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Chapter Summary

  • Each State parliament in Australia makes laws that apply to the people living in that State.
  • Because both federal and State governments operate according to The Westminster system, law-making in both is very similar.
  • A major difference is the way Queensland makes its laws, as they have no upper house.
  • Pressure groups can influence laws.


Australia and each of its six States have governments that operate under the Westminster system. Australia was originally settled by the British so they set up the same system of government that was used in their home country. The system is called the Westminster system because that is where the British Parliament is based. (Westminster is an area of London, located on the River Thames.) Legislation is the name given to the process of making laws.
Sometimes people refer to our Commonwealth or federal law-making as the 'Washminster' system, meaning that we have taken some things from Britain and some things from Washington, the capital of the United States where the American government sits.

From the United States (Washington system) we have:

  • the federal system with powers divided between central and State governments;
  • a court to settle disputes over their jurisdictions; and
  • the structure of the federal legislature, a House of Representatives to represent the people and a Senate to represent the States.

From the United Kingdom (Westminster system) we have:

  • responsible government;
  • the practice of Ministers being members of parliament; and
  • The need to obtain majority support for laws from the lower house.

How a law is made

Under Australia's Constitution the Federal Parliament can make laws only on certain matters. These include:

international and inter-State trade;
foreign affairs;
marriage and divorce;
currency and weights and measures;
post and telecommunications; and
invalid and old age pensions.
The Australian States retain legislative powers over many areas such as local government, roads, hospitals and schools. By agreement with the States powers are shared in some areas.
Each of the States of Australia (except Queensland) has a Parliament with two houses, a lower house (Legislative Assembly) and an upper house (Legislative Council).

Every law starts as a bill, which is the name given to the document, while it is being read by parliament. A public servant is requested by a minister to write the bill.

The lower house decides what bills will be read and must read them three times. The first time is when the bill is introduced formally. The second reading is when the bill is debated and the third time the bill is reread and voted on. If the bill is passed, then it goes to the upper house, often called the house of review. If the upper house passes the bill, it then goes to the State's Governor for Royal Assent and becomes an Act of Parliament and a new law is made. The one exception in Australia is the Queensland State parliament, which has only one house.

Queensland parliament

Queensland originally had two houses of Parliament, formed in 1860. In 1922 the upper house was abolished. Now when a bill is passed by the lower house, it goes directly to the Governor of Queensland for Royal Assent, as the Queen's representative in Queensland.

Pressure groups

In most societies there are groups of people who disagree. Many of us have different points of view depending on where we live, where we work and what we do. An example is if you live in a forest and love trees then you do not want them cut down. But if you earn your living as a timber cutter or if you own a timber mill, then you want to cut the trees down. If a group of people who love trees come together and speak to the minister, or talk to the media about their fear for the forest, then this group is called a pressure group. Pressure groups can influence the laws which are made.

Federal law-making

Because the federal government was formed long after the States were making laws to govern their citizens, the federal government also followed the way the States were passing their laws.

Every new law starts as a bill, written by federal public servants. Public servants are not elected officials, they are employed by the government. Public servants must make sure it is written correctly and is not able to be misunderstood. The bill must also be within the guidelines of the Australian Constitution. When the bill is ready, it goes to the parliament in Canberra, where it is debated in the lower house, called The House of Representatives, three times.

When the bill is being read for the second time, many members of the lower house can agree or disagree with it. Usually the government speaks for the bill and the opposition speaks against it, although some bills are agreed to by both the government and the opposition. These are usually bills which will make things fairer for everyone. After this reading the bill usually goes to a committee that makes changes and improves the bill.

When the bill is returned to the lower house and reread, it will be voted on. It will usually be passed, because the government always has the majority in the lower house.

When the bill is passed by the lower house, it is then debated in the Senate, which is the upper house of the federal parliament. If the government has a majority in the Senate, then bills usually become Acts of Parliament. The government may need the help of independent senators or small party senators to vote with them to pass the bill. If the opposition party has a majority, the bill may not be passed and will not become an act. When this happens, the bill can come before the Senate again after three months, for further debate and may pass the Senate. Sometimes, a bill is so important to the government that they will call an election to try and gain control of the upper house and push the bill through.

Chapters: History of law-making Making State laws

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Question 1/5

1. If a bill is passed in the lower house, it then goes to:

the Upper House

the people

the Lower House

the Governor General


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