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Executive Government – Overview

The Executive branch of Australian government is the Cabinet and Ministry, led by the Prime Minister.

The Executive carries out the day-to-day government and administration of the country.

It proposes laws to the parliament and executes the laws passed by the parliament

The Executive is formed from the majority party or parties in the House of Representatives. Members of the Executive (ministers) are all members of either the House or the Senate. The operation of the Executive and the Parliament are inextricably intertwined.

Since Australia is a constitutional monarchy, the Governor-General forms part of the executive but does not exercise political power. Instead, the Governor-General acts on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Executive Council. The Executive Council consists of the ministers in the government.

In practice, the executive government does more than simply administer the government and execute the laws passed by parliament. Since the government must control the House of Representatives to survive, in practice the executive also determines what legislation shall be debated and passed by the House of Representatives. Because budget appropriations (parliamentary allocations of money) and tax proposals must originate in the House of Representatives, the executive arm thus has the dominant power in the political system.

However, the executive may not necessarily control the Senate numbers and may be obstructed by or forced to compromise with the groups that control that chamber.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister is the pivotal person in contemporary executive governments. The PM is the focus of public and media attention, and has immense power to shape the composition of the government and determine its policy directions.

An overview of the Executive Arm of Government in Australia, including information on the major Conventions, the operation of the Executive Council, the work of Ministers and the Cabinet, ministerial behaviour and resignations.

Cabinet & Ministry

The Ministry consists of all those Members of Parliament chosen by the Prime Minister. They serve as members of the executive arm of government and administer the various government departments. The most senior Ministers, including the Prime Minister form the Cabinet, which is often referred to as the engine-room of government.

A variety of executive government conventions and codes of behaviour govern the operation of the Cabinet and Ministry. Whilst some executive government processes are to be found in the Constitution, many operate in accordance with long-standing conventions.

Public Service/Bureaucracy

The Public Service is the administrative arm of the Executive Government, accountable to the relevant ministers and the Parliament. Also known as the bureaucracy, the maze of government departments and authorities is charged with the responsibility of advising the government of the day and implementing government and parliamentary decisions.


Whilst the Governor-General is not an elected official and performs a largely ceremonial role, he or she is nevertheless crucial to the operation of Australia’s executive government

The Governor-General chairs the Executive Council, gives assent to legislation, makes appointments on the advice of the government, and performs a host of other executive and ceremonial functions.

As history has shown, the Governor-General can be crucial in times of crisis. The Governor-General’s role in appointing prime ministers, dissolving parliaments and calling elections can be contentious. The most contentious occasion was the Dismissal of the Whitlam Government in 1975.

Detailed Information
Malcolm Farnsworth
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