elevated above the other chairs. There are people sitting in the seats and papers on the desks.

Role of the House of Representatives

The role of the House of Representatives is to represent the people, examine issue and making and amending laws.

Parliamentary Education Office (peo.gov.au)

Description

This diagram illustrates the role of the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives: is where government is formed; decides matters of national interest; represents the interests of people in their electorates; proposes, debates and votes of bills and amendments; examines issues in committees; and scrutinises executive government.

House of Representatives current numbers

The current numbers in the Australian House of Representatives: Government 77, Opposition 68, Minor Parties 3, Independents 3

Parliamentary Education Office (peo.gov.au), DPS AUSPIC

Description

Government – 77 members

  • Liberal Party of Australia
  • The Nationals
  • Country Liberal Party

Opposition – 68 members

  • Australian Labor Party

Independents – 3 members

Minor parties – 3 members

  • Australian Greens (1) 
  • Katter's Australian Party (1)
  • Centre Alliance (1)

As at 3 July 2019