The office of Prime Minister is in practice the most powerful political office in the Commonwealth of Australia. |
By convention, the Prime Minister is the leader of the party or coalition which has the most seats in the lower house of the Federal Parliament, the House of Representatives. In times of constitutional crisis, however, this convention can be broken if necessary; this has occurred twice. At the time of Federation, no parliament had yet been established, so Edmund Barton was temporarily appointed as Prime Minister until elections were held. More controversially, during the Australian constitutional crisis of 1975, Malcolm Fraser was appointed to replace Gough Whitlam.
By convention, the Prime Minister is always a member of the lower house of parliament. The Prime Minister can remain in office for as long as he retains the majority support of the lower house of parliament and retains his own seat in Parliament. In the rare event that the Prime Minister's party wins an election but the Prime Minister loses his seat, it is possible for the Governor-General to appoint someone other than a member of Parliament a Minister (and hence Prime Minister) for up to three months. During this time a member of the Prime Minister's party with a safe seat would be forced to resign, and the Prime Minister would then be elected as member for that seat.
The constitutional crisis of 1975 shows that a Prime Minister may be removed if seriously opposed in the Senate, even though he may have the support of the majority of the House. This however only applies if the Senate refuses to pass essential Government legislation, like the Budget. (See Loss of Supply). The Senate in recent years has frequently refused to pass major (though non-essential) government legislation.