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Prime Minister of Australia

The Prime Minister of Australia is the head of government of the Commonwealth of Australia, holding office on commission from the Governor-General. The office of Prime Minister is, in practice, the most powerful political office in Australia.

Barring exceptional circumstances, the Prime Minister is always the leader of the political party with majority support in the House of Representatives. The only case where a Senator was appointed Prime Minister was that of John Gorton, who subsequently resigned his Senate position and was elected as a member of the House of Representatives.

The current Prime Minister of Australia is Kevin Rudd.

Appointment

The Prime Minister is appointed by the Governor-General under section 64 of the Australian Constitution. This empowers the Governor-General to appoint Ministers of the Crown, and requires such ministers to be members of the House of Representatives or the Senate, or become members within three months of the appointment. Before being sworn in as a minister, a person must first be sworn in as a member of the Federal Executive Council if they are not already a member. Membership of the Federal Executive Council entitles the member to the title "the Honourable" (usually abbreviated to "the Hon") for life, barring exceptional circumstances. The senior members of the Executive Council constitute the Cabinet.

The Prime Minister is, like other ministers, normally sworn in by the Governor-General and then presented with the commission (Letters 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. In the event of a Prime Minister dying in office, or becoming incapacitated, the Governor-General can terminate the commission. Ministers hold office "during the pleasure of the Governor-General" (s. 64 of the Constitution), so theoretically, the Governor-General can dismiss a minister at any time, by notifying them in writing of the termination of their commission; however, his or her power to do so except on the advice of the Prime Minister is heavily circumscribed by convention.

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.

If a government cannot get its appropriation (budget) legislation passed by the House of Representatives, or the House passes a vote of "no confidence" in the government, the Prime Minister is bound by convention to resign immediately. The Governor-General's choice of replacement Prime Minister will be dictated by the circumstances.

Following a resignation in other circumstances, or the death of a Prime Minister, the Governor-General will generally appoint as Prime Minister the person voted by the governing party as their new leader. There have been three notable exceptions to this:

  • When Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, leader of the United Australia Party (UAP), died suddenly in April 1939, the Governor-General Lord Gowrie called on Sir Earle Page to become caretaker Prime Minister. Page was the leader of the smaller party in the governing coalition, the Country Party. He held the office for three weeks until the UAP elected a new leader, Robert Menzies.
  • In August 1941, Menzies resigned as Prime Minister. The UAP was so bereft of leadership at this time that the Country Party leader Arthur Fadden was invited to become Prime Minister, although the Country Party was the smaller of the two coalition parties. The government depended on support from two independents, who two months later voted against Fadden's budget and brought the government down, paving the way for John Curtin to be appointed as Labor Prime Minister.
  • In December 1967, Prime Minister Harold Holt led the Liberal Party in a governing coalition with the smaller Country Party. The Deputy Liberal leader, and Holt's presumed successor, was William McMahon. The Leader of the Country Party, John McEwen, was the unofficial deputy prime minister. Holt disappeared while swimming on 17 December, and on 19 December was declared presumed dead. McEwen announced that (for reasons he would never explain publicly) his party would not continue in coalition with the Liberals if it were under the leadership of William McMahon. Given that the election of McMahon as Liberal leader would destroy the coalition and destabilise the Parliament, the Governor-General, Lord Casey, commissioned John McEwen to form a coalition government, but his appointment was made on the basis that the new Liberal leader, when elected, would replace him. McEwen agreed to this so long as his formal commission made no mention of any time limit. McEwen was Prime Minister for 23 days, until the election of (then Senator) John Gorton.

