Government of Australia

The Government of Australia is the government of the Commonwealth of Australia, a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy. It is also commonly referred to as the Australian Government, the Commonwealth Government, Her Majesty's Government, or the Federal Government.

The Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901 as a result of an agreement among six self-governing British colonies, which became the six states. The terms of this contract are embodied in the Australian Constitution, which was drawn up at a Constitutional Convention and ratified by the people of the colonies at referendums. The Australian head of state is the Queen of Australia who is represented by the Governor-General of Australia,[1][2][3][4][5] with executive powers delegated by constitutional convention to the Australian head of government, the Prime Minister of Australia.

The Government of the Commonwealth of Australia is divided into three branches: the executive branch, composed of the Federal Executive Council, presided by the Governor-General, which delegates powers to the Cabinet of Australia, led by the Prime Minister; the legislative branch, composed of the Parliament of Australia's House of Representatives and Senate; and the judicial branch, composed of the High Court of Australia and the federal courts. Separation of powers is implied by the structure of the Constitution, the three branches of government being set out in separate chapters (chapters I to III). The Australian system of government combines elements of the Westminster and Washington systems with unique Australian characteristics, and has been characterised as a "Washminster mutation".[6]

Government of Australia
Logo of the Government of Australia
Formation1 January 1901
Founding documentAustralian Constitution
JurisdictionCommonwealth of Australia
Legislative branch
LegislatureParliament of Australia
Meeting placeParliament House, Canberra
Executive branch
LeaderPrime Minister of Australia
AppointerGovernor-General of Australia
HeadquartersParliament House
Main organFederal Executive Council (de jure)
Cabinet of Australia (de facto)
Judicial branch
CourtHigh Court of Australia


Parliament House at dusk, Canberra ACT
The legislature: Parliament House in Canberra, the seat of the Parliament of Australia
Morrison and Cosgrove portraits
The executive: Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left) representing the Federal Executive Council and Governor-General Peter Cosgrove (right) who by convention follows the Council's advice
High Court of Australia (6769096715)
The judiciary: the High Court of Australia, the nation's highest court

Section 1 of the Australian Constitution creates a democratic legislature, the bicameral Parliament of Australia which consists of the Queen of Australia, and two houses of parliament, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Section 51 of the Constitution provides for the Commonwealth Government's legislative powers and allocates certain powers and responsibilities (known as "heads of power") to the Commonwealth government. All remaining responsibilities are retained by the six States (previously separate colonies). Further, each State has its own constitution, so that Australia has seven sovereign Parliaments, none of which can encroach on the functions of any other. The High Court of Australia arbitrates on any disputes which arise between the Commonwealth and the States, or among the States, concerning their respective functions.

The Commonwealth Parliament can propose changes to the Constitution. To become effective, the proposals must be put to a referendum of all Australians of voting age, and must receive a "double majority": a majority of all votes, and a majority of votes in a majority of States.

The Commonwealth Constitution also provides that the States can agree to refer any of their powers to the Commonwealth. This may be achieved by way of an amendment to the Constitution via referendum (a vote on whether the proposed transfer of power from the States to the Commonwealth, or vice versa, should be implemented). More commonly powers may be transferred by passing other acts of legislation which authorise the transfer and such acts require the legislative agreement of all the state governments involved. This "transfer" legislation may have a "sunset clause", a legislative provision that nullifies the transfer of power after a specified period, at which point the original division of power is restored.

In addition, Australia has several "territories", two of which are self-governing: the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory (NT). These territories' legislatures, their Assemblies, exercise powers devolved to them by the Commonwealth; the Commonwealth Parliament remains able to override their legislation and to alter their powers. Australian citizens in these territories are represented by members of both houses of the Commonwealth Parliament. The territory of Norfolk Island was self-governing from 1979 until 2016, although it was never represented as such in the Commonwealth Parliament. The other territories that are regularly inhabited—Jervis Bay, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands—have never been self-governing.

The federal nature of the Commonwealth and the structure of the Parliament of Australia were the subject of protracted negotiations among the colonies during the drafting of the Constitution. The House of Representatives is elected on a basis that reflects the differing populations of the States. Thus New South Wales has 48 members while Tasmania has only five. But the Senate is elected on a basis of equality among the States: all States elect 12 Senators, regardless of population. This was intended to allow the Senators of the smaller States to form a majority and thus be able to amend or reject bills originating in the House of Representatives. The ACT and the NT each elect two Senators.

