The Commonwealth of Australia is a federation, a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. Each of these terms describes a different aspect of how Australia is governed.
Australia became a federation on 1 January 1901, when the people of the six Australian colonies, together with the British Parliament, decided that there should be a federal government for the whole nation as well as a government in each of the States (as the colonies were renamed).
The power to govern was divided between the duly elected Federal and State Governments in accordance with the Australian Constitution, which also came into effect on 1 January 1901. It was assumed that the reigning Monarch of the United Kingdom would be Head of State of the Commonwealth and of each of the States.
The Commonwealth and States each have a parliamentary system of government based on democratic election and the Westminster system of government.
Queen Elizabeth II is Queen of Australia and therefore Head of State of the Commonwealth and of each of the States. The Governor of Victoria, like the Governor-General of the Commonwealth and the Governors of the five other States, is appointed to represent The Queen in the Governor’s own jurisdiction. Although a State Governor is not subordinate to the Governor-General, as a matter of courtesy the Governor-General is treated as 'first among equals.'
Under the Westminster system the government of Victoria is comprised of the following three constituent parts:
- Parliament: which makes the majority of the laws in Victoria. It consists of the Crown, the Legislative Council (the Upper House) and the Legislative Assembly (the Lower House).
- The Executive: which comprises the Premier as Head of Government and his or her Ministers. Unlike in the United States, for example, members of the Executive in Victoria are also Members of Parliament.
- The Judiciary: which resolves disputes between citizens, and between the State and its citizens. Except where affected by decisions of the High Court of Australia, the Supreme Court of Victoria adjudicates the law in Victoria.
The Executive Council is made up of the Premier and his or her Ministers who have been sworn into that office by the Governor, usually immediately after they have been sworn in as Ministers.
The ‘Governor in Council’ is an important process through which the government of the day implements 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.
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:
- the making of regulations
- appointing, renewing and removing statutory officers
- appointing judges
- determining the appropriate use of Crown land
- issuing proclamations
- many other actions of government.