Frontbenchers and backbenchers

This fact sheet investigates the work of frontbenchers (members of parliament who sit on the front seats of either the Senate or House of Representatives) and backbenchers (members of parliament who sit in the rows of seats behind the frontbench).

Ministers and shadow ministers sit on the front row of the seats in either the Senate or the House of Representatives. That is why they are referred to as frontbenchers. Backbenchers are members of parliament who are not ministers or shadow ministers; they sit in the rows of seats behind the frontbench.

Most members of parliament start their parliamentary career as a backbencher. A promotion to the frontbench means not only a change in role but a change in seating.

Role of frontbenchers

Government frontbenchers are ministers who have been allocated a portfolio. In the Senate and House, the role of a minister includes introducing bills and answering questions about their portfolio during Question Time.

Opposition frontbenchers are shadow ministers who have been given the responsibility of scrutinising - closely examining - the work of a particular minister and their portfolio. In the Senate and House, the role of a shadow minister includes speaking about opposition policies and asking questions to relevant ministers during Question Time.

Role of backbenchers

Most of the work conducted in the Senate and House relates to debating and voting on bills. Backbenchers also draw attention to electorate or state and territory issues by speaking about them in Parliament.

When not in the Senate or House, backbenchers have several roles, including working to provide help and services to their community, and participating in committees.

The government side of the House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives with a large table at which the Prime Minister and the Clerks sit. There are 5 rows of seats behind the Prime Minister, with the rear 4 rows also having desks in front of the seats.

Penny Bradfield/DPS AUSPIC


The Prime Minister and members of the government in the House of Representatives.