The third level of government after Commonwealth and State/Territory is Local government, in the form of shires, towns and cities. The Councils of these areas are composed of elected representatives (known as either councillor or alderman, depending on the State), usually serving part-time. Their powers are devolved to them by the State or Territory in which they are located.

Government at the Commonwealth level and the State/Territory level is undertaken by three inter-connected arms of government:

  • Legislature: The Commonwealth Parliament
  • Executive: The Sovereign of Australia, whose executive power is exercisable by the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, Ministers and their Departments
  • Judiciary: The High Court of Australia and subsidiary Federal courts.

Separation of powers is the principle whereby the three arms of government undertake their activities largely separately from each other:

  • the Legislature proposes laws in the form of Bills, and provides a legislative framework for the operations of the other two arms; the sovereign is formally a part of the Parliament, but takes no active role in these matters, except that (representing the sovereign) Governors-General, State Governors and Territory Administrators sign enactments into law through providing Royal Assent
  • the Executive administers the laws and carries out the tasks assigned to it by legislation
  • the Judiciary hears cases arising from the administration of the law, applying both statute law and the common law; the Australian courts cannot give an advisory opinion on the constitutionality of a law, but the High Court of Australia can determine whether an existing law is constitutional
  • the Judiciary is appointed by the sovereign's representatives, on the advice of the Commonwealth or State/Territory government; but the Legislature and the Executive should not try to influence its decisions.

Until the passage of the Australia Act 1986, and associated legislation in the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, some Australian cases could be referred to the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for final appeal. With this act, Australian law was made unequivocally sovereign, and the High Court of Australia was confirmed as the highest court of appeal. The theoretical possibility of the British Parliament enacting laws to override the Australian Constitution was also removed.[7]


Australian Senate - Parliament of Australia
The Australian Senate chamber

The Legislature makes the laws, and supervises the activities of the other two arms with a view to changing the laws when appropriate. The Australian Parliament is bicameral, consisting of the Queen of Australia, a 76-member Senate and a 150-member House of Representatives.

Twelve Senators from each state are elected for six-year terms, using proportional representation and the single transferable vote (known in Australia as "quota-preferential voting": see Australian electoral system), with half elected every three years. In addition to the state Senators, two senators are elected by voters from the Northern Territory (which for this purpose includes the Indian Ocean Territories, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands), while another two senators are elected by the voters of the Australian Capital Territory (which for this purpose includes the Jervis Bay Territory). Senators from the territories are also elected using preferential voting, but their term of office is not fixed; it starts on the day of a general election for the House of Representatives and ends on the day before the next such election.

The members of the House of Representatives are elected by majority-preferential[8] voting using the non-proportional Instant-runoff voting system[9] from single-member constituencies allocated among the states and territories. In ordinary legislation, the two chambers have co-ordinate powers, but all proposals for appropriating revenue or imposing taxes must be introduced in the House of Representatives. Under the prevailing Westminster system, the leader of the political party or coalition of parties that holds the support of a majority of the members in the House of Representatives is invited to form a government and is named Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister and the Cabinet are responsible to the Parliament, of which they must, in most circumstances, be members. General elections are held at least once every three years. The Prime Minister has a discretion to advise the Governor-General to call an election for the House of Representatives at any time, but Senate elections can only be held within certain periods prescribed in the Constitution. The most recent general election was on 2 July 2016.

The Commonwealth Parliament and all the state and territory legislatures operate within the conventions of the Westminster system, with a recognised Leader of the Opposition, usually the leader of the largest party outside the government, and a Shadow Cabinet of Opposition members who "shadow" each member of the Ministry, asking questions on matters within the Minister's portfolio. Although the Government, by virtue of commanding a majority of members in the lower house of the legislature, can usually pass its legislation and control the workings of the house, the Opposition can considerably delay the passage of legislation and obstruct government business if it chooses.

The day-to-day business of the House of Representatives is usually negotiated between the Leader of the House, appointed by the Prime Minister, and the Manager of Opposition Business in the House, appointed by the Leader of the Opposition in the Commonwealth parliament, currently Bill Shorten.


