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|Australian House of Representatives|
|Speaker of the House||Peter Slipper, Independent
since 24 November 2011
|Last election||21 August 2010|
|House of Representatives|
This article is part of a series about the
Politics and government
Other countries · Atlas
The House of Representatives is one of the two houses (chambers) of the Parliament of Australia; it is the lower house; the upper house is the Senate. Members of Parliament (MPs) serve for terms of approximately three years.
The present Parliament, as elected at the 2010 election, is the 43rd Federal Parliament since Federation. It is the first hung parliament in the House of Representatives since the 1940 election, with Labor and the Coalition winning 72 seats each of 150 total. Six crossbenchers hold the balance of power: Greens MP Adam Bandt and independent MPs Andrew Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor declared their support for Labor on confidence and supply, independent MP Bob Katter and National Party of Western Australia MP Tony Crook declared their support for the Coalition on confidence and supply. The resulting 76–74 margin entitled Labor to form a minority government. The Labor government increased their parliamentary majority on 24 November 2011 from 75–74 to 76–73 when the Coalition's Peter Slipper became Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives, replacing Labor's Harry Jenkins. In the Senate, where no party tends to have a majority of seats, the Greens gained the sole balance of power, previously holding a shared balance of power with the Family First Party and independent Nick Xenophon.
The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (Imp.) of 1900 established the House of Representatives as part of the new system of dominion government in newly federated Australia. The House is presided over by the Speaker. The 150 members of the House are elected from single member electorates (geographic districts, commonly referred to as "seats" but officially known as "Divisions of the Australian House of Representatives"). One vote one value legislation requires all electorates to have the same number of voters with a maximum 10 per cent variation. However the baseline quota for the amount of voters in an electorate is determined by the amount of voters in the state in which that electorate is found. Subsequently, the electorates of the smallest states and territories have more variation in the amount of voters in their electorates, with the smallest holding around 60,000 voters and the largest holding around 120,000 voters. Meanwhile the largest states have electorates with more equal voter numbers, with most electorates holding 85,000 to 100,000 voters. Voting is by the 'preferential system', also known as instant-runoff voting. A full allocation of preferences is required for a vote to be considered formal. This allows for a calculation of the two-party-preferred vote.
The number of electorates in each state and territory is determined by population. The parliamentary entitlement of a state or territory is established by the Electoral Commissioner dividing the number of the people of the Commonwealth by twice the number of Senators. The population of each state and territory is then divided by this quota to determine the number of members to which each state and territory is entitled. Under the Australian Constitution all original states are guaranteed at least five members. The Federal Parliament itself has decided that the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory should have at least one member each.
The current formula for determining the size of the House has the disadvantage that it can result in a House with the size being an even number (as it is a present). When the numbers are very close, as at present, this could result in both major parties having the same number of members, meaning that neither could govern. A formula setting the size of the House at twice the Senate minus one, and then determining the representation in each State and territory, would avoid this difficulty.
According to the Constitution, the powers of both houses are nearly equal, with the consent of both houses needed to pass legislation. The difference mostly relates to taxation legislation. In practice, by convention, the leader of the party (or coalition of parties) with a majority of members in the lower house is invited by the Governor-General to form the Government. Thus the leader becomes the Prime Minister and some of the other elected members of the government party in both the House and the Senate become ministers responsible for various portfolios and administer government departments. Bills appropriating money (supply bills) can only be introduced in the lower house and thus only the party with a majority in the lower house can govern. In the current Australian party system, this ensures that virtually all contentious votes are along party lines, and the Government always has a majority in those votes.
The Opposition party's main role in the House is to present arguments against the Government's policies and legislation, and attempt to hold the Government accountable as much as possible by asking questions of importance during Question Time and during debates on legislation. By contrast, the only period in recent times during which the government of the day has had a majority in the Senate was from July 2005 (following the 2004 election) to December 2007 (following the Coalition's defeat at the federal election that year). Hence, votes in the Senate are usually more meaningful. Currently however, with current numbers in the parliament resulting from the 2010 election, the situation is reversed. Legislation that is passed in the House by the current minority government is likely to be passed in the Senate, as the parties in minority government in the House have a combined majority in the Senate. The House's well-established committee system is not always as prominent as the Senate committee system because of the frequent lack of Senate majority.
In a reflection of the United Kingdom House of Commons, the predominant colour of the furnishings in the House of Representatives is green. However, the colour was tinted slightly in the new Parliament House (opened 1988) to suggest the colour of eucalyptus trees.
Australian parliaments are notoriously rowdy, with MPs often trading colourful insults. As a result, the Speaker often has to use the disciplinary powers granted to him under Standing Orders.
The Federation Chamber, formerly the Main Committee, is a second debating chamber that considers relatively uncontroversial matters. These can be referred by the entire House to the Federation Chamber, where substantive debate can take place. The Federation Chamber cannot, however, initiate nor make a final decision on any parliamentary business, although it can perform all tasks in between.
The Federation Chamber was created in 1994, to relieve some of the burden of the entire House: different matters can be processed in the House at large and in the Federation Chamber, as they sit simultaneously. It is designed to be less formal, with a quorum of only three members: the Deputy Speaker of the House, one government member, and one non-government member. Decisions must be unanimous: any divided decision sends the question back to the House at large.
The Federation Chamber was created through the House's Standing Orders: it is thus a subordinate body of the House, and can only be in session while the House itself is in session. When a division vote in the House occurs, members in the Federation Chamber must return to the House to vote.
The Federation Chamber is housed in one of the House's committee rooms; the room is customised for this purpose and is laid out to resemble the House chamber.
