Australian House of Representatives
The term of members of the House of Representatives is a maximum of three years from the date of the first sitting of the House, but on only one occasion
since Federation has the maximum term been reached. The House is almost always dissolved earlier, usually alone but sometimes in a double dissolution
of both Houses. Elections for members of the House of Representatives are often held in conjunction with those for the Senate. A member of the House may be referred to as a "Member of Parliament" ("MP" or "Member"), while a member of the Senate is usually referred to as a "Senator". The government of the day and by extension the Prime Minister
must achieve and maintain the confidence of this House in order to gain and remain in power.
The House of Representatives currently consists of 151 members, elected by and representing single member districts known as electoral divisions
(commonly referred to as "electorates" or "seats"). The number of members is not fixed but can vary with boundary changes resulting from electoral redistributions
, which are required on a regular basis. The most recent overall increase in the size of the House, which came into effect at the 1984 election
, increased the number of members from 125 to 148. It reduced to 147 at the 1993 election
, returned to 148 at the 1996 election
, increased to 150 at the 2001 election
, and stands at 151 as of the 2019 Australian federal election
Origins and role
The Australian House of Representatives in 1901
The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (Imp.)
of 1900 established the House of Representatives as part of the new system of dominion
government in newly federated
Australia. The House is presided over by the Speaker
. Members of the House are elected from single member electorates
(geographic districts, commonly referred to as "seats" but officially known as "Divisions of the Australian House of Representatives
"). One vote, one value
legislation requires all electorates
to have approximately the same number of voters with a maximum 10% variation. However, the baseline quota for the number of voters in an electorate is determined by the number of voters in the state in which that electorate is found. Consequently, the electorates of the smallest states and territories
have more variation in the number of voters in their electorates. Meanwhile, all the states except Tasmania have electorates approximately within the same 10% tolerance, with most electorates holding 85,000 to 105,000 voters. Federal electorates have their boundaries redrawn or redistributed whenever a state or territory has its number of seats adjusted, if electorates are not generally matched by population size or if seven years have passed since the most recent redistribution.
Voting is by the 'preferential system', also known as instant-runoff voting
. A full allocation of preferences is required for a vote to be considered formal. This allows for a calculation of the two-party-preferred vote
Under Section 24 of the Constitution, each state
is entitled to members based on a population quota determined from the "latest statistics of the Commonwealth."
These statistics arise from the census
conducted under the auspices of section 51(xi)
Until its repeal by the 1967 referendum
, section 127
prohibited the inclusion of Aboriginal people in section 24 determinations as including the Indigenous peoples could alter the distribution of seats between the states to the benefit of states with larger Aboriginal populations.
Section 127, along with section 25
(allowing for race-based disqualification of voters by states)
and the race power
have been described as racism built into Australia's constitutional DNA,
and modifications to prevent lawful race-based discrimination have been proposed.
The parliamentary entitlement of a state or territory is established by the Electoral Commissioner dividing the number of the people of the Commonwealth by twice the number of Senators. This is known as the "Nexus Provision". The reasons for this are twofold, to maintain a constant influence for the smaller states and to maintain a constant balance of the two Houses in case of a joint sitting after a double dissolution. The population of each state and territory is then divided by this quota to determine the number of members to which each state and territory is entitled. Under the Australian Constitution
all original states are guaranteed at least five members. The Federal Parliament itself has decided that the Australian Capital Territory
and the Northern Territory
should have at least one member each.
According to the Constitution, the powers of both Houses are nearly equal, with the consent of both Houses needed to pass legislation. The difference mostly relates to taxation legislation. In practice, by convention, the person who can control a majority of votes in the lower house is invited by the Governor-General
to form the Government. In practice that means that the leader of the party (or coalition of parties) with a majority of members in the House becomes the Prime Minister
, who then can nominate other elected members of the government party in both the House and the Senate to become ministers responsible for various portfolios and administer government departments. Bills appropriating money (supply bills) can only be introduced in the lower house and thus only the party with a majority in the lower house can govern. In the current Australian party system, this ensures that virtually all contentious votes are along party lines, and the Government usually has a majority in those votes.
The Opposition party's main role in the House is to present arguments against the Government's policies and legislation where appropriate, and attempt to hold the Government accountable as much as possible by asking questions of importance during Question Time
and during debates on legislation. By contrast, the only period in recent times during which the government of the day has had a majority in the Senate was from July 2005 (following the 2004 election
) to December 2007 (following the Coalition's defeat at the federal election that year
). Hence, votes in the Senate are usually more meaningful. The House's well-established committee system is not always as prominent as the Senate committee system because of the frequent lack of Senate majority.