Head of state

The Australian Constitution dates from 1901, when the Dominions of the British Empire were not sovereign states, and does not use the term "head of state". As Australia is a constitutional monarchy, government and academic sources describe the Queen as head of state.[10] In practice, the role of head of state of Australia is divided between two people, the Queen of Australia and the Governor-General of Australia, who is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia. Though in many respects the Governor-General is the Queen's representative, and exercises various constitutional powers in her name, they independently exercise many important powers in their own right. The governor-general represents Australia internationally, making and receiving state visits.[11]

The Sovereign of Australia, currently Queen Elizabeth II, is also the Sovereign of fifteen other Commonwealth realms including the United Kingdom. Like the other Dominions, Australia gained legislative independence from the Parliament of the United Kingdom by virtue of the Statute of Westminster 1931, which was adopted in Australia in 1942 with retrospective effect from 3 September 1939. By the Royal Style and Titles Act 1953, the Australian Parliament gave the Queen the title Queen of Australia, and in 1973 titles with any reference to her status as Queen of the United Kingdom and Defender of the Faith as well were removed, making her Queen of Australia.

Section 61 of the Constitution provides that 'The executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen and is exercisable by the Governor‑General as the Queen's representative, and extends to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution, and of the laws of the Commonwealth'. Section 2 of the Australian Constitution provides that a Governor-General shall represent the Queen in Australia. In practice, the Governor-General carries out all the functions usually performed by a head of state, without reference to the Queen.

Under the conventions of the Westminster system the Governor-General's powers are almost always exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister or other ministers. The Governor-General retains reserve powers similar to those possessed by the Queen in the United Kingdom. These are rarely exercised, but during the Australian constitutional crisis of 1975 Governor-General Sir John Kerr used them independently of the Queen and the Prime Minister.

Australia has periodically experienced movements seeking to end the monarchy. In a 1999 referendum, the Australian people voted on a proposal to change the Constitution. The proposal would have removed references to the Queen from the Constitution and replaced the Governor-General with a President nominated by the Prime Minister, but subject to the approval of a two-thirds majority of both Houses of the Parliament. The proposal was defeated. The Australian Republican Movement continues to campaign for an end to the monarchy in Australia, opposed by Australians for Constitutional Monarchy and Australian Monarchist League.

Executive Council

The Federal Executive Council is a formal body which exists and meets to give legal effect to decisions made by the Cabinet, and to carry out various other functions. All Ministers are members of the Executive Council and are entitled to be styled "The Honourable", a title which they retain for life. The Governor-General usually presides at Council meetings, but in his or her absence another Minister nominated as the Vice-President of the Executive Council presides at the meeting of the Council. Since 20 December 2017, the Vice-President of the Federal Executive Council has been Senator Mathias Cormann.

There are times when the government acts in a "caretaker" capacity, principally in the period prior to and immediately following a general election.


The Cabinet of Australia is the council of senior Ministers of the Crown, responsible to the Federal Parliament. The ministers are appointed by the Governor-General, on the advice of the Prime Minister, who serve at the former's pleasure. Cabinet meetings are strictly private and occur once a week where vital issues are discussed and policy formulated. Outside the cabinet there is an outer ministry and also a number of junior ministers, called Parliamentary secretaries, responsible for a specific policy area and reporting directly to a senior Cabinet minister.

The Constitution of Australia 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.

Until 1956 all members of the ministry were members of the Cabinet. The growth of the ministry in the 1940s and 1950s made this increasingly impractical, and in 1956 Robert Menzies created a two-tier ministry, with only senior ministers holding Cabinet rank, also known within parliament as the front bench. This practice has been continued by all governments except the Whitlam Government.

When the non-Labor parties are in power, the Prime Minister makes all Cabinet and ministerial appointments at their own discretion, although in practice they consult with senior colleagues in making appointments. When the Liberal Party and its predecessors (the Nationalist Party and the United Australia Party) have been in coalition with the National Party or its predecessor the Country Party, the leader of the junior Coalition party has had the right to nominate their party's members of the Coalition ministry, and to be consulted by the Prime Minister on the allocation of their portfolios.

When the Labor first held office under Chris Watson, Watson assumed the right to choose members of his Cabinet. In 1907, however, the party decided that future Labor Cabinets would be elected by the members of the Parliamentary Labor Party, the Caucus, and the Prime Minister would retain the right to allocate portfolios. This practice was followed until 2007. Between 1907 and 2007, Labor Prime Ministers exercised a predominant influence over who was elected to Labor ministries, although the leaders of the party factions also exercised considerable influence. Prior to the 2007 general election, the then Leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd, said that he and he alone would choose the ministry should he become Prime Minister. His party won the election and he chose the ministry, as he said he would.[12]

The cabinet meets not only in Canberra but also in state capitals, most frequently Sydney and Melbourne. Kevin Rudd was in favour of the Cabinet meeting in other places, such as major regional cities.[13] There are Commonwealth Parliament Offices in each State Capital, with those in Sydney located in Phillip Street.


