The Australian House of Representatives is one of the two houses (chambers) of the Parliament of Australia. The other is the Australian Senate.
The 150 members of the House are elected from single-member electorates (geographic districts, sometimes known as "seats" but officially known as "Commonwealth Electoral Divisions"). These are intended to represent reasonably contiguous regions, with relatively equal voter enrolment in each of about 80,000 people. Voting is by the 'preferential system' (usually referred to elsewhere as the Alternative Vote) for all constituencies except those in Tasmania, where the electoral system is the Single Transferable Vote.
According to the Australian Constitution, the powers of both houses are nearly equal, with the consent of both houses needed to pass legislation. In practice, by convention, the leader of the party (or coalition of parties) with a majority of members in the lower house is invited by the Governor-General to form the Government. Thus the leader becomes the Prime Minister and some of the other elected members of the Government party in both the House and the Senate become ministers responsible for various portfolios (government departments). Bills appropriating money (supply bills) can only be introduced or modified in the lower house and thus only the party with a majority in the lower house can govern. In the rigid Australian party system, this ensures that virtually all contentious votes are along party lines, and the Government always has a majority in those votes.
The Opposition party's only real role in the House is to present arguments why the Government's policies and legislation are not right, and attempt to embarrass the government as much as possible by asking difficult questions at Question Time. The Senate, by contrast, has not had a majority from the Government of the day (both Liberal/National Coalition and Labor) in many years, so votes in the Senate have become more meaningful. However, the Coalition will have a Senate majority from the 1st July 2005, following the 2004 election. The House's parliamentary committee system is also embryonic as compared to the well-established Senate committee system.
In a reflection of the United Kingdom House of Commons, the predominant colour of the furnishings in the House of Representatives is green. However, the colour was tinted slightly to suggest the colour of eucalyptus trees.
Last updated: 10-19-2005 02:53:59