Frontbench and dispatch box
In a reflection of the United Kingdom House of Commons
, the predominant colour of the furnishings in the House of Representatives is green. However, the colour was tinted slightly in the new Parliament House
(opened 1988) to suggest the colour of eucalyptus
trees. Also, unlike the House of Commons, the seating arrangement of the crossbench is curved, similar to the curved seating arrangement of the United States House of Representatives
. This suggests a more collaborative, and less oppositional, system than in the United Kingdom parliament (where all members of parliament are seated facing the opposite side).
Australian parliaments are notoriously rowdy, with MPs often trading colourful insults. As a result, the Speaker often has to use the disciplinary powers granted to him or her under Standing Orders.
From the beginning of Federation until 1918, first-past-the-post voting
was used in order to elect members of the House of Representatives but since the 1918 Swan by-election
unexpectedly won with the largest primary vote due to vote splitting amongst the conservative parties, the Nationalist Party
government, a predecessor of the modern-day Liberal Party of Australia
, changed the lower house voting system to Instant-runoff voting
, which in Australia is known as full preferential voting, as of the subsequent 1919 election
This system has remained in place ever since, allowing the Coalition
parties to safely contest the same seats.
Full-preference preferential voting re-elected the Hawke
government at the 1990 election
, the first time in federal history that Labor had obtained a net benefit from preferential voting.
From 1949 onwards, the vast majority of electorates, nearly 90%, are won by the candidate leading on first preferences, giving the same result as if the same votes had been counted using first-past-the-post voting
. The highest proportion of seats (up to 2010) won by the candidate not leading on first preferences was the 1972 federal election
, with 14 of 125 seats not won by the plurality candidate.
Allocation process for the House of Representatives
The main elements of the operation of preferential voting for single-member House of Representatives divisions are as follows:
- Voters are required to place the number "1" against their first choice of candidate, known as the "first preference" or "primary vote".
- Voters are then required to place the numbers "2", "3", etc., against all of the other candidates listed on the ballot paper, in order of preference. (Every candidate must be numbered, otherwise the vote becomes "informal" (spoiled) and does not count.)
- Prior to counting, each ballot paper is examined to ensure that it is validly filled in (and not invalidated on other grounds).
- The number "1" or first preference votes are counted first. If no candidate secures an absolute majority (more than half) of first preference votes, then the candidate with the fewest votes is excluded from the count.
- The votes for the eliminated candidate (i.e. from the ballots that placed the eliminated candidate first) are re-allocated to the remaining candidates according to the number "2" or "second preference" votes.
- If no candidate has yet secured an absolute majority of the vote, then the next candidate with the fewest primary votes is eliminated. This preference allocation is repeated until there is a candidate with an absolute majority. Where a second (or subsequent) preference is expressed for a candidate who has already been eliminated, the voter's third or subsequent preferences are used.
Following the full allocation of preferences, it is possible to derive a two-party-preferred
figure, where the votes have been allocated between the two main candidates in the election. In Australia, this is usually between the candidates from the Coalition parties
and the Australian Labor Party
Relationship with the Government
Under the Constitution, the Governor-General
has the power to appoint and dismiss "Ministers of State" who administer government departments. In practice, the Governor-General chooses ministers in accordance with the traditions of the Westminster system
that the Government be drawn from the party or coalition of parties that has a majority in the House of Representatives, with the leader of the largest party becoming Prime Minister
These ministers then meet in a council known as Cabinet
. Cabinet meetings are strictly private and occur once a week where vital issues are discussed and policy formulated. The Constitution does not recognise the Cabinet as a legal entity; it exists solely by convention. Its decisions do not in and of themselves have legal force. However, it serves as the practical expression of the Federal Executive Council
, which is Australia's highest formal governmental body.
In practice, the Federal Executive Council meets solely to endorse and give legal force to decisions already made by the Cabinet. All members of the Cabinet are members of the Executive Council. While the Governor-General is nominal presiding officer, he almost never attends Executive Council meetings. A senior member of the Cabinet holds the office of Vice-President of the Executive Council and acts as presiding officer of the Executive Council in the absence of the Governor-General. The Federal Executive Council is the Australian equivalent of the Executive Councils
and privy councils
in other Commonwealth realms
such as the Queen's Privy Council for Canada
and the Privy Council of the United Kingdom
A minister is not required to be a Senator or Member of the House of Representatives at the time of their appointment, but their office is forfeited if they do not become a member of either house within three months of their appointment. This provision was included in the Constitution (section 64) to enable the inaugural Ministry, led by Edmund Barton
, to be appointed on 1 January 1901, even though the first federal elections were not scheduled to be held until 29 and 30 March.