There are 18 departments of the Australian Government.[14][15][16]


Court 1 at the High Court of Australia
Courtroom 1 in the High Court in Canberra.

As a federation, in Australia judicial power is exercised by both federal and state courts.

Federal judicial power is vested in the High Court of Australia and such other federal courts created by the Federal Parliament, including the Federal Court of Australia, the Family Court of Australia, and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. Additionally, unlike in the United States, the federal legislature has the power to enact laws which vest federal jurisdiction in State courts.[17] Since the Australian Constitution requires a separation of powers at the federal level, only courts may exercise federal judicial power; and conversely, non-judicial functions cannot be vested in courts.[18]

State judicial power is exercised by each State's Supreme Court, and such other courts and tribunals created by the State Parliaments of Australia.

The High Court is the final court of appeal in Australia and has the jurisdiction to hear appeals on matters of both federal and state law. It has both original and appellate jurisdiction, the power of judicial review over laws passed by federal and State parliaments, and has jurisdiction to interpret the Constitution of Australia. Unlike in the United States, there is only one common law of Australia, rather than separate common laws for each State.[19]

Publicly owned entities

Corporations prescribed by acts of parliament

The following corporations are prescribed by Acts of Parliament:

Government Business Enterprises

The following corporate Commonwealth entities are prescribed as Government Business Enterprises (GBEs) by section 5(1) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability (PGPA) Rule:

The following Commonwealth companies are prescribed as GBEs by section 5(2) of the PGPA Rule:

Other public non-financial corporations

See also



^ Prior to 1931, the junior status of dominions was shown in the fact that it was British ministers who advised the King, with dominion ministers, if they met the King at all, escorted by the constitutionally superior British minister. After 1931 all dominion ministers met the King as His ministers as of right, equal in Commonwealth status to Britain's ministers, meaning that there was no longer either a requirement for, or an acceptance of, the presence of British ministers. The first state to exercise this both symbolic and real independence was the Irish Free State. Australia and other dominions soon followed.


  1. ^ House of Representatives, The Australian System of Government (PDF), Australian Government Publishing Service, p. 3, archived from the original (PDF) on 12 March 2011, retrieved 10 March 2011
  2. ^ "History and Culture: Quick Answers". Parliamentary Education Office. Australian Government Publishing Service. Archived from the original on 13 March 2018.
  3. ^ Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. "Protocol > Protocol guidelines > The Australian Government". Australian Government Publishing Service. Retrieved 14 March 2011.
  4. ^ Australian Public Service Commission. "About the Commission > The Australian experience of public sector reform > The Constitutional and Government framework". Australian Government Publishing Service. Archived from the original on 13 March 2011. Retrieved 14 March 2011.
  5. ^ "Australian Citizenship – Our Common Bond" (PDF). Department of Immigration and Citizenship. August 2012.
  6. ^ Thompson, Elaine (1980). "The "Washminster" Mutation". Australian Journal of Political Science. 15. p. 32.
  7. ^ "Australia Act 1986". Office of Legislative Drafting, Attorney-General's Department. Commonwealth of Australia.
  8. ^ "Australia: Replacing Plurality Rule with Majority-Preferential Voting". Palgrave Macmillan Ltd.
  9. ^ "The first Parliament: Developments in the Parliament of Australia". Parliamentary Education Office of the Government of Australia.
  10. ^ The Constitution (2012) Overview by the Attorney-General's Department and Australian Government Solicitor [1]
  11. ^ "Governor-General's Role". Office of the Governor-General. 20 July 2015. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  12. ^ Worsley, Ben (11 September 2007). "Rudd seizes power from factions". Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
  13. ^ "Cutting bureaucracy won't hurt services: Rudd". News Online. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 21 November 2007. Retrieved 28 November 2007.
  14. ^ "Wayback Machine" (PDF). 14 October 2013.
  15. ^
  16. ^ "List of departments and agencies". Australian Government. Archived from the original on 11 September 2017. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  17. ^ Robert French, 'Two Chapters about Judicial Power', speech given at the Peter Nygh Memorial Lecture, 15 October 2012, Hobart, p 3.
  18. ^ R v Kirby; Ex parte Boilermakers' Society of Australia (1956) 94 CLR 254.
  19. ^ Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1997) 189 CLR 520 at 563.
  20. ^ Federal Register of Legislation - Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 '[2]'
  21. ^ Federal Register of Legislation - Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991 '[3]'
  22. ^ a b Australian Government - Current Government Business Enterprises '[4]'

