The Australian parliamentary system is based on the UK’s Westminster system. The Federal Parliament is bicameral, consisting of the House of Representatives (the Lower House), and the Senate (the Upper House). The Senate is composed of equal numbers of representatives from all six Australian states, with additional Senators representing Australian Territories (76 in total). Senators are elected for six-year terms. In the House of Representatives, the number of members of parliament per state is proportional to population (currently 150 members). Members are elected for three-year terms. The most recent election was in July 2016 with the next expected in 2019. Australia retains the Sovereign of the United Kingdom as its head of state. All laws are formally enacted by the Sovereign (Royal Assent) as a formality after passage through Parliament.
Proposed laws are called bills, and can be introduced into either House, except for bills that propose expenditure or tax levies (appropriation or money bills), which must be introduced in the House of Representatives. In practice, most bills are introduced in the House of Representatives. All bills must be passed (by a series of three readings) by both Houses to become law (Acts). It is possible for the Senate to block the passage of legislation even when the government has a clear majority in the House of Representatives. In the case of parliamentary deadlock, the constitution allows the Governor-General (the Sovereign’s representative) to authorise a “double dissolution” election under specific circumstances, at the request of the Prime Minister.
Australia operates under a Federal system of government, with six states (formerly separate colonies) and two territories with considerable autonomy, defined areas of jurisdictional responsibility under the Constitution and separate Parliaments. This chapter covers only those laws and policies that are enacted nationwide.