Australian Government – a brief overview

Australia Coat of Arms

I prepared this article to help my English language students learn about the three levels of government in Australia – Federal, State and Local.

The Parliament of Australia is officially known as the Federal Government or Commonwealth Parliament

There are three parts of Federal Government:

  1. The Crown (the Queen) represented by the Governor-General who is the Queen’s representative in Australia.
  2. The Senate representing the states and territories.
  3. The House of Representatives representing the population of Australia.

All State governments and Federal Government are bicameral which means they have two houses  – the Upper House (Senate) and Lower House (House of Representatives).  The exceptions are Queensland and ACT.

The Senate – represents the states and territories. The powers of the Senate are described in Chapter 1 of the Australian Constitution.    There are 76 Senators. 12 are elected from each of the six states, and 2 from each of ACT and Northern Territory.   More information in this Wikipedia article.

The House of Representatives – members represent electoral divisions based on population. There are currently 151 divisions which are also known as electorates or seats. Look at the Australian Electoral Commission web site to find the division where you live. Wikipedia also has a list of division names and maps.

My suburb of Epping is in the electorate of Bennelong which also includes the suburbs of Denistone, Gladesville (part), Macquarie Park, Meadowbank, Melrose Park, Putney, North Ryde, Ryde and parts of Carlingford. The neighbouring electoral divisions are Parramatta, Berowra, Bradfield, North Sydney, and Reid.   The Federal Member is Liberal John Alexander and this is his web site John Alexander MP.

Exercise 1: Find the name of your Federal Electoral Division.

Forming the Government

The Government is formed by the political party that wins the majority of seats in the lower house at an election. Sometimes parties unite to form a government such as the Liberal-National Coalition.   The political parties with the remainder of seats forms the Opposition.

The Leader of the Government is the Prime Minister and his counterpart is the Leader of the Opposition. Currently these roles are held by Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese.

Federal Government responsibilities include: foreign affairs, social security, industrial relations, trade, immigration, currency and defence.

Making Laws

Laws are made in Parliament and known as statute law or legislation.  These laws apply to all of Australia.  You can read these laws on the Federal Register of Legislation     For example: Migration Act

The process of making a new law or amending an existing law is by proposing a bill. A bill is a drafted law that has not yet been passed by parliament. The bill is read in parliament then debated. It requires approval of both houses of parliament and the Governor-General before it becomes an Act of Parliament.


Federal Elections are held every 3 years on a Saturday and the last election was held in May 2019.  The next Australian federal election will be held on or before 21 May 2022 to elect members of the 47th Parliament of Australia. The Prime Minister will announce the date of the election.  All 151 seats in the lower house, the House of Representatives, and 40 of the 76 seats in the upper house, the Senate, will be up for election.

On Election Day, voters go to a polling booth which is usually a church, school or community hall set up for voting.  A voter gets their name checked off a printed electoral roll list, and is given ballot papers to mark with a pencil. These ballot papers are folded up and placed in a box at the exit of the polling booth. Outside the polling booth can be found many people handing out How to Vote papers for the various political parties. 

Democracy Sausage Sandwich

Another popular activity at polling booths are cake stalls and sausage sizzles for fundraising activities.  This sausage sandwich is now affectionately known as a Democracy Sausage (Australian humour in action).

Eligibility to Vote

Voting is compulsory for Australian citizens. After turning 18 years old, citizens must register to vote and this can be done online. If you will be overseas or away from your usual residence on election day you can register for a postal vote. Read the Wikipedia about the next Federal election.

State Government

The decision-making body of state government is the state parliament which meets in the Parliament House of the particular state. NSW Parliament House is in Macquarie Street, Sydney. Each state parliament, except for the Queensland Parliament, is made up of two houses. In NSW the lower house is the Legislative Assembly and the upper house is Legislative Council.  Representatives elected to state parliaments are generally known as Members.

The Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory have a different arrangement. Each territory parliament has one house called the Legislative Assembly. The leader of each territory government is called the Chief Minister.

The leader of the state of NSW is the Premier. The Premier (as of Tuesday 5th October 2021) is Dominic Perrottet and Deputy Premier is Stuart Ayres.  The leader of the opposition is Chris Minns. The former Premier is Gladys Berejiklian who resigned on Friday 1st October 2021.

State and territory government responsibilities include: justice, consumer affairs, health, education, forestry, public transport, and main roads.  

For the purposes of voting, NSW is broken down into 93 state electoral divisions. Information about these divisions can be found on the NSW Electoral Commission web site.  Voters in each division will elect one person to be their representative in the Legislative Assembly. Voters will also elect 21 of the 42 members of the Legislative Council. The next NSW state election is Saturday 25th March 2023.

My electoral division is Epping which takes in the suburbs of Castle Hill, Cherrybrook, Beecroft, Cheltenham, Epping and North Epping.    The member for Epping is Dominic Perrottet who is currently NSW Treasurer and elected NSW Premier on Tuesday 5th October 2021.

Exercise 2: Find the name of your State  Electoral Division

Local Government

The decision-making body of local government is usually called the city council or shire council. Councils are established by state governments to look after the particular needs of a city or local community. The people’s representatives who form the Council are called aldermen or councillors. The head of the Council is the Mayor or Shire President.

Local government responsibilities include: local road maintenance, garbage collection, building regulations, development applications and land subdivisions, public health and recreation facilities such as parks, playgrounds and swimming pools. Property owners pay council rates which finance the operations of local government.

There are 128 local government councils in NSW, more than the number of state electoral divisions. Each council represents a local government area.

Use this web site to find your local government area. My local government is Parramatta Council which is broken up into five wards: Parramatta, North Rocks, Epping (my ward), Dundas and Rose Hill. Wards are administrative divisions represented by Councillors. Presently the Epping Ward Councillors are Donna Davis, Bill Tyrrell and Lorraine Wearne.

Parramatta Local Government Area

124 councils will be holding elections on Saturday, 4 December 2021 for the election of councillors. Some councils will also be holding mayoral elections, constitutional referendums and/or polls.

The Parramatta Council has more information about the wards. Detailed demographic information about each ward can be found on this web site Epping Ward Demographic profile

Exercise 3: Find the name of your Local  Government.

What else would you like to know about Government and Parliament in Australia? Do you have a question about the Australian Legal System? Leave a comment and I will research some information.


2 responses to “Australian Government – a brief overview”

  1. Very informative blog, thanks for sharing. What does ACT mean? (“except Queensland and ACT”)

  2. ACT: Australian Capital Territory.

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