External links

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) (1990–2005) was the Australian Government body through which Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders were formally involved in the processes of government affecting their lives. A number of Indigenous programs and organisations fell under the overall umbrella of ATSIC.

The agency was dismantled in 2004 in the aftermath of corruption allegations and litigation.

Australia Council for the Arts

The Australia Council for the Arts, informally known as the Australia Council, is the official arts council or arts funding body of the Government of Australia

Australian Antarctic Names and Medals Committee

The Australian Antarctic Names and Medals Committee (AANMC) was established to advise the Government on names for features in the Australian Antarctic Territory and the subantarctic territory of Heard Island and the McDonald Islands. The committee also issues nominations Governor General for the award of the Australian Antarctic Medal.

Committee members were appointed by the Minister or Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Antarctic matters. The committee was founded in 1952 as the Antarctic Names Committee of Australia and changed to the current name in 1982 to reflect the multiple functions that the committee is responsible for. The committee was replaced by the Australian Antarctic Division Place names Committee in 2015.

Australian Faunal Directory

The Australian Faunal Directory (AFD) is an online catalogue of taxonomic and biological information on all animal species known to occur within Australia. It is a program of the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities of the Government of Australia. By September 20, 2016, the Australian Faunal Directory has collected information about 122,898 species and subspecies. It includes the data from the discontinued Zoological Catalogue of Australia and is regularly updated. Started in the 1980s, it set a goal to compile a "list of all Australian fauna including terrestrial vertebrates, ants and marine fauna" and create an "Australian biotaxonomic information system".

Australian Height Datum

The Australian Height Datum is a vertical datum in Australia. According to Geoscience Australia, "In 1971 the mean sea level for 1966-1968 was assigned the value of 0.000m on the Australian Height Datum at thirty tide gauges around the coast of the Australian continent. The resulting datum surface, with minor modifications in two metropolitan areas, has been termed the Australian Height Datum (AHD) and was adopted by the National Mapping Council as the datum to which all vertical control for mapping (and other surveying functions) is to be referred."

Australian Heritage Database

The Australian Heritage Database is a listing of heritage sites in Australia. It is maintained by the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (Australia), in consultation with Australian Heritage Council. There are more than twenty thousand entries in the database, which includes natural, historic and Indigenous places.

Lists covered by the database are:

the World Heritage List, places that are of outstanding universal value and have been included on this United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) managed list.

the National Heritage List, a long list of natural, historic and Indigenous places that are of outstanding national heritage value to the Australian nation.

the Commonwealth Heritage List, a list of natural, historic and Indigenous places of heritage significance owned or controlled by the Australian Government.

the Register of the National Estate, a list of natural, historic and Indigenous heritage places throughout Australia, frozen in February 2007 until it was replaced by other heritage lists in 2012.

the Australian National Shipwreck Database, a register of historic shipwrecks in Australian waters, administered by The Department of the Environment and Water Resources.

the List of Overseas Places of Historic Significance (LOPHSA), a list which recognises symbolically sites of outstanding historic significance to Australia that are located outside the Australian jurisdiction.

other places being considered for listing in one of these lists.

photographs of listed places from the Australian Heritage Photographic Library.

Australian Indian Ocean Territories

Australian Indian Ocean Territories is the name since 1995 of an administrative unit under the Australian Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, consisting of two islands groups in the Indian Ocean under Australian sovereignty:

Christmas Island (10.485°S 105.636°E / -10.485; 105.636 (Christmas Island)), where the administrator resides

Cocos (Keeling) Islands archipelago (12.158°S 96.870°E / -12.158; 96.870 (Cocos (Keeling) Islands)), where the same officer also has jurisdiction as administrator but does not resideEach of these island components has its own Shire Council: the Shire of Christmas Island and the Shire of Cocos.

It does not include the uninhabited Ashmore and Cartier Islands.

