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Settlement Guide: how government works

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Under Australia’s federal system, powers are divided between a central government and individual states. The Australian Parliament consists of the Queen - represented by the Governor-General - the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Australian Federal Government is divided into three arms: legislature, executive and judiciary. So, how does it all work?

1. In Australia, power is divided between federal, state and territory governments

Federal laws made by parliament must pass through both the House of Representatives and the Senate and be signed by the Governor-General.


Queen Elizabeth with Governor-General


2. The House of Representatives, often called the Lower House, is comprised of 150 members from electorates across Australia

It determines the government, passes laws, monitors administration and debates issues of national importance. After an election, government is formed by the party who has the most representatives in the Lower House. The leader of the party with the most representatives in the Lower House becomes the Prime Minister.


House of Representatives


3. The Senate often called the Upper House, is comprised of 76 members - twelve from each of the six states and two from each of the two territories

Its main role is to review legislation that comes from the Lower House. Senators serve a six-year term with half the Senate elected every three years during the federal election.



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4. The Australian Federal Government is divided into three arms: legislature, executive and judiciary

The legislature, also known as the Parliament of Australia, is made up of democratically-elected representatives from around Australia. Its responsible for debating and voting on new laws to be introduced under the power of section 51 of the Constitution.


Federal Parliament


The executive is the administrative arm of government. It is responsible for enacting and upholding the laws established by the legislature.



Front bench ministers


The judiciary is the legal arm of government, independent of the legislature and the executive. Its role is to enforce Australia's laws. It must also ensure that the other arms of government do not act beyond their constitutional powers.


Scales of justice

Justice is blind


5. In Australia, the Federal Government is elected by compulsory voting

The Federal Election takes place approximately every three years. The next election, held in over 8000 polling places across Australia, will be on July 2 from 8am to 6pm. All Australian citizens aged 18 years or over are required to enrol and vote.


Australia votes


For more information on Australia’s federal system visit the Australian Government’s website.

On how to vote visit the Australian Electoral Commission’s website.

Translated information on voting in your language.