Representative government is a political system whereby the people choose a government, and, therefore, the government represents the people. This means that the elected government must act on the behalf of the views of its electors. In order to ensure that the government is constantly reflecting the interests of the people in its legislation, elections are held regularly. For instance, elections to federal parliament occur every three years. If the government or members of parliament fail to represent the views of their constituents, they will likely not be re-elected.
The way in which electorates are divided affects the operation of representative government in Australia.
The House of Representatives, the lower house in Commonwealth Parliament, is designed so that its members represent the majority of Australians. This is done by dividing the nation into 150 electorates. Population, rather than geographic size, determines where these electorates will be. Therefore, each of the 150 members represents one electorate, which makes up approximately 80,000 people.
By contrast, the Senate, the upper house in Commonwealth Parliament, is designed to represent the interests of each individual state equally, regardless of population. This is why the Senate, of its 76 members, comprises twelve members from each state, and two from each territory.
Similarly to the House of Representatives, the Legislative Assembly is designed so that its members represent the majority of Victorians. Its 88 members represent 88 individual electorates of 35,000-40,000 people each.1
The Legislative Council aims to ensure that minority and regional interests are represented. Its 40 members are comprised of five members from each of Victoria’s eight regions.
Responsible government is a political principle, which states that governments and members of parliament (MPs) must be accountable for their actions. A government is accountable and answerable to its parliament, and therefore parliament is accountable and answerable to the people. In Australia, governments, ministers and MPs are kept accountable by a number of methods.
The public is able to scrutinise the government through these means:
MPs have these methods available to keep each other accountable:
Notably, if a government becomes irresponsible and loses the confidence of the people, it must resign. Similarly, if individual MPs do not act with integrity and responsibility, they also must resign.
Victorian Electoral Commission, State Overview Map – All Regions and Districts, 2012, https://www.vec.vic.gov.au/images/maps/Map-stateAllRegionsandDistricts.pdf ↩
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