Australian Public Service

The Australian Public Service (APS) is the federal civil service of the Commonwealth of Australia responsible for the public administration, public policy, and public services of the departments and executive and statutory agencies of the Government of Australia. The Australian Public Service was established at the Federation of Australia in 1901 as the Commonwealth Public Service and modeled on the Westminster system and United Kingdom's Civil Service. The establishment and operation of the Australian Public Service is governed by the Public Service Act 1999 of the Parliament of Australia as an "apolitical public service that is efficient and effective in serving the Government, the Parliament and the Australian public". The conduct of Australian public servants is also governed by a Code of Conduct and guided by the APS Values set by the Australian Public Service Commission.As such, the employees and officers of the Australian Public Service are obliged to serve the government of the day with integrity and provide "frank and fearless advice" on questions of public policy, from national security to fiscal policy to social security, across machinery of government arrangements. Indeed, the Australian Public Service plays a major part in Australian life by providing "cradle to grave" services with a degree of shared responsibility with the State and Territory governments. The Australian Public Service as an entity does not include the broader Commonwealth public sector including the Australian Defence Force, Commonwealth companies such as NBN Co Limited or the Australian Rail Track Corporation, or Commonwealth corporate entities such as the Australian National University or the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The Australian Public Service does not include the civil services of the State and Territory governments.

Public servants are ultimately responsible to the Parliament of Australia via their respective portfolio Minister. The Australian Public Service Commission is responsible for promoting the values of the public service, evaluating performance and compliance, and facilitating the development of people and institutional capabilities. The Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is the most senior public servant and plays a leadership role as the chair of the intergovernmental Secretaries Board made up of all Commonwealth departmental secretaries. The Australian National Audit Office, the Department of Finance, the Department of the Treasury, and the Attorney-General's Department also have whole-of-government oversight and management responsibilities.

As at June 2015, the Australian Public Service comprises some 152,430 officers alongside a further 90,000 people employed in the broader Commonwealth public sector. Accordingly, the Australian Public Service is one of the largest employers in Australia.

Caretaker government of Australia

In Australian political and constitutional terminology, a caretaker government is a government of Australia from when the House of Representatives (usually but not necessarily concurrently with the Senate) is dissolved by the Governor-General prior to a general election to a period after the election, until the next ministry is appointed. A caretaker government is expected to conduct itself in accordance with a series of well-defined conventions administered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, but there is no law compelling the caretaker government to do so.

Under normal circumstances, there is no separate appointment of a caretaker government. The incumbent Prime Minister simply puts the government into "caretaker mode." During the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, appointed a new government headed by Malcolm Fraser, subject to Fraser's agreement that he would immediately advise a general election, and his government would operate on a caretaker basis in the meantime. It was a unique set of circumstances, leading to a unique solution.


A convict is "a person found guilty of a crime and sentenced by a court" or "a person serving a sentence in prison". Convicts are often also known as "prisoners" or "inmates" or by the slang term "con", while a common label for former convicts, especially those recently released from prison, is "ex-con" ("ex-convict"). Persons convicted and sentenced to non-custodial sentences tend not to be described as "convicts".

The legal label of "ex-convict" usually has lifelong implications, such as social stigma and/or reduced opportunities for employment. The federal government of Australia, for instance, will not, in general, employ an ex-convict, while some state and territory governments may limit the time for or before which a former convict may be employed.

Departmental secretary

In the administration of government in Australia, a departmental secretary (or just Secretary) is the most senior public servant of a Commonwealth or state government department, charged with leading the department on a day-to-day basis.

Governor-General of Australia

The Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia is the representative of the Australian monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. As the Queen is concurrently the monarch of 15 other Commonwealth realms, and resides in the United Kingdom, she, on the advice of her prime minister, appoints a governor-general to carry out constitutional duties within the Commonwealth of Australia. The governor-general has formal presidency over the Federal Executive Council and is commander-in-chief of the Australian Defence Force. The functions of the governor-general include appointing ministers, judges, and ambassadors; giving royal assent to legislation passed by parliament; issuing writs for election; and bestowing Australian honours.In general, the governor-general observes the conventions of the Westminster system and responsible government, maintaining a political neutrality, and has almost always acted only on the advice of the prime minister or other ministers or, in certain cases, parliament. The governor-general also has a ceremonial role: hosting events at either of the two official residences—Government House in the capital, Canberra, and Admiralty House in Sydney—and travelling throughout Australia to open conferences, attend services and commemorations, and generally provide encouragement to individuals and groups who are contributing to their communities. When travelling abroad, the governor-general is seen as the representative of Australia, and the Queen of Australia. The governor-general is supported by a staff (of 80 in 2018) headed by the official secretary to the governor-general.

