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Elections Part 5: Meet the prime minister and other political leaders

Donna Coutts, March 21, 2022 7:30PM Kids News

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Scott Morrison became Australia's 30th prime minister on August 24, 2018. Picture: AFP media_cameraScott Morrison became Australia's 30th prime minister on August 24, 2018. Picture: AFP

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The election question many people want to know the answer to is this: Who will be Australia’s prime minister?

Will it be Scott Morrison or could it be someone different?

Let’s look at how our democratic system of government helps us choose the prime minister in Australia.

A VOTE FOR THE PM?
Scott Morrison became the 30th prime minister of Australia on August 24, 2018.

Mr Morrison is the member of parliament for the electoral division, or electorate, of Cook in the southern suburbs of Sydney in NSW. Only voters who live in that electorate will have the opportunity to vote (or not) for Mr Morrison.

media_cameraMr Morrison is the member of parliament for the electorate of Cook. Only people within this electorate will get to choose if they vote for Mr Morrison at the upcoming federal election. Picture: AAP Image

The local candidate in each electorate with the most votes is elected as a member of parliament to the House of Representatives*.

The political party with the most successful candidates gets to form government.

The prime minister is chosen by the party that is in government. Heading into the 2022 federal election, the Liberal Party is in government in a coalition* with The Nationals.

The Liberals/Nationals chose Mr Morrison as leader back in August 2018.

If the Labor Party wins enough seats in the House of Representatives to form government at the upcoming election, that party will choose a leader – currently Anthony Albanese – to be prime minister.

THE TOP JOB
The prime minister’s job is to lead the Australian Government.

The government is made up of members of parliament in the prime minister’s party and of any parties in a coalition with the government.

There is no maximum number of years a person can be prime minister. They can keep their job as long as they are a member of parliament and have the support of the government.

As of July 1, 2020, the prime minister’s annual pay was $549,250. The position also comes with two official residences. These are The Lodge in Canberra and Kirribilli House in Sydney.

media_cameraMr Morrison stands outside The Lodge in Canberra, one of two official residences which come with the job of prime minister. Picture: AAP Image

The prime minister:

  • Selects members of the government to be ministers;
  • Is in charge of meetings to discuss policies, which are actions or plans for the future, and look at bills, which are the suggestions for new laws;
  • Represents the Australian Government overseas;
  • Advises the governor-general on constitutional* matters and on appointing ambassadors* and heads of government departments; and
  • Decides when to call a federal election and leads the government in the election campaign.

OTHER BIG JOBS
Deputy prime minister
The deputy prime minister is like a vice-captain. They stand in when the prime minister is overseas, on holiday or ill.

When the Liberal/National coalition is in government, the leader of the Nationals – currently Barnaby Joyce – is the deputy prime minister.

Barnaby Joyce - Deputy Prime Minister media_cameraBarnaby Joyce is the leader of the National Party and therefore deputy prime minister in the coalition government. Picture: Jeremy Piper

Treasurer
The treasurer is a senior member of the federal government who looks after government spending and money collection, such as tax.

Speaker of the House
The speaker of the House of Representatives is a member of parliament and belongs to the party in government, but their job is to be independent. They are in charge of how the House runs, including making sure parliamentary rules are followed.

The equivalent role in the Senate is called the president of the Senate.

Ministers
Ministers look after areas of responsibility called portfolios, such as health, aged care, education, defence and sport. Together, the prime minister and senior ministers are referred to as the cabinet.

Opposition leader
The opposition leader is the leader of the major party not in government. Currently this is Anthony Albanese as the leader of the Labor Party.

AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTERS
Becoming prime minister is a great achievement and an opportunity to help shape Australia for the future.

Notable prime ministers include:

Edmund Barton
1901-1903

media_cameraEdmund Barton was Australia’s first prime minister.

Australia’s first prime minister. Before Federation, each of the states was a British colony with a premier in charge.

Julia Gillard
2010-2013

julia gillard keyote speaker at launch of mentally healthy city project media_cameraJulia Gillard was Australia’s first and to date only female prime minister. Picture: Alix Sweeney

Julia Gillard became Australia’s first and to date only female prime minister after a Labor leadership vote in 2010 that replaced Kevin Rudd.

Important achievements of Ms Gillard’s government were the introduction of plain packaging on cigarettes (a world first), the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which helps organise support for people with disabilities and their families, and the Clean Energy Act, a way of pricing carbon emissions* to address climate change.

Ms Gillard led a minority government*, which made it difficult to get enough support to get decisions through parliament. In 2013 she was replaced by Kevin Rudd in a Labor leadership vote.

Robert Menzies
1939-1941, 1949-1966

media_cameraSir Robert Menzies was Australia’s longest serving prime minister. Picture: National Library of Australia

Australia’s longest serving prime minister, Robert Menzies had a brief and difficult first term as prime minister from 1939 to 1941, during World War II. His 16-year, second term as prime minister, from 1949 to 1966, was a time of growth, development and prosperity* in Australia.

Harold Holt
1966-1967

NWN Library media_cameraHarold Holt disappeared while swimming at a beach in Victoria while he was prime minister.

Harold Holt became Australian prime minister when Robert Menzies retired from parliament. Mr Holt had a long and successful political career but is most often remembered because he drowned while swimming at the beach. After Mr Holt died, John McEwan stepped in as prime minister for 23 days until the Liberal Party elected John Gorton as its leader.

Sources:
moadoph.gov.au
aph.gov.au
primeministers.moadoph.gov.au

GLOSSARY

  • House of Representatives: lower House of Australian parliament, where decisions are first debated
  • coalition: group formed when two or more political parties agree to work together
  • constitutional: relating to the Australian Constitution, the laws for governing Australia
  • ambassadors: the government’s representatives stationed in other countries
  • emissions: the gases produced by something; usually referring to greenhouse gases produced that contribute to global warming
  • minority government: a government in which the governing party has most seats but still less than half the total
  • prosperity: a state of being successful or thriving

EXTRA READING

Step inside the houses of federal parliament

Australia’s system of government

Parties line up in the game of politics

QUICK QUIZ

  • What number prime minister did Scott Morrison become on August 24, 2018.
  • Which two parties are in a coalition to form the government?
  • How much money is the prime minister paid each year?
  • Who is the opposition leader?
  • Who became Australia’s first and only female prime minister?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
Refer to the accompanying Elections Education Kit classroom workbook with 20 activities. It’s FREE when teachers subscribe to the Kids News newsletter.

Extra Reading in elections