Parliament of Australia

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The Parliament of Australia is the federal legislative branch of the government of Australia.

It is bicameral, consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate, largely modelled on the British Westminster tradition, but with some influences from the United States Congress. According to Section 1 of the Constitution of Australia, Parliament consists of three components: the Queen, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. The Queen is normally represented by the Governor-General of Australia.

The Parliament forms one of the three branches of the national government, the others being the High Court of Australia and Executive (Governor-General acting on advice of the Ministers).

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Australian Parliament House

After the proclamation of the Constitution in Sydney on 1 January 1901, the Commonwealth Parliament was opened on 9 May 1901 in Melbourne, in the Royal Exhibition Building, the only building in Melbourne large enough to house the 14,000 guests. Thereafter, from 1901 to 1927 it met in Parliament House, Melbourne, which it borrowed from the Parliament of Victoria (which sat in the Royal Exhibition Building).

On 9 May 1927 the Parliament moved to the new national capital at Canberra, where it met in what is now called Old Parliament House, a 'temporary' building that housed the Parliament for more than 60 years.

The permanent Parliament House was opened on 9 May 1988. It has two chambers, for the Representatives and the Senators, along with executive officers for Ministers, and offices for Members and Senators.

House of Representatives

The House of Representatives currently consists of 150 Members, who represent districts known as electoral divisions (commonly referred to as "electorates" or "seats"). The number of members may vary depending on electoral redistributions or boundary changes.

The Prime Minister of Australia is normally a member of this House. (A former Prime Minister, John Gorton, was a Senator when selected by his party. He immediately resigned and successfully contested a seat in the House.)

Senate

The Senate consists of 76 Senators: twelve for each of the six States, and two for each mainland Territory.

Government Ministers may be in either the House or the Senate, but will be represented in the other chamber by another Minister.

Legislation

Legislation (a Bill) may be first introduced in either the House or Senate if it is not related to financial matters. Legislation with financial implications may only be introduced in the House. In practice, almost all legislation is introduced in the House.

The Senate is a "house of review", or "states house", and subjects legislation to oversight. Changes made to legislation in the Senate must be ratified in the House.

Legislation passed by both houses becomes law (an Act) after "royal assent", in practice when the Governor-General receives advice from Ministers and signs the Bill.

Other matters

Either house can discuss "urgency motions" or "matters of public importance" as a forum for debates on public policy matters. Senators or Members can move motions of censure against the government or against individual ministers. Question Time is held at 2pm on most sitting days and allows Members and Senators to address questions to the Prime Minister and other Ministers. Petitions from constituents can also present matters for consideration by the Parliament. The House and Senate both have an extensive committee system, which form part of the corpus of the Parliament's consideration of bills, or at which evidence is taken and public servants are questioned.

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