A governor-general is not appointed for a specific term, but is generally expected to serve for five years subject to a possible short extension. Since 28 March 2014, the Governor-General has been General Sir Peter Cosgrove.From Federation in 1901 until 1965, 11 out of the 15 governors-general were British aristocrats; they included four barons, three viscounts, three earls, and one royal duke. Since then, all but one of the governors-general have been Australian-born; the exception, Sir Ninian Stephen, arrived in Australia as a teenager. Only one Governor-General, Dame Quentin Bryce (2008–2014), has been a woman.

On 16 December 2018 it was announced that General Sir Peter Cosgrove would be replaced with General David Hurley, currently the Governor of New South Wales. To provide continuity through general elections both federally and in New South Wales, Hurley would succeed Cosgrove, who had planned to retire in March 2019, on 28 June 2019.

Judiciary of Australia

The judiciary of Australia comprises judges who sit in federal courts and courts of the States and Territories of Australia. The High Court of Australia sits at the apex of the Australian court hierarchy as the ultimate court of appeal on matters of both federal and State law.

The large number of courts in Australia have different procedural powers and characteristics, different jurisdictional limits, different remedial powers and different cost structures.

Under the Australian Constitution, federal judicial power is vested in the High Court of Australia and such other federal courts as may be created by the federal Parliament. These courts include the Federal Court of Australia, the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, and the Family Court of Australia. Federal jurisdiction can also be vested in State courts.

The Supreme Courts of the states and territories are superior courts of record with general and unlimited jurisdiction within their own state or territory. They can try any justiciable dispute, whether it be for money or not, and whether it be for $1 or $1 billion.

Like the Supreme Courts, the Family Court and Federal Court are superior courts of record, which means that they have certain inherent procedural and contempt powers. But unlike their Supreme Court counterparts, their subject matter jurisdiction must be granted by statute. Under the doctrine of "accrued jurisdiction", the Federal Court can, however, rule on issues outside its explicit jurisdiction, provided that they are part of a larger matter that the court does have jurisdiction over.The High Court has limited trial powers, but very rarely exercises them. It has ample power to transfer cases started there to another, more appropriate court, so that the High Court can conserve its energies for its appellate functions.

Common law and equity are administered by the same courts, in a manner similar to that of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873 (United Kingdom). Legal and equitable remedies may be pursued in the one action in the one court.

List of female cabinet ministers of Australia

denotes the first female minister of that particular department.

Local government in Australia

Local government in Australia is the third tier of government in Australia administered by the states and territories, which in turn are beneath the federal tier. Local government is not mentioned in the Constitution of Australia and two referenda in the 1970s and 1980s to alter the Constitution relating to local government were unsuccessful. Every state government recognises local government in their respective constitutions. Unlike Canada or the United States, there is only one level of local government in each state, with no distinction such as cities and counties.

The local governing body is generally referred to as a council, and the territories governed are collectively referred to as "local government areas"; however, terms such as "city" or "shire" also have a geographic interpretation. In August 2016 there were 547 local councils in Australia.Despite the single level of local government in Australia, there are a number of extensive areas with relatively low populations which are not a part of any local government area. Powers of local governments in these areas may be exercised by special purpose bodies established outside the general legislation, as with Victoria's alpine resorts, or directly by state governments. The area covered by local councils in Australia ranges from as small as 1.5 km2 (0.58 sq mi) for the Shire of Peppermint Grove in metropolitan Perth, to the Shire of East Pilbara in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, which covers 380,000 km2 (150,000 sq mi), an area larger than Germany or Japan.

Parliament House, Canberra

Parliament House is the meeting place of the Parliament of Australia, located in Canberra, the capital of Australia. The building was designed by Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp Architects and built by a Concrete Constructions and John Holland joint venture. It was opened on 9 May 1988 by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia. It cost more than A$1.1 billion to build.

Federal Parliament meetings were held in Melbourne until 1927. Between 1927 and 1988, the Parliament of Australia met in the Provisional Parliament House, which is now known as "Old Parliament House". Construction of Australia's permanent Parliament House was delayed while its location was debated. Construction of the new building began in 1981. The principal design of the structure is based on the shape of two boomerangs and is topped by an 81-metre (266 ft) flagpole.