There were some other cases where someone other than the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives was Prime Minister:

  • Federation occurred on 1 January 1901, but elections for the first parliament were not scheduled until late March. In the interim, a caretaker non-elected government was necessary. In what is now known as the Hopetoun Blunder, the Governor-General Lord Hopetoun invited Sir William Lyne, the premier of the most populous state New South Wales, to form a government. Lyne was unable to do so, and returned his commission in favour of Edmund Barton, who became the first Prime Minister, and led the inaugural government into and beyond the election.
  • Stanley Bruce led his Nationalist-Country Party coalition government into the 1929 election, which was held on 12 October. Not only was his government defeated by the Labor Party under James Scullin, but Bruce was defeated personally in his own seat of Flinders. While Bruce's membership of the parliament ended on election day, he continued as caretaker Prime Minister for a further ten days until the election result was clear; his commission was terminated on 22 October and Scullin was sworn in as Prime Minister.
  • A similar fate befell John Howard. On 24 November 2007, not only did his Liberal/National government lose the 2007 election to Labor's Kevin Rudd, but he lost his own seat of Bennelong. He remained Prime Minister for nine days until the swearing in of the Rudd government on 3 December 2007.
  • Most controversially of all, during the 1975 constitutional crisis, on 11 November 1975 Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed the Labor Party's Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister. Despite Labor holding a substantial majority in the House of Representatives, Kerr appointed the Leader of the Opposition, Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister, conditional on the passage of the Whitlam government's Supply bills through the Senate and the calling of an election for both houses of Parliament. Fraser accepted these terms and immediately advised a double dissolution. An election was called for 13 December, which the Liberal Party won in its own right (although the Liberals governed in a coalition with the Country Party).

Powers

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 grant Royal Assent to legislation, to dissolve and prorogue Parliament, to call elections, and to make appointments are exercised 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 the government they lead loses a vote of no-confidence in the House of Representatives, they must resign the office or be dismissed by the Governor-General. The Prime Minister's party will normally have a majority in the House of Representatives, and party discipline is exceptionally strong in Australian politics, so the passage of government-proposed legislation through the House is mostly a formality. Attaining the support of the Senate can be more difficult, since there the government will often lack an absolute majority.

Prime Ministerial salary and benefits

Salary

Prime Ministerial pay history
Date established Salary
2 June 1999 $289,270
6 September 2006 $309,270
1 July 2007 $330,300

The Prime Minister is the highest-paid member of parliament.

Ministerial salary is expressed as an additional percentage on top of the basic parliamentary salary. The Remuneration Tribunal's Report Number 1 of 2006 confirms the Prime Minister's additional salary as 160% of his parliamentary salary, ie. he earns in total 260% of the salary of an ordinary parliamentarian.

Benefits

The Royal Australian Air Force's 34 Squadron transports the Prime Minister within Australia and overseas by specially converted Boeing Business Jets and smaller Challenger aircraft. The aircraft contain secure communications equipment as well as office, conference room and sleeping compartments. The call-sign for the aircraft is "Envoy".

The Prime Minister's official residence is The Lodge in Canberra, but not all Prime Ministers choose to make use of it. Jim Scullin preferred to live at the Hotel Canberra (now the Hyatt Hotel); Ben Chifley lived in the Kurrajong Hotel; and John Howard made Kirribilli House in Sydney his primary residence, using The Lodge when in Canberra on official business. The official residences are fully staffed and catered for both the Prime Minister and his family. A considerable amount of official entertaining is conducted at these residences.

The current Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has a staff at the Lodge consisting of a senior chef and an assistant chef, a child carer, one senior house attendant, and two junior house attendants. At Kirribilli House in Sydney, there is one full-time chef and one full-time house attendant.

In June 2007, businessman and former President of the Liberal Party in Victoria, Michael Kroger, announced that he and other Australian businessmen, a group dubbed the "Melbourne Lodgers", were examining properties in Melbourne for the Prime Minister to use as a residence while in that city. Despite Kroger's political affiliation, he maintained that if bought, the residence would be offered for the use of all Prime Ministers regardless of party affiliation. Chief on the list was Stonnington Mansion in the suburb of Malvern.

Prime Ministers continue to have benefits after leaving office, such as free office space, the right to hold a Life Gold Pass and budgets for office help and staff assistance. The Life Gold Pass entitles the holder to travel within Australia for "non-commercial" purposes at government expense.

Former Prime Ministers continue to be important national figures, and in some cases go on to successful post-prime ministerial careers. Some notable examples have included: Edmund Barton, who was a judge of the High Court; George Reid, who was High Commissioner to the United Kingdom; and Arthur Fadden, who was Treasurer under another Prime Minister.

