Politics glossary – R to Z

This politics glossary contains terms and concepts relevant to Australian government, parties, elections and political processes. This page contains words from ‘R’ to ‘Z’. This glossary is written and maintained by lawgovpol.com authors:

A referendum is a public vote to decide on a proposed change to the Constitution.

referral of powers
The referral of powers describes the passing or surrender of law-making powers to the Commonwealth by one or more States. Referral of powers provisions are outlined in Section 51(xxxvii) of the Commonwealth Constitution.

Regulations are laws made by a subordinate authority. They are sometimes referred to as delegated legislation.

Repeal is the act of cancelling or abolishing an existing act of parliament.

representative government
Representative government is any form of government where citizens elect individuals or deputies to make laws and decisions on their behalf.

A republic is a system of government where the head of state is a president rather than a monarch. The president is either elected by the people or selected by their representatives, and usually serves a fixed term.

reserve powers
Reserve powers are the constitutional powers granted to the head of state, which allow him or her to act without the approval of other branches of government. In the Commonwealth of Australia, the reserve powers include refusing assent to bills, withdrawing the commission of ministers and dissolving the parliament. Reserve powers are rarely used, though there have been some notable exceptions, such as the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam government.

A reshuffle is where the leader or leadership of a major political party reorganises ministerial portfolios. A reshuffle may involve existing ministers taking over new portfolios, the promotion of new members into the ministry and/or the ‘dumping’ of current ministers.

residual powers
Residual powers are law-making powers not explicitly listed in the Constitution and therefore granted to the States.

responsible government
Responsible government is a feature of Westminster systems, where the executive government (the cabinet and ministers) are deemed to be accountable to the representatives of the people (the parliament).

royal assent
Royal assent is the signing of a bill into law by a vice-regal officer, such as the governor-general or a State governor. Once given royal assent the bill becomes an act of parliament.

rule of law
The rule of law is a fundamental concept in democratic societies. Under the rule of law, laws are made to ensure security and good order and are applied equally to all members of society.

A scrutineer is a member of a political party who attends and monitors polling booths and vote-counting, to ensure it is done fairly and following due processes.

Second Reading
The second reading is the second stage of a bill’s passage through parliament. The second reading usually involves speeches in support of or against the bill. Amendments may also be proposed during this time.

secret ballot
The secret ballot is an election method where the selections of all voters are made privately and cannot be seen by others. It was pioneered in Australia and in other parts of the world is sometimes referred to as the ‘Australian ballot’.

Select Committee
A select committee is a parliamentary committee formed to inquire into a particular topic or issue. Once it has completed its research and made recommendations to the parliament, a select committee is disbanded.

The Senate is the upper house of the Commonwealth parliament. It contains a fixed number of representatives from each State and Territory (currently, 12 per State and two per Territory). The Senate acts as a house of review and has similar law-making powers to the House of Representatives, with some exceptions (for example, the Senate may not initiate appropriation bills).

separation of powers
The separation of powers is a political principle that insists government be divided into distinct branches with separate powers, to prevent the accumulation or misuse of these powers. In Westminster political systems the three branches of government are the executive (the monarch, cabinet and ministers) legislature (the parliament) and the judiciary (judges and courts).

shadow minister
A shadow minister is a member of parliament of the opposition party who is given a portfolio. He or she is tasked with ‘shadowing’ the government minister with the same portfolio, scrutinising government policy and performance, and developing alternative policies.

In Westminster political systems, the speaker is an individual who is elected or appointed to oversee the operation of a parliamentary chamber. Speakers are usually members of parliament who are drawn from the party in government. Speakers are nominally independent and are required to uphold and enforce the standing orders of parliament.

specific powers
Specific powers are constitutional powers that are explicitly allocated to the Commonwealth parliament.

A spill is a declaration that the leadership of a political party is vacant. Immediately following a spill, party members will meet to elect a new leader.

standing committee
A standing committee is a permanent parliamentary committee, convened during every session of parliament. Standing committees focus on areas of constant significance, such as economics, health, foreign affairs, education and employment.

standing orders
Standing orders are regulations that govern the procedures of parliament, including the role of the Speaker and the conduct of members of the parliament.

statute (see Act of Parliament)

Suffrage describes the right to vote in a political election.

A swing is a shift in voting results, usually relative to results in the previous election. A swing of five per cent, for example, suggests that five per cent of electors have voted differently since the last election.

Terrorism is an act of violence against people or property that is intended to bring about political or legal change.

two-party preferred
A two-party preferred poll or result shows the expected outcomes for the two major parties, after the distribution of preferences. Two-party preferred results are not reliable in close elections but do show voting trends and likely outcomes.

A unicameral parliament is a legislature with only one house or chamber, such as the Queensland State Parliament.

universal suffrage
Universal suffrage is a condition where the right to vote is extended to all persons, without restriction or qualification.

A veto is an order to delay or block legislation. Vetos are usually exercised by an executive leader, such as the United States president.

Westminster system
The Westminster system is a system of government in use in Britain, Australia and many British Commonwealth countries. Its features include a head of state; a representative legislature with two houses; ministers drawn from the legislature who act as the executive government; an independent judiciary and regular elections.

The whip, or party whip, is a member of parliament who is responsible for maintaining the organisation and discipline of large political parties. Whips ensure that the members of their party attend meetings, briefings and parliamentary sessions; and that they vote according to the party line.

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