Prime Minister of Australia

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Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia
Flag of Australia (converted).svg
Australian Coat of Arms.png
Tony Abbott - 2010.jpg
Tony Abbott

since 18 September 2013
Government of Australia
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
StyleThe Honourable
Member of
Reports toParliament
AppointerGovernor-General of Australia
Term lengthAt the Governor-General's pleasure
With Federal Elections held no more than three years apart
Inaugural holderEdmund Barton
Formation1 January 1901
Salary$507,338 (AUD)
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Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia
Flag of Australia (converted).svg
Australian Coat of Arms.png
Tony Abbott - 2010.jpg
Tony Abbott

since 18 September 2013
Government of Australia
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
StyleThe Honourable
Member of
Reports toParliament
AppointerGovernor-General of Australia
Term lengthAt the Governor-General's pleasure
With Federal Elections held no more than three years apart
Inaugural holderEdmund Barton
Formation1 January 1901
Salary$507,338 (AUD)

The Prime Minister of Australia is the highest minister of the Crown, leader of the Cabinet and head of government, holding office on commission from the Governor-General of Australia. The office of Prime Minister is, in practice, the most powerful political office in Australia. Despite being at the apex of executive government in the country, the office is not mentioned in the Constitution of Australia and it exists through an unwritten political convention.

Barring exceptional circumstances, the prime minister is always the leader of the political party or coalition 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 (Senator George Pearce was acting prime minister for seven months in 1916 while Billy Hughes was overseas).[1]

The current Prime Minister is Tony Abbott, the leader of the Coalition and the Liberal Party of Australia, after the Coalition defeated the Australian Labor Party at the 2013 federal election.


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The prime minister of Australia is appointed by the governor-general of Australia 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 style of The Honourable (usually abbreviated to The Hon) for life, barring exceptional circumstances. The senior members of the Executive Council constitute the Cabinet of Australia.

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 of Australia), 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. The formal title of the portfolio has always been simply "Prime Minister", except for the period of the Fourth Deakin Ministry (June 1909 to April 1910), when it was known as "Prime Minister (without portfolio)".[2]

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 four notable exceptions to this:

There were only five other cases where someone other than the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives was prime minister:


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

Most of the prime minister's powers derive from being 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 formal power to appoint the Governor-General lies with the Queen of Australia, but this appointment is done on the formal advice of the Prime Minister. By convention, this advice is provided by the Prime Minister alone, and thus the appointment is effectively the Prime Minister's personal choice. The Prime Minister may also advise the monarch to dismiss the Governor-General, though it remains unclear how quickly the monarch would act on such advice in a constitutional crisis. This uncertainty, and the possibility of a "race" between the Governor-General and Prime Minister to sack the other, was a key question in the 1975 constitutional crisis.

The power of the prime minister is subject to a number of limitations. Prime ministers removed as leader of his or her party, or whose government loses a vote of no-confidence in the House of Representatives, must resign the office or be dismissed by the governor-general.[citation needed]

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 passage of the government's legislation through the House of Representatives is mostly a formality. Attaining the support of the Senate can be more difficult as government usually lacks an absolute majority because the Senate's representation is based on overall proportion of votes and often includes minor parties.

Salary and benefits[edit]

Prime Ministerial pay history
Effective dateSalary
2 June 1999$289,270
6 September 2006$309,270
1 July 2007$330,356
1 October 2009$340,704[3]
1 August 2010$354,671[4]
1 July 2011$366,366
1 December 2011$440,000
15 March 2012$481,000[5]
1 July 2012$495,430[6]
1 July 2013$507,338[7]



Prime Ministers Curtin, Fadden, Hughes, Menzies and Governor-General The Duke of Gloucester in 1945.

The Royal Australian Air Force's No. 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, Australian Capital Territory, but not all prime ministers have chosen to make use of it. Jim Scullin preferred to live at the Hotel Canberra (now the Hyatt Hotel); Ben Chifley lived in the Hotel Kurrajong; and John Howard made Kirribilli House in Sydney, New South Wales his primary residence, using The Lodge when in Canberra on official business. On her appointment on 24 June 2010, Julia Gillard said she would not be living in The Lodge until such time as she was returned to office by popular vote at the next general election. (She became prime minister mid-term after replacing the incumbent, Kevin Rudd, who resigned in the face of an unwinnable party-room ballot.) The official residences are fully staffed and catered for both the prime minister and his or her family. A considerable amount of official entertaining is conducted at these residences.

During his first term, Kevin Rudd had 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.[8]

Prime ministers are usually granted certain privileges after leaving office, such as office accommodation, staff assistance, and a Life Gold Pass, which entitles the holder to travel within Australia for "non-commercial" purposes at government expense.

Only one prime minister who had left the Federal Parliament ever returned. Stanley Bruce was defeated in his own seat in 1929 while prime minister, but was re-elected to parliament in 1931. Other prime ministers were elected to parliaments other than the Australian federal parliament: Sir George Reid was elected to the UK House of Commons (after his term as High Commissioner to the UK); and Frank Forde was re-elected to the Queensland Parliament (after his term as High Commissioner to Canada, and a failed attempt to re-enter the Federal Parliament).

Former prime ministers continue to be important national figures, and in some cases go on to significant post-prime ministerial careers. Some notable examples have included: Edmund Barton, who was a justice of the High Court; George Reid, Andrew Fisher, Joseph Cook and Stanley Bruce, who were High Commissioners to the United Kingdom; Arthur Fadden, who was Treasurer under another prime minister, Robert Menzies; and Kevin Rudd, who became Julia Gillard's Foreign Minister after the 2010 federal election, until 2012.