History

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 on 1 January 1901.

Many political scientists have held that the Australian system of government was consciously devised as a blend or hybrid of the Westminster and the United States systems of government, especially since the Australian Senate is a powerful upper house like the U.S. Senate; this notion is expressed in the nickname "Washminster system". The ability of upper houses to block supply also features in the parliaments of most Australian states.

In the period 1901-1910, Parliament was divided between the Free Trade Party, Protectionist Party and Australian Labor Party, with no party holding a majority. This ended with the formation of the Commonwealth Liberal Party, with Labor winning a majority in both houses at the 1910 election. Since this time, the Prime Ministers of Australia have all been members of either the Australian Labor Party, the conservative successor parties to the Commonwealth Liberals (the Nationalist Party of Australia, United Australia Party, and Liberal Party of Australia, all of which maintained continuity of MPs and ideology with their predecessors) or the Country Party (now known as the National Party of Australia)

List of Prime Ministers

Below is a list of Prime Ministers of Australia by name, date assumed office, date left office, political party, total time in office and state represented in Parliament. The state(s) represented in parliament is not necessarily the one with which the person had the strongest association; the most extreme example being Bob Hawke who was born in South Australia, spent his formative years in Western Australia, worked in and represented Victoria and retired to New South Wales.

The parties shown are those to which the Prime Ministers belonged at the time they held office. Several Prime Ministers belonged to parties other than those given before and after their prime ministerships.

For a list showing further details, see List of Prime Ministers of Australia.

# Name Took office Left office Party Total Time In Office State Represented
in Parliament
1 Edmund Barton

Protectionist New South Wales
2 Alfred Deakin

Protectionist Victoria
3 Chris Watson

Labor New South Wales
4 George Reid

Free Trade New South Wales
Alfred Deakin

Protectionist Victoria
5 Andrew Fisher

Labor Queensland
Alfred Deakin

Commonwealth Liberal Victoria
Andrew Fisher

Labor Queensland
6 Joseph Cook

Commonwealth Liberal New South Wales
Andrew Fisher

Labor Queensland
7 Billy Hughes

Labor/Nationalist New South Wales, Victoria
8 Stanley Bruce

Nationalist Victoria
9 James Scullin

Labor Victoria
10 Joseph Lyons

United Australia Tasmania
11 Sir Earle Page

Country New South Wales
12 Robert Menzies

United Australia Victoria
13 Arthur Fadden

Country Queensland
14 John Curtin

Labor Western Australia
15 Frank Forde

Labor Queensland
16 Ben Chifley

Labor New South Wales
Sir Robert Menzies

Liberal Victoria
17 Harold Holt

Liberal Victoria
18 John McEwen

Country Victoria
19 John Gorton

Liberal Victoria
20 William McMahon

Liberal New South Wales
21 Gough Whitlam

Labor New South Wales
22 Malcolm Fraser

Liberal Victoria
23 Bob Hawke

Labor Victoria
24 Paul Keating

Labor New South Wales
25 John Howard

Liberal New South Wales
26 Kevin Rudd Incumbent Labor Queensland

Graphical timeline

Living former Prime Ministers

There are five living former Prime Ministers: Gough Whitlam (1972-75), Malcolm Fraser (1975-83), Bob Hawke (1983-91), Paul Keating (1991-96) and John Howard (1996-2007). Gough Whitlam is the oldest living former Australian Prime Minister, and Paul Keating is the youngest.

The most recently deceased Prime Minister is Sir John Gorton, who died on 19 May 2002.

The greatest number of living former Prime Ministers at any one time was eight. This has occurred twice:

  • between 7 October 1941 (when John Curtin succeeded Arthur Fadden) and 18 November 1941 (when Chris Watson died), the eight living former Prime Ministers were Bruce, Cook, Fadden, Hughes, Menzies, Page, Scullin and Watson
  • between 13 July 1945 (when Ben Chifley succeeded Frank Forde) and 30 July 1947 (when Sir Joseph Cook died), the eight living former Prime Ministers were Bruce, Cook, Fadden, Forde, Hughes, Menzies, Page and Scullin.

