The Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia is the head of government in Australia. The individual who holds the office is the most senior Minister of the Crown, the leader of the Cabinet and the chairperson of the National Security Committee. The office is not mentioned in the Constitution of Australia and exists only through an unwritten political convention and tradition. Despite this, in practice it is the most powerful political position in Australia. The individual who holds the office is commissioned by the Governor-General of Australia.
Almost always and according to convention, the Prime Minister is the leader of the majority party or largest party in a coalition of parties in the House of Representatives. However, there is no constitutional requirement that the prime minister sit in the House of Representatives, or even be a member of parliament, though by convention this is always the case. The only case where a member of the Senate was appointed prime minister was John Gorton, who subsequently resigned his Senate position and was elected as a member of the House of Representatives (Senator George Pearce was acting prime minister for seven months in 1916 while Billy Hughes was overseas).
Malcolm Turnbull has held the office of Prime Minister since 15 September 2015. He received his commission after replacing Tony Abbott as the leader of the Liberal Party, the dominant party in the Coalition government.
Former Prime Ministers continue to be important national figures, and in some cases go on to significant post-prime ministerial careers. Some notable examples have included: Edmund Barton, who was a justice of the High Court; George Reid, Andrew Fisher, Joseph Cook and Stanley Bruce, who were High Commissioners to the United Kingdom; Arthur Fadden, who was Treasurer under another prime minister, Robert Menzies; and Kevin Rudd, who became Julia Gillard's Foreign Minister.
The Prime Minister of Australia is appointed by the Governor-General of Australia under Section 64 of the Australian Constitution, which empowers the Governor-General to appoint Ministers of the Crown and requires such Ministers to be members of the House of Representatives or the Senate, or become members within three months of the appointment. Before being sworn in as a minister, a person must first be sworn in as a member of the Federal Executive Council if they are not already a member. Membership of the Federal Executive Council entitles the member to the style of ''The Honourable'' (usually abbreviated to ''The Hon'') for life, barring exceptional circumstances. The senior members of the Executive Council constitute the Cabinet of Australia.
The Prime Minister is, like other ministers, normally sworn in by the Governor-General and then presented with the commission (Letters patent) of office. When defeated in an election, or on resigning, the Prime Minister is said to "hand in the commission" and actually does so by returning it to the Governor-General. In the event of a Prime Minister dying in office, or becoming incapacitated, the Governor-General can terminate the commission. Ministers hold office "during the pleasure of the Governor-General" (s. 64 of the Constitution of Australia), so theoretically, the Governor-General can dismiss a minister at any time, by notifying them in writing of the termination of their commission; however, his or her power to do so except on the advice of the Prime Minister is heavily circumscribed by convention.
Despite the importance of the office of prime minister, the Constitution does not mention the office by name. The conventions of the Westminster system were thought to be sufficiently entrenched in Australia by the authors of the Constitution that it was deemed unnecessary to detail them. The formal title of the portfolio has always been simply "Prime Minister", except for the period of the Fourth Deakin Ministry (June 1909 to April 1910), when it was known as "Prime Minister (without portfolio)".〔(【引用サイトリンク】title=ParlInfo – Part 6 – Historical information on the Australian Parliament : Ministries and Cabinets )〕
If a government cannot get its appropriation (budget) legislation passed by the House of Representatives, or the House passes a vote of "no confidence" in the government, the Prime Minister is bound by convention to immediately advise the Governor-General to dissolve the House of Representatives and hold a fresh election.
Following a resignation in other circumstances, or the death of a prime minister, the governor-general will generally appoint as prime minister the person elected as leader by the governing party or, in the case of a coalition, the senior party in the coalition. There have been four notable exceptions to this:
* When Joseph Lyons, prime minister and leader of the United Australia Party (UAP), died suddenly in April 1939, the governor-general, Lord Gowrie, called on Sir Earle Page to become caretaker prime minister. Page was the leader of the smaller party in the governing coalition, the Country Party. He held the office for three weeks until the UAP elected a new leader, Robert Menzies.
* In August 1941 Menzies resigned as prime minister. The UAP was so bereft of leadership at this time that the Country Party leader Arthur Fadden was invited to become prime minister, although the Country Party was the smaller of the two coalition parties. The government depended on support from two independents, who two months later voted against Fadden's budget and brought the government down, paving the way for John Curtin to be appointed as Labor prime minister.
* In July 1945 John Curtin died suddenly. His deputy, Frank Forde, was sworn in the next day as prime minister, although the Labor Party had not had an opportunity to meet and elect a new leader. Forde served for eight days until Ben Chifley was elected leader. Chifley was then sworn in, replacing Forde, who became Australia's shortest-serving prime minister.
* Harold Holt disappeared while swimming on 17 December 1967 and was declared presumed dead on 19 December. The governor-general, Lord Casey, commissioned the Leader of the Country Party, John McEwen, to form a government until the Liberal Party elected a new leader. McEwen was prime minister for 23 days, until the election of (then Senator) John Gorton.
There were only three other cases where someone other than the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives was prime minister:
* Federation occurred on 1 January 1901, but elections for the first parliament were not scheduled until late March. In the interim, an unelected caretaker government was necessary. In what is now known as the Hopetoun Blunder, the governor-general, Lord Hopetoun, invited Sir William Lyne, the premier of the most populous state, New South Wales, to form a government. Lyne was unable to do so and returned his commission in favour of Edmund Barton, who became the first prime minister and led the inaugural government into and beyond the election.
* During the second parliament, three parties (Free Trade, Protectionist and Labor) had roughly equal representation in the House of Representatives. The leaders of the three parties, Alfred Deakin, George Reid and Chris Watson each served as prime minister before losing a vote of confidence.
* During the 1975 constitutional crisis, on 11 November 1975, the governor-general, Sir John Kerr, dismissed the Labor Party's Gough Whitlam as prime minister. Despite Labor holding a majority in the House of Representatives, Kerr appointed the Leader of the Opposition, Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser as caretaker prime minister, conditional on the passage of the Whitlam government's Supply bills through the Senate and the calling of an election for both houses of parliament. Fraser accepted these terms and immediately advised a double dissolution. An election was called for 13 December, which the Liberal Party won in its own right (although the Liberals governed in a coalition with the Country Party).
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