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Part 2 - The Forty-third Parliament - The Australian Parliament

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The Australian Parliament

The first Parliament was opened in Melbourne on 9 May 1901 in the Exhibition Building. Under an agreement between the Commonwealth and the Victorian Governments, the Commonwealth Parliament met in the Victorian Parliament House from 1901 to 1927 during which time the Victorian Parliament was housed in the Exhibition Building. This was expected to be a temporary arrangement, but the Commonwealth Parliament did not meet in the provisional Parliament House in Canberra until 9 May 1927. The permanent Parliament House, built on Capital Hill, was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 9 May 1988, and the first sittings in the new building took place on 22 August 1988. The centenary of the Parliament was celebrated in the Exhibition Building and the Victorian Parliament on 9 and 10 May 2001.

The Commonwealth Parliament is bicameral, the Senate and the House of Representatives being its two legislative houses. The holders of government office-the Executive or Ministry-are responsible to the people's elected representatives, and their tenure of office is dependent upon their retention of the confidence of the lower House. By convention the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are members of the House of Representatives.

Senate

The Senate has 76 members. Each State elects 12 Senators from State-wide electorates for six-year, fixed terms. Two Senators are elected from each of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory for three-year maximum terms that are tied to the terms of Members of the House of Representatives.

House of Representatives

The House of Representatives currently has 150 members elected from single-member electorates. The Constitution requires that the number of Members must be, 'as nearly as practicable', twice that of the number of State Senators. Slight variations in House numbers can occur due to changes in the States' and Territories' entitlements-since 1984 the number has ranged from 147 to 150 Members.

The government

By convention, the Governor-General commissions the leader of the majority party or coalition in the House of Representatives to form a government. It is also a matter of convention to include a number of Senators in the Ministry. The 2010 federal election resulted in a hung parliament with both the Australian Labor Party and the Coalition gaining 72 seats. The Australian Labor Party was able to form government with the support of three independents and the Greens member.

The Gillard minority government was sworn in on 14 September 2010, and the first meeting of the 43rd Parliament was on 28 September 2010.

Legislation

Most Bills examined by Parliament are introduced by the government in the House of Representatives. Proposed laws appropriating revenue for the ordinary annual services of the government, or imposing taxation, can be introduced only in the House of Representatives. The Constitution imposes limitations on the power of the Senate over financial legislation, so that the upper house may not amend such legislation, nor may it amend any proposed law so as to increase any proposed charge or financial burden on the people.

Legislative conflict

The Senate may reject any Bill. The Constitution provides a method for the resolution of any deadlock which may occur from the failure of the Senate to pass a Bill that has been passed by the House of Representatives. Under certain specified conditions, the Governor-General may dissolve both Houses, and elections for all House of Representatives and Senate seats are held. Such 'double dissolution' elections have been held in 1914, 1951, 1974, 1975, 1983 and 1987. If, after such an election, a disputed Bill is again rejected, it can be put to a joint sitting of both houses. The only joint sitting to date was held in 1974.

Sitting periods

The Commonwealth Parliament must meet at least once each year. Before 1994 there were traditionally two sitting periods: Autumn (February-June) and Budget (August-December). Since 1994 there have been three sittings each calendar year: Autumn (February-March), Budget (May-June), and Spring (August-December). The earlier arrangement may be reverted to when the electoral cycle makes a May budget impracticable. The following table shows the number of sitting days and number of Acts passed for each year for the ten years prior to the 2010 election.

Sitting days and Acts passed

Year

H of R

Senate

Acts passed

2000

73

71

174

2001*

56

52

169

2002

69

60

148

2003

74

64

150

2004*

59

49

158

2005

67

57

164

2006

68

58

172

2007*

50

41

184

2008

69

52

159

2009

68

53

136

2010*

55

40

150

*denotes election year

The Parliamentary record

The official record of the Senate is the Journals of the Senate, and that of the House of Representatives is the Votes and Proceedings. Parliamentary debates are recorded and published by the Department of Parliamentary Services as Parliamentary Debates, or Hansard. These contain the full text of speeches, petitions, notices of motion, questions without notice and the answers thereto, questions in writing and the answers thereto, and requests made to the Presiding Officers for detailed information concerning the Parliament.

Parliamentary information on the Internet

The Parliament of Australia home page is found at: www.aph.gov.au/.

This contains links to the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Department of Parliamentary Services. Access is available to the Debates and the Notice Papers for both houses, as well as the Journals of the Senate, the Votes and Proceedings, Committee Hansards and other parliamentary information. The Parliamentary Library's publications, including the Parliamentary Handbook, are available on this site, as well as subject guides to Internet resources. Parlinfo Search provides access to a range of parliamentary information.