The Government of the Commonwealth of Australia, also referred to as the Australian Government, the Commonwealth Government or the Federal Government, is the federal democratic administrative authority of Australia. The Commonwealth of Australia, a federal constitutional monarchy under a parliamentary democracy, was formed in 1901 as a result of an agreement among six self-governing British colonies, which became the six states. The terms of this contract are embodied in the Australian Constitution, which was drawn up at a Constitutional Convention and ratified by the people of the colonies at referendums. The structure of the Australian Government may be examined in light of two distinct concepts, namely federalism and the separation of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Separation of powers is implied from the structure of the Constitution which breaks down the branches of government into separate chapters. The Australian federal system is a unique mixture of the Westminster and US systems of federal representative democracy, with important elements of both present.
Section 1 of the Australian Constitution creates a democratic legislature, the bicameral Parliament of Australia which consists of the Queen of Australia, and two houses of parliament, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Section 51 of the Constitution provides for the Commonwealth Government's legislative powers and allocates certain powers and responsibilities (known as "heads of power") to the Commonwealth government. All remaining responsibilities are retained by the six States (previously separate colonies). Further, each State has its own constitution, so that Australia has seven sovereign Parliaments, none of which can encroach on the functions of any other. The High Court of Australia arbitrates on any disputes which arise between the Commonwealth and the States, or among the States, concerning their respective functions.
The Commonwealth Parliament can propose changes to the Constitution. To become effective, the proposals must be put to a referendum of all Australians of voting age, and must receive a "double majority": a majority of all votes, and a majority of votes in a majority of States.
The Commonwealth Constitution also provides that the States can agree to refer any of their powers to the Commonwealth. This may be achieved by way of an amendment to the Constitution via referendum (a vote on whether the proposed transfer of power from the States to the Commonwealth, or vice versa, should be implemented). More commonly powers may be transferred by passing other acts of legislation which authorise the transfer and such acts require the legislative agreement of all the state governments involved. This "transfer" legislation may have a "sunset clause", a legislative provision that nullifies the transfer of power after a specified period, at which point the original division of power is restored.
In addition, Australia has several territories, three of which are self-governing: the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), the Northern Territory (NT) and Norfolk Island. The legislatures of these territories exercise powers delegated to them by the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth Parliament retains the power to override territorial legislation and to transfer powers to or from the territories. Australian citizens living in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory are directly represented in the Commonwealth Parliament. Norfolk Islanders are not represented federally ''per se'', but residents of Norfolk Island are entitled to enrol in a mainland Australian division in a state with which they have a connection, or the Division of Canberra in the ACT, or the Division of Solomon in the NT. Enrolment for Norfolk Islanders is not compulsory, but once enrolled, they must vote.〔(【引用サイトリンク】title=Australian Electoral Commission: Norfolk Island electors )〕
Australia's other territories that are regularly inhabited (Jervis Bay, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands) are not self-governing. Instead, these territories are largely governed by Commonwealth law, with Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands also having local governments. The largely uninhabited Coral Sea Islands was established as a Territory of the Commonwealth in 1969 while Ashmore and Cartier Islands has been a territory since 1933 and administered under the laws of the Northern Territory.
The federal nature of the Commonwealth and the structure of the Parliament of Australia were the subject of protracted negotiations among the colonies during the drafting of the Constitution. The House of Representatives is elected on a basis which reflects the differing populations of the States. Thus New South Wales has 48 members while Tasmania has five. But the Senate is elected on a basis of equality among the States: all States elect 12 Senators, regardless of population. This was intended to allow the Senators of the smaller States to form a majority and amend or even reject bills originating in the House of Representatives. The ACT and the NT also elect two senators each.
The third level of government after Commonwealth and State/Territory is Local government, in the form of shire, town or city. These bodies such as Councils are composed of elected representatives (known as either councillor or alderman depending on the State), usually serving on a part-time basis.
Government is undertaken by three inter-connected arms of government:
* Legislature: The Commonwealth Parliament
* Executive: The Sovereign of Australia, whose executive power is exercisable by the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, Ministers and their Departments
* Judiciary: The High Court of Australia and subsidiary Federal courts.
The ''Separation of powers'' is the principle whereby the three arms of government undertake their activities separate from each other:
* the Legislature proposes laws in the form of Bills, and provides a legislative framework for the operations of the other two arms. The Sovereign is formally a part of the Parliament, but takes no active role in these matters
* the Executive enacts the laws by Royal Assent, administers the laws and carries out the tasks assigned to it by legislation
* the Judiciary hears cases arising from the administration of the law, using both statute law and the common law. The Australian courts cannot give advisory opinions on the constitutionality of laws
* the other arms cannot influence the Judiciary.
Until the passage of the Australia Act 1986, and associated legislation in the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, some Australian cases could be referred to the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for final appeal. With this act, Australian law was made unequivocally sovereign, and the High Court of Australia was confirmed as the highest court of appeal. The theoretical possibility of the British Parliament enacting laws to override the Australian Constitution was also removed.〔(【引用サイトリンク】title=Australia Act 1986 )〕
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