This politics glossary contains terms and concepts relevant to Australian government, parties, elections and political processes. This page contains words from ‘A’ to ‘D’. This glossary is written and maintained by lawgovpol.com authors:
above the line
‘Above the line’ voting is a feature of multi-member electorate ballot papers, such as for the Federal Senate. When an elector votes ‘above the line’, he or she selects a political party or grouping of candidates, instead of numbering all candidates individually.
An absolute majority is a total of 50 per cent of all votes or seats, plus at least one more vote or seat.
act of parliament
An act of parliament is a single piece of legislation, a law made by a Federal, State or Territorial parliament. It is also called a statute.
ad hoc committee
An ad hoc committee is a parliamentary committee convened to investigate and report on a specific issue, after which it disbands.
An appropriation bill is draft legislation that authorises the government to spend public money. Examples of appropriation bills include a budget or a stimulus measure. Under the provisions of the Constitution, appropriation and taxation bills cannot be introduced in the Federal Senate.
The attorney-general is the Federal or State minister responsible for upholding and overseeing the law. The attorney-general also acts as the government’s chief legal advisor.
Australian Law Reform Commission (or ALRC)
The Australian Law Reform Commission, or ALRC, is a Commonwealth organisation that investigates possible law reforms and makes recommendations to the Federal parliament.
A backbencher is a member of parliament who is not a minister or shadow minister. Backbenchers are not involved in executive government. They participate in the legislative process through debates, parliamentary committees and so forth.
balance of power
The balance of power refers to the casting vote or bloc in a parliamentary chamber. It comes into play when the chamber is evenly divided and the passing of legislation hinges on the votes of minor parties and/or independents.
A ballot paper is the sheet or ticket on which individual voters record their choices in an election.
A bicameral parliament or assembly has two houses, to enable greater representation and review of draft legislation.
A bill is an item of draft legislation. It known as a bill from the time it is drafted until it receives royal assent from the governor or governor-general.
bill of rights
A bill of rights is a document containing a list of express rights, applicable to all individuals and enforceable by the law. A bill of rights can be contained in legislation or, more commonly, in a constitution.
To be bipartisan is to have the support of both major parties.
blue ribbon seat
A blue ribbon seat is an electorate that is comfortably held by a party, to the point where it is ‘unwinnable’ for other parties.
The bureaucracy is a collective term for government departments and agencies. It is also known as the public service. The bureaucracy is responsible for implementing policy, advising the government and providing services to the people.
A by-election is an election for a single electorate. By-elections are usually held because the sitting member has either died or resigned from parliament.
By-laws are rules or local laws made by a local government body, such as a council. Like regulations, by-laws are considered to be delegated legislation. Examples of by-laws include rules on licensing or releasing animals, parking restrictions and property zoning.
In Westminster political systems, the cabinet is a group of senior ministers who, along with the head of state, constitute the executive government. In Federal parliament the cabinet is led by the prime minister; in the States they are led by premiers.
The caucus is the party room of the Australian Labor Party.
closure (see guillotine)
Codification is the practice of writing common law principles and precedents into legislation. Codification is carried out to adjust, clarify or strengthen these precedents, or to place them beyond the reach of later precedents.
The Commonwealth government is the national government of Australia. It is based in Canberra and is defined by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia Act (1901). It is sometimes referred to as the Federal government.
Complementary legislation is similar or identical legislation, passed by different parliaments in order to achieve uniformity of laws.
Compulsory voting is a system where all registered voters are required to participate in elections. Fines and penalties apply to voters who do not attend without good cause. Australia is one of the few major countries that uses compulsory voting.
In constitutional law, concurrent powers are powers that are granted to both Federal and State governments, such as the authority to levy taxes.
A conscience vote is a parliamentary vote on legislation, where party discipline is set aside and members are permitted to vote according to their own personal beliefs. Conscience votes are usually reserved for controversial ethical or social policy issues, such as euthanasia or abortion.
Consolidating legislation is legislation that repeals two or more acts relevant to the same area, then reforms them under a single act.
A constitution is a fundamental law that establishes a framework for government in a society. Constitutions provide a structure for government and define and limit executive and law-making powers.
Constitutional interpretation is the process of examining and clarifying the meaning of a constitution, then applying it to real life cases. In Australia, constitutional interpretation is carried out by the High Court. In the United States, it is carried out by the Supreme Court.
A constitutional monarchy is a political system where the head of state is a monarch, however the monarch’s power is limited by a constitution and shared with an elected government.
A convention is an unwritten rule or procedure, common to Westminster political systems. Conventions are based on traditional practice and are usually followed. The office of prime minister, for example, is considered a convention because it is not outlined in the constitution.
crossing the floor
Crossing the floor involves ignoring the voting instructions of your own party, to vote in line with another party. It is not common but can occur over divisive issues or legislation.
Delegated legislation is a collective term for all regulations or by-laws made by statutory authorities, such as a government department or local government.
A demonstration is a gathering of people, in order to attract public attention and/or cause disruption. Many demonstrations are organised to draw attention to existing laws or policies and to create pressure for change.
The despatch box is a large wooden box that serves as a lectern or speaking platform in Westminster parliaments. Historically, the despatch box was used for storing documents, however its function is now decorative.
Disenfranchisement is the act of removing or withdrawing someone’s right to vote.
In parliamentary procedure a division is a means of counting votes, where members of the parliament rise from their seats and move to different parts of the chamber. A division is also another term for an electorate or seat.
A donkey vote is a completed ballot paper where the voter has filled in all boxes in numerical order from top to bottom. Donkey votes are often interpreted as a deliberate act reflecting political disinterest or a lack of knowledge about the candidates. Donkey votes are not considered informal and are counted with other ballot papers.
Dorothy Dix (or ‘Dixer’)
A Dorothy Dix question, or ‘Dorothy Dixer’, is a pre-arranged question the government asks its own ministers. Dorothy Dix questions are delivered by a government backbencher during question time. The purpose of Dorothy Dix questions is to provide ministers with the opportunity to give a speech, attack the opposition or stall for time (to prevent more difficult questions).
In Australia, the ‘double majority’ is the standard required for referendum proposals to succeed. Proposals must be supported by a majority of the Australian population, as well as a majority of the population in at least four States.