Government in Victoria
Composition of State Government
Although the term ‘government’ is commonly used when referring to the Prime Minister or Premier and his or her Ministers, under the Westminster system the government of Victoria is comprised of three constituent parts: a Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary.
The Parliament makes the majority of the laws in this State. It consists of the Crown, the Legislative Assembly (the Lower House) and the Legislative Council (the Upper House).
The Executive comprises the Premier as Head of Government and his or her Ministers. Unlike the position in the United States of America, for example, members of the Executive are also members of the Parliament.
The Judiciary resolves disputes between citizens, and between the State and its citizens. Subject to the decision of the High Court of Australia on the matter, the Victorian Supreme Court determines what is the law in Victoria.
Governor of Victoria
The Governor and the Victorian Government
When the First Fleet arrived from Britain in 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip became the first Governor in Australia.
During the Colonial period, the Governor was not only the Queen’s representative, but also the Head of Government. Governors held wide powers of executive administration and often acted independently of the British Parliament. Since the Colonial period, Australia’s Government systems have evolved into Parliaments democratically elected by Australian citizens.
Although the Governor continues to have considerable powers, laws and conventions have been put in place to ensure that these powers are used consistently with the will of the community.
Executive Council and Governor in Council
The Governor in Council is an important mechanism through which the government of the day implements important aspects of its business. As the name suggests, Governor in Council is a body that comprises the Governor as Chair and members of the Executive Council. Broadly, the latter comprises the Premier and his or her Ministers who have been sworn by the Governor as Executive councillors, usually at the same time as they are sworn as Ministers. In Victoria, this consists of the Premier and his or her Ministers. At meetings of the Governor in Council the Governor, on the recommendation of a Minister and with the advice of the Executive Council, deals with a wide range of matters that Parliament has specified be handled in that way rather than by a Minister acting alone. These matters include:
- making of regulations;
- appointing, renewing and removing statutory officers;
- appointing judges;
- determining the appropriate use of Crown land;
- issuing various proclamations;
- deciding planning appeals called in by the Minister;
- and many others.
Action by the Governor in Council is initiated by written recommendation and supporting material from the Minister responsible for the legislation, recommending the proposed course of action.
Aspects of Australian Government
Australia is a constitutional monarchy, a federation and a parliamentary democracy. Each of these terms describes a different aspect of Australia’s system of government.
A constitutional monarchy is a system of government in which the powers of the monarch are limited by the law. Queen Elizabeth II is formally Australia’s Head of State, however she is represented by the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia and the Governors of each of the six States. The Queen’s representatives fulfill her constitutional duties and responsibilities in Australia. The State Governors are not subordinate to the Governor-General, as each exercises his or her constitutional powers as Head of State in his or her own state jurisdiction. However, it is convention to treat the Governor-General as the ‘first among equals’.
Although the Governor is the Queen’s representative, the set of laws known as the Australia Act 1986 transfer the Queen’s powers to the Governor. The Governor is not subject to the direction supervision or veto of the Queen, except in the following cases.
- Only the Queen, on the advice of the Premier, has the power to appoint and dismiss Governors.
- When she is physically present in Victoria, The Queen may exercise certain powers, on advice of the Premier, such as ceremonially opening Parliament or giving Royal Assent.
Australia is comprised of six Federated States and ten Commonwealth territories. Australia became a Federation on the 1st of January 1901, when the people of the six Australian colonies decided that Australia should become a single nation. At Federation, the governance of the country was split between State and Federal Parliaments. Each state kept their colonial government systems to look after state matters. A new federal government was introduced to take care of national matters, and the monarch of the United Kingdom remained Australia’s head of state.
The Federal and State Parliaments are chosen through democratic election to represent all Australian citizens. This parliamentary democracy is modeled on the Westminster system found in the United Kingdom.
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