The provision was also used after the disappearance and presumed death
of the Liberal Prime Minister Harold Holt
in December 1967. The Liberal Party elected John Gorton
, then a Senator, as its new leader, and he was sworn in as Prime Minister on 10 January 1968 (following an interim ministry led by John McEwen
). On 1 February, Gorton resigned from the Senate to stand for the 24 February by-election
in Holt's former House of Representatives electorate of Higgins
due to the convention that the Prime Minister be a member of the lower house. For 22 days (2 to 23 February inclusive) he was Prime Minister while a member of neither house of parliament.
On a number of occasions when Ministers have retired from their seats prior to an election, or stood but lost their own seats in the election, they have retained their Ministerial offices until the next government is sworn in.
House of Representatives committee room, Parliament House, Canberra
A short video on Australian Parliamentary Committees
In addition to the work of the main chamber, the House of Representatives also has a large number of committees which deal with matters referred to them by the main House. They provide the opportunity for all Members to ask questions of ministers and public officials as well as conduct inquiries, examine policy and legislation.
Once a particular inquiry is completed the members of the committee can then produce a report, to be tabled in Parliament, outlining what they have discovered as well as any recommendations that they have produced for the Government to consider.
The ability of the Houses of Parliament to establish committees is referenced in Section 49 of the Constitution, which states that, "The powers, privileges, and immunities of the Senate and of the House of Representatives, and of the members and the committees of each House, shall be such as are declared by the Parliament, and until declared shall be those of the Commons House of Parliament of the United Kingdom, and of its members and committees, at the establishment of the Commonwealth."
Parliamentary committees can be given a wide range of powers. One of the most significant powers is the ability to summon people to attend hearings in order to give evidence and submit documents. Anyone who attempts to hinder the work of a Parliamentary committee may be found to be in contempt of Parliament
. There are a number of ways that witnesses can be found in contempt. These include refusing to appear before a committee when summoned, refusing to answer a question during a hearing or to produce a document, or later being found to have lied to or misled a committee. Anyone who attempts to influence a witness may also be found in contempt.
Other powers include, the ability to meet throughout Australia, to establish subcommittees and to take evidence in both public and private hearings.
Proceedings of committees are considered to have the same legal standing as proceedings of Parliament, they are recorded by Hansard
, except for private hearings, and also operate under Parliamentary privilege
. Every participant, including committee members and witnesses giving evidence, are protected from being prosecuted under any civil or criminal action for anything they may say during a hearing. Written evidence and documents received by a committee are also protected.
Types of committees include:
Standing Committees, which are established on a permanent basis and are responsible for scrutinising bills and topics referred to them by the chamber; examining the government's budget and activities and for examining departmental annual reports and activities.
Select Committees, which are temporary committees, established in order to deal with particular issues.
Domestic Committees, which are responsible for administering aspects of the House's own affairs. These include the Selection Committee that determines how the House will deal with particular pieces of legislation and private members business and the Privileges Committee that deals with matters of Parliamentary Privilege.
Legislative Scrutiny Committees, which examine legislation and regulations to determine their impact on individual rights and accountability.
Joint Committees are also established to include both members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The Federation Chamber is a second debating chamber
that considers relatively uncontroversial matters referred by the House. The Federation Chamber cannot, however, initiate or make a final decision on any parliamentary business, although it can perform all tasks in between.
House of Representatives' entrance
The Federation Chamber was created in 1994 as the Main Committee, to relieve some of the burden of the House: different matters can be processed in the House at large and in the Federation Chamber, as they sit simultaneously. It is designed to be less formal, with a quorum
of only three members: the Deputy Speaker of the House, one government member, and one non-government member. Decisions must be unanimous: any divided decision sends the question back to the House at large.
Inside the House of Representatives
The Federation Chamber was created through the House's Standing Orders:
it is thus a subordinate body of the House, and can only be in session while the House itself is in session. When a division vote in the House occurs, members in the Federation Chamber must return to the House to vote.
The Federation Chamber is housed in one of the House's committee rooms; the room is customised for this purpose and is laid out to resemble the House chamber.
Due to the unique role of what was then called the Main Committee, proposals were made to rename the body to avoid confusion with other parliamentary committees, including "Second Chamber"
and "Federation Chamber".
The House of Representatives later adopted the latter proposal.
