The office of Prime Minister is not recognised by the Constitution, being a conventional part of the governmental arrangements. It is also a matter of convention that the Prime Minister is always a member of the House of Representatives.
After an election, the Governor-General sends for the leader of the party, or coalition, which has secured a majority in the House of Representatives, and commissions that person to assume the office of Prime Minister and to form a government.
The Prime Minister has the following powers:
- advising the Sovereign on the appointment of the Governor-General
- acting as the sole source of formal advice for the Governor-General
- advising the Governor-General as to when Parliament should be dissolved
- setting the date for House of Representatives elections
- allocating positions in the Cabinet
- chairing Cabinet meetings.
The Hon Kevin Rudd MP (Australian Labor Party) has been Prime Minister since 3 December 2007.
The Prime Minister nominates members of his or her parliamentary party or coalition to serve as ministers, responsible for administering government departments such as the Treasury, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Department of Defence. The Constitution requires that all ministers be either a member of the House of Representatives or a Senator. If a new minister is not an MP, it is obligatory for that minister to become an MP within three months of his/her appointment. Ministers may be appointed or replaced at any time between elections.
From time to time certain members of the Commonwealth Parliament have been appointed by governments to assist ministers in their work. Such persons have been known by a variety of designations, including parliamentary under-secretary and assistant minister; the current term is parliamentary secretary.
The ministries since Federation are listed in table 4.1.
Senior ministers are members of the Cabinet, the meetings of which are chaired by the Prime Minister. Cabinet is not a body that is recognised by the Constitution, being a conventional part of the governmental arrangements. Despite this, Cabinet effectively controls not only a government’s legislative program, but also government departments of state. In effect, therefore, Cabinet is the dominant political and administrative element in Australia's national government. The Governor-General does not attend Cabinet meetings.
Particulars of the First Rudd Ministry, comprising Cabinet ministers and the outer ministry, are shown in table 4.2.
4.2 FIRST RUDD MINISTRY - June 2009
|Prime Minister ||The Hon. Kevin Rudd MP |
|Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion (Deputy Prime Minister) ||The Hon. Julia Gillard MP |
|Treasurer ||The Hon. Wayne Swan MP |
|Minister for Foreign Affairs ||The Hon. Stephen Smith MP |
|Minister for Trade ||The Hon. Simon Crean MP |
|Minister for Finance and Administration ||The Hon. Lindsay Tanner MP |
|Minister for Health and Ageing ||The Hon. Nicola Roxon MP |
|Attorney-General ||The Hon. Robert McClelland MP |
|Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy ||Senator the Hon. Stephen Conroy |
|Minister for Defence ||Senator the Hon. John Faulkner |
|Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research ||Senator the Hon. Kim Carr |
|Minister for Immigration and Citizenship ||Senator the Hon. Chris Evans |
|Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry ||The Hon. Tony Burke MP |
|Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs ||The Hon. Jenny Macklin MP |
|Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts ||The Hon. Peter Garrett MP |
|Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government ||The Hon. Anthony Albanese MP |
|Cabinet Secretary and Special Minister of State ||Senator the Hon. Joe Ludwig |
|Minister for Climate Change and Water ||Senator the Hon. Penny Wong |
|Minister for Resources and Energy and Minister for Tourism ||The Hon. Martin Ferguson MP |
|Minister for Human Services ||The Hon. Chris Bowen MP |
|Minister for Home Affairs ||The Hon. Brendan O'Connor MP |
|Assistant Treasurer ||Senator the Hon. Nick Sherry |
|Minister for Veterans' Affairs ||The Hon. Alan Griffin MP |
|Minister for Ageing ||The Hon. Justine Elliott MP |
|Minister for Housing and Minister for the Status of Women ||The Hon. Tanya Plibersek MP |
|Minister for Sport and Minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare and Youth ||The Hon. Kate Ellis MP |
|Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science and Minister assisting the Minister for Climate Change ||The Hon. Greg Combet MP |
|Minister for Financial Services, Superannuation and Corporate Law ||The Hon. Chris Bowen MP |
|Minister for Small Business, Independent Contractors and the Service Economy, Minister assisting the Finance Minister on Deregulation and Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs ||The Hon. Craig Emerson MP |
|Minister for Employment Participation and Minister assisting the Prime MInister for Government Service Delivery ||Senator the Hon. Mark Arbib|
|Minister for Indigenous Health, Rural and Regional Health and Regional Service Delivery ||The Hon. Warren Snowdon MP |
|Source: Library of the Commonwealth Parliament. |
In Westminster-derived governments, such as Australia's, the Opposition has a recognised and formal status, being recognised in the Standing Orders of the Parliament and in legislation. The Opposition is seen as the alternative government and typically forms a 'shadow Cabinet' of MPs who prepare themselves to take on the reins of government. The Opposition also has the role of acting as the main critic of the government and of offering to the community an alternative set of policies.
Mr Tony Abbott MP (Liberal Party of Australia) has been Leader of the Opposition since 1 December 2009.