Parliament of Australia

The Parliament of Australia is a bicameral parliament consisting of the House of Representatives (the "lower house") and the Senate (the "upper house" or "house of review"). Section 1 of the Constitution of Australia provides that: "The legislative power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in a Federal Parliament, which shall consist of the Queen, a Senate, and a House of Representatives, and which is herein-after called 'The Parliament,' or 'The Parliament of the Commonwealth'." Since 1927 the two Houses have met in Parliament House, Canberra.

Table of contents
1 Composition
2 Functions
3 Privileges
4 Conflicts between Houses
5 Ministers
6 Members of the Parliament
7 External links

Composition

The British monarch (currently Elizabeth II) also serves as Queen of Australia.

The House of Representatives consists of 150 members elected from single-member constituencies of approximately equal population. The Senate consists of 76 members: 12 Senators are elected from each of the six states and two from each of the two territories. See the Australian electoral system.

Functions

The principal function of the Parliament is to pass laws, or legislation. Any Member or Senator may introduce a proposed law (a bill), except for a money bill (a bill proposing an expenditure or levying a tax), which must be introduced in the House of Representatives. In practice, the great majority of bills are introduced by ministers. Bills introduced by other Members are called private members' bills. All bills must be passed by both Houses to become law. The Senate has the same legislative powers as the House, except that it may not amend money bills, only pass or reject them.

The Parliament performs other functions besides legislation. It can discuss urgency motions or matters of public importance: these provide a forum for debates on public policy matters. Menbers can move motions of censure against the government or against individual ministers. On most sitting days in both Houses there is a session called Question Time at which Members and Senators address questions to the Prime Minister and other ministers. Members and Senators can also present petitions from their constituents. Both Houses have an extensive system of committees in which draft bills are debated, evidence is taken and public servants are questioned.

Privileges

Members of the Australian Parliament do not have legal immunity: they can be arrested and tried for any offence. They do, however, have Parliamentary privilege: they cannot be sued for anything they say about each other or about persons outside the Parliament. This privilege extends to reporting in the media of anything a Member or Senator says.

There is a legal offence called contempt of Parliament. A person who speaks or acts in a manner contemptuous of the Parliament or its members can be tried and, if convicted, imprisoned. The Parliament used to have the power of hearing such cases itself, and did so in the Browne-Fitzpatrick case of 1955. This power has now been delegated to the courts, but no-one has been prosecuted for this offence.

Conflicts between Houses

In the event of conflict between the two Houses, the Constitution provides for a simultaneous dissolution of both Houses, a "double dissolution." If the conflict continues after such an election, the government may convene a joint sitting of both Houses to consider the disputed legislation. This occurred in 1974.

Ministers

All ministers must be members of either the House or the Senate. The office of Prime Minister of Australia is not mentioned in the Constitution, but by convention the Prime Minister is a member of the House. The only Senator to be chosen as Prime Minister, John Gorton, immediately resigned from the Senate and was elected to the House in a by-election.

Members of the Parliament

External links


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