Australian Government

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Australian Government
Government of the Commonwealth of Australia
Australian Government - Logo.svg
The monochrome logo and wordmark of the Australian Government, based on the coat of arms of Australia
Established1 January 1901;123 years ago (1901-01-01)
Country Australia
Leader Prime Minister: Anthony Albanese
Appointed by Governor-General: David Hurley
Main organ
Ministries 16 government departments
Responsible to Parliament of Australia
Annual budget$644.8 billion (2022–23) [1]

The Australian Government, also known as the Commonwealth Government, is the national government of Australia, a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy. The government consists of the parliamentary members of the party or coalition that currently has the support of a majority of members of the House of Representatives and in some contexts also includes the departments and other executive bodies ministers oversee. [2] The current government consists of Anthony Albanese and other Australian Labor Party parliamentarians, in place since the 2022 federal election.


The prime minister is the head of the government. [3] They are formally appointed to the role by the governor-general (the King's representative), however their decision is normally limited to selecting the parliamentary leader who has the support of a majority of members in the House of Representatives. [4] [5] By convention, the prime minister must also be a member of the House. [3]

Other key members of the government include cabinet ministers (who head government departments), junior ministers, parliamentary secretaries and government backbenchers. [2] The prime minister and cabinet ministers form the Cabinet, the key decision-making organ of the government that forms policy and decides the agenda of the government. [6] Members of the government can exercise both legislative power (through their control of the Parliament) and executive power (as ministers). However, in accordance with responsible government, this also requires the actions of the government in its executive capacity to be subject to scrutiny from non-government members of the Parliament. [6]

The government is based in the nation's capital, Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory. The head offices of all sixteen federal departments lie in Canberra, along with Parliament House and the High Court. [7] [8] The government must act in accordance with law and the Australian Constitution.

In exercising executive power, government ministers formally exercise power on behalf of the King of Australia, in which the executive power is vested. [9] [10]


The name of the government in the Constitution of Australia is the "Government of the Commonwealth". [11] This and terms such as "Commonwealth Government" were used by the government itself until the Whitlam government implemented a policy of using the term "Government of Australia" as a means of blurring the distinctions between state and Commonwealth governments in an attempt to increase federal power. [12] [13]

In other contexts, the term "government" refers to all public agencies that exercise the power of the State, whether legislative, executive or judicial. [14]

Executive power

The government's primary role, in its executive capacity, is to implement the laws passed by the Parliament. However, laws are frequently drafted according to the interests of the executive branch as the government often also controls the legislative branch.

Unlike the other two branches of government, however, membership of the executive is not clearly defined. One definition describes the executive as a pyramid, consisting of three layers. At the top stands The King, as the symbolic apex and formal repository of executive power. Below him lies a second layer made up of the prime minister, Cabinet and other ministers who in practice lead the executive. Finally, the bottom layer includes public servants, police, government departments and independent statutory bodies who directly implement policy and laws. [15] [16]

Executive power is also difficult to clearly define. In the British context, it was defined by John Locke as all government power not legislative or judicial in nature. [17] The key distinction is that while legislative power involves setting down rules of general application, executive power involves applying those rules to specific situations. In practice, however, this definition is difficult to apply as many actions by executive agencies are wide-ranging, binding and conducted independently of Parliament. The executive can also be delegated legislative power through provisions allowing for statutory instruments and Henry VIII clauses. [18] Ultimately whether power is executive or legislative is determined on a case-by-case basis, and involves the weighing up of various factors, rather than the application of a strict test. [19]

As most executive power is granted by statute, the executive power of the government is similarly limited to those areas in which the Commonwealth is granted the power to legislate under the Constitution (primarily under section 51). They also retain certain powers traditionally part of the royal prerogative, such as the power to declare war and enter into treaties. Finally, there exists certain "nationhood powers", implied from section 61 of the Constitution. [20] These were defined by High Court Justice Anthony Mason, as powers "peculiarly adapted to the government of a nation and which cannot otherwise be carried on for the benefit of the nation". [21] They have been found to include the power to provide financial stimulus payments to households during a financial crisis [22] and the power to prevent "unlawful non-citizens" from entering the country. [23]

There are times when the government acts in a caretaker capacity, principally in the period before and immediately following a general election. [24]

The role of the King and the governor-general

The King is not involved with the day-to-day operations of the government, [25] belonging (according to the Bagehot formulation) to the "dignified" rather than the "efficient" part of government. [26] [27] While the executive power of the Commonwealth is formally vested in the monarch, the Constitution requires those powers to be exercisable by a governor-general, appointed by the monarch as their representative [28] (but since the appointing of Sir Isaacs Isaacs in 1931, always appointed according to the advice of federal ministers, rather than British ministers). [29] Members of the government do not exercise executive power of their own accord but are instead appointed by the governor-general as ministers, formally as the "Queen's [or King's] Ministers of State". [30] As such, while government ministers make most major decisions in Cabinet, those decisions do not have legal force until approved by the Federal Executive Council, which is presided over by the governor-general.

Similarly, laws passed by both houses of parliament require royal assent before being enacted, as the monarch is a constituent part of the Parliament. [31]

However, in all these cases, except for certain reserve powers, the King and the governor-general must follow the advice of the prime minister or other ministers in the exercise of his powers. [32] Reserve powers are rarely exercised, with the most notable example of their use occurring in the Dismissal of 1975. In that case, the Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed the prime minister and government due to his conclusion that the government had failed to secure supply. [33] [34] The validity of the use of the powers during that event remain highly contested.

Executive council

The Federal Executive Council is a formal body that 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 council and are entitled to be styled The Honourable , a style 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. [35] Since 1 June 2022, the vice-president of the Federal Executive Council has been Senator Katy Gallagher. [36]


The Cabinet of Australia is the de facto highest executive body of the government. It consists of the prime minister and senior ministers and makes most of the important policy decisions of the government. Members of the Cabinet are selected by the prime minister and may be added or removed at any time, usually through a cabinet reshuffle. [37] 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 several junior ministers, called Parliamentary Secretaries, responsible for a specific policy area and reporting directly to a senior Cabinet minister. [38]

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. [39] All members of the Cabinet are members of the Executive Council. 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. [40]

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. [38]

The prime minister makes all Cabinet and ministerial appointments at their 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. [37]

When 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. [41] 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. [42]

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. [43] There are Commonwealth Parliament Offices in each state capital, with those in Sydney located in 1 Bligh Street. [44]


As of 27 November 2023, there are 16 departments of the Australian Government. [45]

Additionally, there are four departments which support the Parliament of Australia: [46]

Publicly owned entities

Corporations prescribed by acts of parliament

The following corporations are prescribed by Acts of Parliament:

Government Business Enterprises

As of March 2021, 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: [50] [51]

The following Commonwealth companies are prescribed as GBEs by section 5(2) of the PGPA Rule: [50]

Other public non-financial corporations

See also

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