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A vote in which electors display a preference for a candidate standing for election.


A parliament with two chambers or Houses.


An election held to fill a vacancy that occurs between general elections. See also casual vacancy.


Group of senior ministers, appointed by the governing party, with responsibility for implementing and administering government policy.

cabinet government

A system of government in which a group of senior ministers collectively takes responsibility for implementing and administering government policy.

casual vacancy

A vacancy that occurs in the Parliament between general elections. Usually caused by the resignation, retirement or death of a member. See also by-election.

Chief Minister

The leader of the governing party in a Territory parliament. See also Premier.


The joining of two or more political parties to form government or opposition.


A document outlining the general legal framework or rules for government.


A form of rule in which the government is elected by, and accountable to, the people.

direct democracy

A form of democracy in which citizens are consulted (have a direct say) on decisions pertaining to their government. See also referendum and representative democracy.


A contest in which candidates are chosen to be representatives of an electorate by voters.

electorate (seat, division, province, region)

A geographical division or area from which Members of Parliament are elected.


A system of government in which power is divided, usually on a geographical basis, between the central government and regional, provincial or state governments, with different levels of government having separate responsibilities in a given jurisdiction.  


The unification of a number of States to form a nation. States retain a degree of self-governance but some power is handed over to the national government.


A body of people responsible for governing a society, including introducing new laws and enforcing existing ones. In Australia, the party that commands the majority of seats in the Lower House of a parliament usually forms government.


The representative of the King or Queen in Australia. Australia is a constitutional monarchy and the King or Queen is its Head of State. The Governor-General formally appoints ministers and gives royal assent to legislation passed by the Australian Parliament. In most matters the Governor-General acts on the advice of the government of the day.


The record of parliamentary debates and proceedings.

High Court

The court established by the Australian Constitution to adjudicate on constitutional matters, such as disputes between the States and the Commonwealth. It is also the highest court of appeal in Australia.

House of Representatives

The House of Representatives is the Lower House of the Australian Parliament. Its members represent electorates in every State and Territory, and are chosen directly by the people in elections. The number of members for each State and Territory is proportionate to their population. The party that commands the majority of seats in the House of Representatives forms the government.

Legislative Assembly

The Lower House of Parliament in a State or Territory. It is known as the House of Assembly in South Australia and Tasmania.

Legislative Council

The Upper House of Parliament in a State or Territory.

multimember electorate

An electorate that has more than one representative to the Parliament. A proportional voting system is usually employed. See also single-member electorate.


The major party or coalition of parties in a two-party system that does not command the majority in the Lower House of a parliament. Its role is to use parliamentary procedure to hold the government accountable to the parliament and offer voters an alternative government.


A representative assembly that is constitutionally empowered to make laws within a given jurisdiction – a legislature. May be unicameral or bicameral.


A duly elected Member of Parliament.

political party

An organisation that is dedicated to achieving representation in a parliament. Its members usually share a broad ideological conviction, set of values or interests, which they seek to further in government or through parliamentary representation. 

preferential voting

A system of voting in which electors are afforded the opportunity to demonstrate a preference for more than one candidate in an election by numerically ordering the candidates. In the counting of the vote, the ballot may be transferred between candidates until an election quota is achieved.


The leader of the party that forms the government in the Lower House of a State parliament. See also Chief Minister.

Prime Minister

The leader of the party that forms the government in the House of Representatives.

proportional representation

A system of representation in which a candidate has to attain a quota or threshold (a prescribed proportion of the vote, usually much less than a majority) to be elected. Used in multimember electoral systems such as those of the Senate, the Legislative Assembly in the ACT, the House of Assembly in Tasmania (where it is known as the Hare-Clark system) and the state legislative councils.


The proportion of the vote that a candidate needs to attain to be elected. See also proportional representation.


The redrawing of electoral boundaries to ensure, as near as possible, an equal number of electors in each division.


A plebiscite or vote in which citizens have a direct say on an issue. In Australia, a referendum must be held to alter the wording of the Australian Constitution (Section 128). A majority of people and a majority of the states (four out of six) must approve a proposed amendment for it to succeed. See also direct democracy and constitution.

representative democracy

A form of democracy in which citizens elect representatives to represent them, and act on their behalf, in a legislature. By convention these representatives are accountable to the electors at periodic elections. See also direct democracy.

responsible government

Responsible government, in a parliamentary system of government, is the convention that governments, made up of elected members of the parliament, are responsible to the parliament for their actions.


The Upper House of the Australian Parliament, also known as the ‘House of Review’ and the ‘States' House’. The states are represented equally in the Senate, with 12 senators each. The Territories each have two, bringing the total to 76. The Senate has identical law-making powers to the House of Representatives, except in the initiation of money bills. 

single-member electorate

An electorate for which there can only be one representative in the parliament. See also multimember electorate.


An elected Member of Parliament who oversees the procedures of the Lower House of an Australian Parliament. This role is assumed by the presidents of the Senate and Legislative Councils in the States. 


One of the six Australian colonies that united to form the Australian Commonwealth at federation in 1901.


The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory are self-governing entities of the Australian Commonwealth that, unlike the States, did not exist prior to federation. The ACT was originally part of New South Wales, and the Northern Territory was administered by South Australia, before they were administered as Territories of the Commonwealth after federation. They were granted self-government by an act of the Commonwealth Parliament.


A parliament that has only one House or chamber such as the Queensland, ACT and Northern Territory parliaments. See also bicameral.


A member of a parliamentary party who ensures that party discipline is maintained in divisions (of the Parliament), and that members are present to vote. Also known as 'party whip'.

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