Official state car[edit]

A motorcade transporting senior members of the official party to an event in Canberra in November 2009. The black car at the left with the numberplate ADF1 carried the chief of the defence force, the white car behind it with the numberplate C1 carried the Prime Minister and the black car second from the right carried the Governor General

The Prime Minister of Australia is usually seen in a white Holden Caprice tailed by Ford Territory and Holden Caprice models.[9] It is also escorted by police vehicles from state and federal authorities. The Prime Minister's car bears the number plate "C1" (meaning "Commonwealth 1") and a centrally mounted Australian flag.[10]


Tony AbbottKevin RuddJulia GillardKevin RuddJohn HowardPaul KeatingBob HawkeMalcolm FraserGough WhitlamWilliam McMahonJohn GortonJohn McEwenHarold HoltRobert MenziesBen ChifleyFrank FordeJohn CurtinArthur FaddenRobert MenziesEarle PageJoseph LyonsJames ScullinStanley BruceBilly HughesBilly HughesBilly HughesAndrew FisherJoseph CookAndrew FisherAlfred DeakinAndrew FisherAlfred DeakinGeorge Reid (Australian Politician)Chris WatsonAlfred DeakinEdmund Barton

Living former prime ministers[edit]

There are currently seven living former Prime Ministers of Australia:

NameTerm of officeDate of birth
Gough Whitlam1972–1975(1916-07-11) 11 July 1916 (age 98)
Malcolm Fraser1975–1983(1930-05-21) 21 May 1930 (age 84)
Bob Hawke1983–1991(1929-12-09) 9 December 1929 (age 84)
Paul Keating1991–1996(1944-01-18) 18 January 1944 (age 70)
John Howard1996–2007(1939-07-26) 26 July 1939 (age 75)
Kevin Rudd2007–2010; 2013(1957-09-21) 21 September 1957 (age 56)
Julia Gillard2010–2013(1961-09-29) 29 September 1961 (age 52)

The most recently deceased prime minister was John Gorton (1968–1971), who died on 19 May 2002.

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

Gough Whitlam has lived in the lifetime of every prime minister of Australia and has achieved a greater age than any other prime minister.

Acting prime ministers[edit]

From time to time prime ministers are required to leave the country on business, and a deputy is appointed to take his or her place during that time. In the days before jet airplanes, such absences could be for extended periods. For example, William Watt was acting prime minister for 16 months, from April 1918 until August 1919, and Senator George Pearce held the position for more than seven months in 1916.[citation needed]


John Curtin is the only prime minister to serve time in jail (three days for failing to comply with an order for a compulsory medical examination for conscription, during World War I).[11]

Births and deaths[edit]

Seventeen prime ministers were born prior to the Federation of Australia, 1 January 1901. The earliest-born prime minister was George Reid, born 25 February 1845.

Seven prime ministers were born outside of Australia: George Reid, Andrew Fisher, Joseph Cook, Billy Hughes, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott were born in the United Kingdom, while Chris Watson was born in Chile.

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.

Three prime ministers died outside of Australia: Sir George Reid, Andrew Fisher and Viscount Bruce died in the United Kingdom. Reid and Fisher are buried there.


The three youngest people when they first became prime minister were:

The three oldest people when they first became prime minister were:

The three youngest people to last leave the office of prime minister were:

The three oldest people to last leave the office of prime minister were:

Time in office[edit]

The longest-serving prime minister was Sir Robert Menzies, who served in office twice: from 26 April 1939 to 28 August 1941, and again from 19 December 1949 to 26 January 1966. In total Robert Menzies spent 18 years, 5 months and 12 days in office. He served under the United Australia Party and the Liberal Party respectively.

The shortest-serving prime minister was Frank Forde, who was appointed to the position on 6 July 1945 after the death of John Curtin, and served until 13 July 1945 when Ben Chifley was elected leader of the Australian Labor Party.

Post-office longevity[edit]

Seven former prime ministers are living: Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Howard, Rudd and Gillard.

Ben Chifley died only one year six months after leaving the prime ministership. Alfred Deakin lived another nine years and five months.

All the others who have left office at least 10 years ago have lived at least another 10 years. Nine of them (Bruce, Cook, Fadden, Forde, Fraser, Gorton, Hughes, Watson, and Whitlam) lived more than 25 years after leaving the office, and all but one of them have survived longer than 30 years (Hughes lasted 29 years and 8 months).

The longest-surviving is Gough Whitlam, who has lived 38 years and counting. On 25 September 2013, Whitlam surpassed Stanley Bruce's previous record of 37 years and 10 months after leaving the office.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pearce, Sir George Foster (1870–1952)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. 2006. Retrieved 24 June 2010. 
  2. ^ Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia – Historical information on the Australian Parliament – Ministries and Cabinets – 7. Deakin Ministry
  3. ^ "Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and MPs in line to get a 3% pay rise". 
  4. ^ Hudson, Phillip (25 August 2010). "Politicians awarded secret pay rise". Herald Sun (Australia). 
  5. ^ [1][dead link]
  6. ^ "Tony Abbott defends increase in MP salary, saying he's working hard for every Australian". Herald Sun. 5 July 2012. 
  7. ^ Peatling, Stephanie (June 14, 2013). "PM's salary tops $500,000". Sydney Morning Herald. 
  8. ^ Metherell, Mark (19 February 2008). "Rudds' staff extends to a child carer at the Lodge". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 24 June 2010. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ (6 April 2009). "25% of government car fleet foreign made". Car Advice. Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  11. ^ "Curtin, John (1885–1945)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. 2006. Retrieved 24 June 2010. 

External links[edit]