Due to the unique role of what was then called the Main Committee, proposals were made to rename the body to avoid confusion with other parliamentary committees, including include "Second Chamber" and "Federation Chamber". The House of Representatives later adopted the latter proposal.
The concept of a parallel body to expedite Parliamentary business, based on the Australian Federation Chamber, was mentioned in a 1998 British House of Commons report, which led to the creation of that body's parallel chamber Westminster Hall.
The 2010 election resulted in the first hung parliament since the 1940 election. Four of six crossbenchers gave confidence and supply to the incumbent Labor Party headed by Julia Gillard. The resulting 76–74 margin entitled Labor to form a minority government. The government increased their parliamentary majority on 24 November 2011 from 75–74 to 76–73 when the Coalition's Peter Slipper became an independent MP and Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives, replacing Labor's Harry Jenkins.
|Australian Labor Party||4,711,363||37.99||−5.40||72||−11|
|Liberal Party of Australia||3,777,383||30.46||+0.76||44||−11|
|Liberal National Party (QLD)||1,130,525||9.12||+0.60||21||+21|
|National Party of Australia||419,286||3.43||−0.04||6||−4|
|Country Liberal Party (NT)||38,335||0.31||−0.01||1||+1|
|National Party (WA)||43,101||0.34||+0.20||1||+1|
|Australian Labor Party||6,216,445||50.12||−2.58||72||−11|
|Party||Seats held||Percentage of House|
|Australian Labor Party||
|Katter's Australian Party||
|Primary vote||TPP vote||Seats|
|21 Aug 2010 election||38.0%||43.3%||18.8%||50.1%||49.9%||72||72||6||150|
|17–19 Aug 2010 poll||36.2%||43.4%||20.4%||50.2%||49.8%|
|24 Nov 2007 election||43.4%||42.1%||14.5%||52.7%||47.3%||83||65||2||150|
|20–22 Nov 2007 poll||44%||43%||13%||52%||48%|
|9 Oct 2004 election||37.6%||46.7%||15.7%||47.3%||52.7%||60||87||3||150|
|6–7 Oct 2004 poll||39%||45%||16%||50%||50%|
|10 Nov 2001 election||37.8%||43.0%||19.2%||49.0%||51.0%||65||82||3||150|
|7–8 Nov 2001 poll||38.5%||46%||15.5%||47%||53%|
|3 Oct 1998 election||40.1%||39.5%||20.4%||51.0%||49.0%||67||80||1||148|
|30 Sep – 1 Oct 1998 poll||44%||40%||16%||53%||47%|
|2 Mar 1996 election||38.7%||47.3%||14.0%||46.4%||53.6%||49||94||5||148|
|28–29 Feb 1996 poll||40.5%||48%||11.5%||46.5%||53.5%|
|13 Mar 1993 election||44.9%||44.3%||10.7%||51.4%||48.6%||80||65||2||147|
|11 Mar 1993 poll||44%||45%||11%||49.5%||50.5%|
|24 Mar 1990 election||39.4%||43.5%||17.1%||49.9%||50.1%||78||69||1||148|
|11 Jul 1987 election||45.8%||46.1%||8.1%||50.8%||49.2%||86||62||0||148|
|1 Dec 1984 election||47.6%||45.0%||7.4%||51.8%||48.2%||82||66||0||148|
|5 Mar 1983 election||49.5%||43.6%||6.9%||53.2%||46.8%||75||50||0||125|
|18 Oct 1980 election||45.2%||46.3%||8.5%||49.6%||50.4%||51||74||0||125|
|10 Dec 1977 election||39.7%||48.1%||12.2%||45.4%||54.6%||38||86||0||124|
|13 Dec 1975 election||42.8%||53.1%||4.1%||44.3%||55.7%||36||91||0||127|
|18 May 1974 election||49.3%||44.9%||5.8%||51.7%||48.3%||66||61||0||127|
|2 Dec 1972 election||49.6%||41.5%||8.9%||52.7%||47.3%||67||58||0||125|
|25 Oct 1969 election||47.0%||43.3%||9.7%||50.2%||49.8%||59||66||0||125|
|26 Nov 1966 election||40.0%||50.0%||10.0%||43.1%||56.9%||41||82||1||124|
|30 Nov 1963 election||45.5%||46.0%||8.5%||47.4%||52.6%||50||72||0||122|
|9 Dec 1961 election||47.9%||42.1%||10.0%||50.5%||49.5%||60||62||0||122|
|22 Nov 1958 election||42.8%||46.6%||10.6%||45.9%||54.1%||45||77||0||122|
|10 Dec 1955 election||44.6%||47.6%||7.8%||45.8%||54.2%||47||75||0||122|
|29 May 1954 election||50.0%||46.8%||3.2%||50.7%||49.3%||57||64||0||121|
|28 Apr 1951 election||47.6%||50.3%||2.1%||49.3%||50.7%||52||69||0||121|
|10 Dec 1949 election||46.0%||50.3%||3.7%||49.0%||51.0%||47||74||0||121|
|28 Sep 1946 election||49.7%||39.3%||11.0%||54.1%||45.9%||43||26||5||74|
|21 Aug 1943 election||49.9%||23.0%||27.1%||58.2%||41.8%||49||19||6||74|
|21 Sep 1940 election||40.2%||43.9%||15.9%||50.3%||49.7%||32||36||6||74|
|23 Oct 1937 election||43.2%||49.3%||7.5%||49.4%||50.6%||29||44||2||74|
|Polling conducted by Newspoll and published in The Australian. Three percent margin of error.