Prime Minister of Australia

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The current (25th) Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard (sitting, fifth from left), with his Cabinet, 1999
The current (25th) Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard (sitting, fifth from left), with his Cabinet, 1999

The office of Prime Minister is in practice the most powerful political office in the Commonwealth of Australia. The Prime Minister is head of government for the Commonwealth and holds office on commission from the Governor-General. Barring exceptional circumstances, the Prime Minister is always the leader of the political party with majority support in the House of Representatives. The Prime Minister's official residence is the Lodge in Canberra. Since 1996 the office-holder has been John Howard of the Liberal Party.



The Prime Minister is appointed by the Governor-General under section 64 of the Australian Constitution. Section 64 of the Constitution empowers the Governor-General to appoint Ministers of State, and requires such Ministers to be members of the House of Representatives or the Senate. These Ministers are ex officio members of the Federal Executive Council and constitute the Cabinet. The Prime Minister in practice is the leader of the Cabinet. By convention, he or she will always be a Member of the House of Representatives.

The Prime Minister is, like other ministers, normally sworn in by the Governor General and then presented with the Commission (Letter patent) of office. When defeated in an election, or on resigning, the Prime Minister is said to "hand in the commission" and actually does so by returning it to the Governor General.

Despite the importance of the office of Prime Minister, the Constitution does not mention the office by name. The conventions of the Westminster system were thought to be sufficiently entrenched in Australia by the authors of the constitution that it was deemed unnecessary to detail them.

In rare circumstances, the Governor-General may appoint someone other than the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives to be Prime Minister. At the time of Federation, no parliament had yet been established, so Edmund Barton was temporarily appointed as Prime Minister until elections were held. Following the death or resignation of the Prime Minister, the Governor-General will appoint as Prime Minister the person most likely to have majority support in the House of Representatives - in most circumstances, the Deputy Prime Minister. More controversially, during the 1975 constitutional crisis, Malcolm Fraser was appointed as caretaker Prime Minister to replace Gough Whitlam. Theoretically the Governor-General can dismiss the Prime Minister or any other Minister at any time, but his or her power to do so is heavily circumscribed by convention.


Most of the Prime Minister's powers derive from his or her position as the head of the Cabinet. In practice, the Federal Executive Council will act to ratify all decisions made by the Cabinet, and in practice, decisions of the Cabinet will always require the support of the Prime Minister. The powers of the Governor-General - to assent to legislation, to dissolve and prorogue Parliament, to call elections, and to make appointments - are exercised only on the advice of the Prime Minister.

The power of the Prime Minister is subject to a number of limitations. If the Prime Minister is removed as leader of his or her party, or if he or she loses a vote of no-confidence in the House of Representatives, he or she must resign the office or be dismissed by the Governor-General. The Prime Minister must receive the support of both houses of Parliament to pass any legislation (though secondary legislation, called Regulations, can be made by ministerial decree). While the Prime Minister normally will have a majority in the House of Representatives, attaining the support of the Senate can be more difficult, since there the Government will often be in a minority.


The first Prime Minister of Australia, Edmund Barton (sitting second from left), with his Cabinet, 1901
The first Prime Minister of Australia, Edmund Barton (sitting second from left), with his Cabinet, 1901

Since the framers of the Australian constitution from the beginning intended it to largely follow the Westminster system, the office of Prime Minister has existed since the inauguration of the Commonwealth.

List of Prime Ministers

Main article: List of Prime Ministers of Australia by important facts

The political parties shown are those to which the Prime Ministers belonged at the time they held office. Several Prime Ministers belonged during their life times to parties other than those of which they were members while occupying the office of Prime Minister.

No. Name Party Assumed office Left office
1 Edmund Barton Protectionist 1 January 1901 24 September 1903
2 Alfred Deakin Protectionist 24 September 1903 27 April 1904
3 Chris Watson Labor 27 April 1904 18 August 1904
4 Sir George Reid Free Trade 18 August 1904 5 July 1905
- Alfred Deakin (2nd time) Comwlth. Liberal 5 July 1905 13 November 1908
5 Andrew Fisher Labor 13 November 1908 2 June 1909
- Alfred Deakin (3rd time) Comwlth. Liberal 2 June 1909 29 April 1910
- Andrew Fisher (2nd time) Labor 29 April 1910 24 June 1913
6 Joseph Cook Comwlth. Liberal 24 June 1913 17 September 1914
- Andrew Fisher (3rd time) Labor 17 September 1914 27 October 1915
7 Billy Hughes Labor 27 October 1915 14 November 1916
- Billy Hughes (2nd time) National Labor 14 November 1916 17 February 1917
- Billy Hughes (3rd time) Nationalist 17 February 1917 9 February 1923
8 Stanley Bruce Nationalist 9 February 1923 22 October 1929
9 James Scullin Labor 22 October 1929 6 January 1932
10 Joseph Lyons United Australia 6 January 1932 7 April 1939
11 Sir Earle Page Country 7 April 1939 26 April 1939
12 Robert Menzies United Australia 26 April 1939 28 August 1941
13 Arthur Fadden Country 28 August 1941 7 October 1941
14 John Curtin Labor 7 October 1941 5 July 1945
15 Frank Forde Labor 6 July 1945 13 July 1945
16 Ben Chifley Labor 13 July 1945 19 December 1949
- Sir Robert Menzies (2nd time) Liberal 19 December 1949 26 January 1966
17 Harold Holt Liberal 26 January 1966 19 December 1967
18 John McEwen Country 19 December 1967 10 January 1968
19 John Gorton Liberal 10 January 1968 10 March 1971
20 William McMahon Liberal 10 March 1971 5 December 1972
21 Gough Whitlam Labor 5 December 1972 11 November 1975
22 Malcolm Fraser Liberal 11 November 1975 11 March 1983
23 Bob Hawke Labor 11 March 1983 20 December 1991
24 Paul Keating Labor 20 December 1991 11 March 1996
25 John Howard Liberal 11 March 1996 (incumbent)

Graphical timeline

See also

External links

Prime Ministers of Australia
Barton | Deakin | Watson | Reid | Fisher | Cook | Hughes | Bruce | Scullin | Lyons | Page | Menzies |
Fadden | Curtin | Forde | Chifley | Holt | McEwen | Gorton | McMahon | Whitlam | Fraser | Hawke | Keating | Howard
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