Seven former Prime Ministers were alive during the periods 18 November 1941 13 July 1945, and 30 July 1947 13 June 1951.

Prime Ministerial Births and Deaths

Seventeen Prime Ministers were born prior to the Federation of Australia, 1 January 1901. The earliest-born Prime Minister was Sir George Reid, born 25 February 1845.

The first person born after Federation to serve as Prime Minister was Harold Holt, born 5 August 1908. (Sir William McMahon, who was later Prime Minister, was born 23 February 1908, and is the earliest-born of the Prime Ministers born after Federation.)

The first person born after the First World War to serve as Prime Minister was Malcolm Fraser, born 21 May 1930. (Bob Hawke, who succeeded Fraser, was born 9 December 1929, and is the earliest-born of the Prime Ministers born after WWI.)

The first (and currently the only) person born after the Second World War to serve as Prime Minister, is the incumbent, Kevin Rudd, born 21 September 1957.

The only Prime Ministers born during either of the world wars are Gough Whitlam, born 11 July 1916, during WWI, and Paul Keating, born 18 January 1944, during WWII.

The only two pairs of Prime Ministers who were born in the same year are:

Six Prime Ministers were born in the month of September, two more than the next most popular month August. The six were: John Gorton (9 September), Joseph Lyons (15th), James Scullin (18th), Kevin Rudd (21st), Ben Chifley (22nd) and Billy Hughes (25th). None were born in June, October or November.

The only two Prime Ministers who shared the same birthday are Sir Edmund Barton and Paul Keating both born 18 January (1849 and 1944 respectively).

The only two Prime Ministers who shared the same death day are James Scullin and Frank Forde both died 28 January (1953 and 1983 respectively).

The only two Prime Ministers who were born and died in the same month of the calendar were: Sir Edmund Barton (18 January 1849-7 January 1920), and Sir Arthur Fadden (13 April 1895-21 April 1973).

The only case of a former Prime Minister dying on another Prime Minister's birthday was Sir Earle Page, who died 20 December 1961, the then-incumbent Sir Robert Menzies' 67th birthday.

Three Prime Ministers died in office Joseph Lyons (1939), John Curtin (1945) and Harold Holt (1967). Holt's was a most unusual case he disappeared while swimming, was declared presumed dead two days later, and his body was never recovered. It was not until almost 38 years later, in 2005, that he was officially declared by the Victorian Coroner to have drowned at the time of his disappearance.

No two former Prime Ministers have died in the same year. The former Prime Minister Stanley Bruce died in August 1967, the same year as the then-incumbent Harold Holt drowned.

Ages

The three youngest people when they first became Prime Minister were:

  • Chris Watson 37
  • Stanley Bruce 39
  • Robert Menzies 44.

The three oldest people when they first became Prime Minister were:

  • John McEwen 67
  • William McMahon 63
  • Ben Chifley 59 years 10 months (George Reid was 59 years 6 months).

The three youngest people to last leave the office of Prime Minister were:

  • Chris Watson 37
  • Arthur Fadden 46 years 5 months 22 days
  • Stanley Bruce 46 years 6 months 7 days

The three oldest people to last leave the office of Prime Minister were:

  • Robert Menzies 71
  • John Howard 68
  • John McEwen 67.

Post-Prime Ministerial longevity

Nine ex-Prime Ministers (Bruce, Cook, Fadden, Forde, Fraser, Gorton, Hughes, Watson, and Whitlam) have lived more than 25 years after leaving the office, and all but two of these survived longer than 30 years (Hughes lasted 29 years and 8 months; Fraser has lasted 25 years but is still living).

The longest-surviving was Stanley Bruce, who died 37 years and 10 months after leaving the Prime Ministership. Should Gough Whitlam live till 25 September 2013, he will exceed Bruce's record (he would then be 97 years old).

At the other extreme, excluding the three Prime Ministers who died in office and the most recent ex-incumbent John Howard, all but two ex-Prime Ministers survived more than ten years. The two exceptions were Ben Chifley 1 year 6 months; and Alfred Deakin 9 years 5 months.

References

See also

External links

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