The concept of a parallel body to expedite Parliamentary business, based on the Australian Federation Chamber, was mentioned in a 1998 British House of Commons
which led to the creation of that body's parallel chamber Westminster Hall.
Current House of Representatives
The current Parliament is the 46th Australian Parliament. The most recent federal election was held on 18 May 2019
and the 46th Parliament
first sat in July.
House of Representatives primary, two-party and seat results
House of Representatives results
- ^ Including 17 Liberal National Party of Queensland (LNP) MPs who sit in the Liberals party room
- ^ Including 6 Liberal National Party of Queensland (LNP) MPs who sit in the Nationals party room
- ^ Current independent MPs: Andrew Wilkie (Clark), Helen Haines (Indi), Zali Steggall (Warringah), Craig Kelly (Hughes)
- ^ Determination of membership entitlement to the House of Representatives
- ^ Barber, Stephen (25 August 2016). "Electoral Redistributions during the 45th Parliament". Retrieved 22 March 2017.
- ^ a b "Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (UK), page 6". Museum of Australian Democracy. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
- ^ "Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (UK), page 10". Museum of Australian Democracy. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
- ^ Korff, Jens (8 October 2014). "Australian 1967 Referendum". creativespirits.info. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
- ^ "Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (UK), page 11". Museum of Australian Democracy. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
- ^ Williams, George (2012). "Removing racism from Australia's constitutional DNA". Alternative Law Journal. 37 (3): 151–155. doi:10.1177/1037969X1203700302. S2CID 145522774. SSRN 2144763.
- ^ Expert Panel on Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution (January 2012). Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution. Commonwealth of Australia. ISBN 978-1-921975-29-5.
- ^ Madigan, Michael (27 February 2009). "Barking, biting dog House". Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
- ^ "Armed guards now stationed to protect Australian MPs and senators in both chambers of Federal Parliament". The Sydney Morning Herald. 9 February 2015. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
- ^ "A Short History of Federal Election Reform in Australia". Australian electoral history. Australian Electoral Commission. 8 June 2007. Retrieved 1 July 2007.
- ^ Green, Antony (2004). "History of Preferential Voting in Australia". Antony Green Election Guide: Federal Election 2004. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 1 July 2007.
- ^ "The Origin of Senate Group Ticket Voting, and it didn't come from the Major Parties". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
- ^ Green, Antony (11 May 2010). "Preferential Voting in Australia". www.abc.net.au. Retrieved 1 November 2020.
- ^ "Preferential Voting". Australianpolitics.com. Archived from the original on 14 May 2010. Retrieved 16 June 2010.
- ^ "How the House of Representatives votes are counted". Australian Electoral Commission. 13 February 2013. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
- ^ "How does Australia's voting system work?". The Guardian. 14 August 2013. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
- ^ "Federal Executive Council Handbook". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Archived from the original on 4 March 2017. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
- ^ Hamer, David (2004). The executive government (PDF). Department of the Senate (Australia). p. 113. ISBN 0-642-71433-9.
- ^ Rutledge, Martha. "Sir Edmund (1849–1920)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 8 February 2010.
- ^ Starr, Graeme (2000). "Spooner, Sir William Henry (1897–1966)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 7 January 2008 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
- ^ "John Gorton Prime Minister from 10 January 1968 to 10 March 1971". National Museum of Australia. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
- ^ "Committees". aph.gov.au. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
- ^ a b c d "Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Fourteenth Edition Chapter 16 - Committees". 2017. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
- ^ Constitution of Australia, section 49.
- ^ a b c "Infosheet 4 - Committees". aph.gov.au. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
- ^ "The Structure Of The Australian House Of Representatives Over Its First One Hundred Years: The Impact Of Globalisation," Ian Harris
- ^ Standing and Sessional Orders Archived 3 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine, House of Representatives
- ^ Main Committee Fact Sheet Archived 31 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Parliamentary Education Office
- ^ The Second Chamber: Enhancing the Main Committee, House of Representatives
- ^ Renaming the Main Committee, House of Representatives
- ^ [House of Representatives Vote and Proceedings], 8 February 2012, Item 8.
- ^ "Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons First Report". House of Commons of the United Kingdom. 7 December 1998. Retrieved 20 June 2007.
- ^ House of Commons Standard Note—Modernization: Westminster Hall, SN/PC/3939. Updated 6 March 2006. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
- ^ "Federal Election 2019 Results". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 21 June 2019.
Last edited on 16 May 2021, at 00:10
Content is available under CC BY-SA 3.0
unless otherwise noted.