The first hill to tackle when trying to engage with our politicians is figuring out how each level of government works, what they are responsible for, and who to contact when. Below is a brief overview and guide. Check out the next page for details on how to find and contact our politicians.
The Federal Parliament is divided into two Houses; the House of Representatives (Lower House) and the Senate (Upper House).
The House of Representatives is made up of 151 Members of Parliament (MPs), each one representing an electorate (geographical area). Each electorate is carefully mapped out so that it contains roughly the same number of people (around 100,000 voters each). Your MP will be in Canberra sitting in Parliament for twenty weeks of the year, and the other time they spend at their office in their electorate.
The Senate is made up of 76 Senators who are drawn from the six states and two territories within Australia. Each state elects 12 Senators, however, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory elect only two Senators each.
The House of Representatives ensures that every Australian is represented equally in Parliament, while the Senate helps to ensure that states are represented equally. The Senate also plays an important role in scrutinising the actions of the government and proposed laws through its many committees.
The Federal Parliament is (obviously) responsible for things that affect the whole country, such as foreign affairs, defence, trade, taxes, pensions, citizenship, immigration, etc.
As mentioned, the Federal Government is formed by the party or coalition (a formal partnership of two or more parties) with a majority in the House of Representatives. In most cases, each Prime Minister will appoint ministers (who oversee certain portfolios), with senior Ministers forming the Cabinet (or front bench). There are usually about 20 ministers in the House of Representatives, and 10 in the Senate. The opposition also does the same thing, and these are known as shadow ministers.
The Prime Minister and ministers are responsible for developing policy and putting government decisions into action. Most ministers are in charge of a government department or assist in the administration of a department, such as the Department of Defence, Department of Health, or Treasury. Shadow ministers have the important responsibility of scrutinising the work of the government and individual ministers.
Australia has six state parliaments, and two territory parliaments. These parliaments are located in Australia's eight capital cities. Like the Federal Parliament, all states (except for Queensland) have two houses; the Legislative Assembly (Lower House) and the Legislative Council (Upper House). QLD, NT and ACT only have Legislative Assemblies.
State Parliaments work the same as Federal; Government is formed in the Legislative Assembly, while the Legislative Council acts as a house of review. Members of the Legislative Council are elected to represent the whole state or regions of the state (depending on your state), whereas members of the Legislative Assembly represent their electoral districts.
State Parliaments are basically in charge of things that the constitution doesn’t say the Federal Parliament is responsible for. This includes schools, hospitals, roads, public transport, community services, police, prisons, etc. If Federal and State Governments make conflicting laws about the same thing, then the Federal one takes precedence.
There are 537 councils Australia-wide, with 79 in Victoria, and because constitutional responsible for local government lies with state and territory governments, their roles and responsibilities differ. A council, led by a mayor, is elected to govern each local government area.
Local government responsibilities include infrastructure and property services (local roads, bridges, paths, etc), recreation facilities (parks, sports venues, pools, halls, etc), health services (water and food inspection, noise control, animal control, etc), community services (childcare, aged care, etc), building services (inspections, licensing, etc), planning and development approval, cultural facilities, and water and sewerage.