Parliament House contains 4,700 rooms, and many areas are open to the public. The main foyer contains a marble staircase and leads to the Great Hall, which has a large tapestry on display. The House of Representatives chamber is decorated green, while the Senate chamber has a red colour scheme. Between the two chambers is the Members' Hall, which has a water feature and is not open to the public. The Ministerial Wing houses the office of the prime minister and other ministers.

Parliaments of the Australian states and territories

The Parliaments of the Australian states and territories are legislative bodies within the federal framework of the Commonwealth of Australia.

All the parliaments are based on the Westminster system, and each is regulated by its own constitution. Queensland and the two territories have unicameral parliaments, with the single house being called Legislative Assembly. The other states have a bicameral parliament, with a lower house called the Legislative Assembly (New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia) or House of Assembly (South Australia and Tasmania), and an upper house called the Legislative Council.

Southern Ocean

The Southern Ocean, also known as the Antarctic Ocean or the Austral Ocean, comprises the southernmost waters of the World Ocean, generally taken to be south of 60° S latitude and encircling Antarctica. As such, it is regarded as the fourth largest of the five principal oceanic divisions: smaller than the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans but larger than the Arctic Ocean. This oceanic zone is where cold, northward flowing waters from the Antarctic mix with warmer subantarctic waters.

By way of his voyages in the 1770s, Captain James Cook proved that waters encompassed the southern latitudes of the globe. Since then, geographers have disagreed on the Southern Ocean's northern boundary or even existence, considering the waters as various parts of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, instead. However, according to Commodore John Leech of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), recent oceanographic research has discovered the importance of Southern Circulation, and the term Southern Ocean has been used to define the body of water which lies south of the northern limit of that circulation. This remains the current official policy of the IHO, since a 2000 revision of its definitions including the Southern Ocean as the waters south of the 60th parallel has not yet been adopted. Others regard the seasonally-fluctuating Antarctic Convergence as the natural boundary.The maximum depth of the Southern Ocean, using the definition that it lies south of 60th parallel, was surveyed by the Five Deeps Expedition in early February 2019. The expedition's multibeam sonar team identified the deepest point at 60° 28' 46"S, 025° 32' 32"W, with a depth of 7,434 meters. The expedition leader and chief submersible pilot Victor Vescovo, has proposed naming this deepest point in the Southern Ocean the "Factorian Deep," based on the name of the manned submersible DSV Limiting Factor, in which he successfully visited the bottom for the first time on February 3, 2019.

Wildlife of Antarctica

The wildlife of Antarctica are extremophiles, having to adapt to the dryness, low temperatures, and high exposure common in Antarctica. The extreme weather of the interior contrasts to the relatively mild conditions on the Antarctic Peninsula and the subantarctic islands, which have warmer temperatures and more liquid water. Much of the ocean around the mainland is covered by sea ice. The oceans themselves are a more stable environment for life, both in the water column and on the seabed.

There is relatively little diversity in Antarctica compared to much of the rest of the world. Terrestrial life is concentrated in areas near the coast. Flying birds nest on the milder shores of the Peninsula and the subantarctic islands. Eight species of penguins inhabit Antarctica and its offshore islands. They share these areas with seven pinniped species. The Southern Ocean around Antarctica is home to 10 cetaceans, many of them migratory. There are very few terrestrial invertebrates on the mainland, although the species that do live there have high population densities. High densities of invertebrates also live in the ocean, with Antarctic krill forming dense and widespread swarms during the summer. Benthic animal communities also exist around the continent.

Over 1000 fungi species have been found on and around Antarctica. Larger species are restricted to the subantarctic islands, and the majority of species discovered have been terrestrial. Plants are similarly restricted mostly to the subantarctic islands, and the western edge of the Peninsula. Some mosses and lichens however can be found even in the dry interior. Many algae are found around Antarctica, especially phytoplankton, which form the basis of many of Antarctica's food webs.

Human activity has caused introduced species to gain a foothold in the area, threatening the native wildlife. A history of overfishing and hunting has left many species with greatly reduced numbers. Pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change pose great risks to the environment. The Antarctic Treaty System is a global treaty designed to preserve Antarctica as a place of research, and measures from this system are used to regulate human activity in Antarctica.

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Governments of Oceania
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of New Zealand
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