Parliament is a body of people, whom collectively have the ultimate power to make law on behalf of a state. It is the ultimate law-making body in Australia.
Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected by the people to represent their views when making law. There are 9 Parliaments in Australia:
The structures of Commonwealth and Victorian parliaments are based on the British ‘Westminster’ System. This means that they are ‘bicameral’ (they comprise two houses, one upper and one lower), and that they are headed by the ‘Crown’, which is the Queen’s representative. Therefore, parliament consists of all the members of the lower house, all the members of the upper house and the Crown. The broad role of a parliament is to make legislation (law), and to govern for the people it represents. Additionally, parliament fulfils the roles of: forming government, scrutinising government and providing a forum for debate.
The Crown is represented by the Governor-General. The Governor-General is currently Peter Cosgrove.1 The Crown sits at the top of the federal parliamentary hierarchy. Rather than being elected, the Governor-General is appointed by the Prime Minister. The Governor-General fulfils the following roles, which are generally ceremonial in nature:
The Senate is the upper house of Commonwealth Parliament. There are 76 members of the Senate. Of these 76, each state elects twelve representatives (regardless of each state’s population), and each territory elects two. Senators are elected for six years. Every three years, there is a half Senate election, meaning that half of the Senators are up for re-election. The Senate fulfils the following roles:
Critics of the Senate highlight the fact that the Senate’s capacity to fulfil one of its key roles – reviewing bills – may be hindered by its composition. If the government of the day also holds a majority in the Senate, as the Howard Government did from 2004-2007, the Senate risks becoming a “rubber stamp”, wherein it simply passes government legislation rather than reviewing it.2 Similarly, if the opposition has total control of the Senate, it may block government bills without scrutiny. Though, in theory, this Senate composition would encourage greater cooperation and compromise between the major parties, therefore allowing for a bill’s extensive scrutiny in the process. However, the more common Senate composition in modern Australia is one in which a minor party holds power. As of mid-2014, the Palmer United Party (PUP) will hold the balance of power in the Senate.3 This may, again, result in the diminishment of the Senate’s likelihood of reviewing bills. Rather than reviewing and amending a bill with the people’s best interests at heart, parties may pander to the interests of minor parties instead. Indeed, these circumstances catalysed the formation of some minor parties, such as the Australian Democrats. In controlling the Senate, they aimed to extensively review bills and therefore hold the major parties to account.4
The House of Representatives is the lower house of Commonwealth Parliament. There are 150 members in the House of Representatives. Each of the 150 members individually represent, and are voted in by, an electorate of approximately 80,000 people. However, each state is guaranteed at least five members in this house, regardless of its population. Each member of the House of Representatives is elected for a three year term before facing re-election. Additionally, the political party with the majority of seats in this house forms government. The House of Representatives fulfils the following roles:
The Crown is represented by the Governor. The Governor of Victoria is currently Linda Dessau.5 Similarly to the Governor-General, the Governor sits at the top of the federal parliamentary hierarchy. Rather than being elected, the General is appointed by the Premier of Victoria. The Governor fulfils the following roles, which are generally ceremonial in nature:
The Legislative Council is the upper house of Victorian Parliament. There are 40 members of the Legislative Council. Victoria is divided into eight regions. Each region elects five representatives to the Legislative Council. Members of the Legislative Council are elected for four year terms, facing re-election at the end. The Legislative Council fulfils the following roles:
The Legislative Assembly is the lower house of Commonwealth Parliament. There are 88 members in the Legislative Assembly. Each of the 88 members individually represent, and are voted in by, an electorate of approximately 30,000 to 35,000 people. Each member of the Legislative Assembly is elected for a four year term before facing re-election. Additionally, the political party with the majority of seats in this house forms government. The Legislative Assembly fulfils the following roles:
Latika Bourke, ABC News, March 28 2014, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-28/peter-cosgrove-sworn-in-governor-general/5351436. ↩
The Age, Howard wins control of the Senate, Oct 28 2004, http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/10/28/1098667878620.html ↩
Brisbane Times, “Palmer set to hold Senate balance of power” October 10 2013, http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/palmer-set-to-hold-senate-balance-of-power-20131010-2v9g4.html ↩
Australian Democrats, “The Australian Democrats secured the balance of power in the Senate”, http://www.australiandemocrats.org.au/first_time_balance_of_power ↩
Stephanie Anderson, The Age, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-07-01/victorias-first-female-governor-linda-dessau-sworn-in/6586720 ↩
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