How is Parliament prorogued and how do governments change?

Prorogation or a reference to Parliament being "prorogued" is a reference to the end of a parliamentary session. It is the formal name given to the period between the end of a session of Parliament and the Opening of Parliament that begins the next session. Parliament is prorogued either by the Governor General or by proclamation.

A prorogation may occur at any time, but the term now is usually used only before an election is called and when Parliament undergoes dissolution for that purpose.

What is dissolution?

Dissolution is the official term for the end of a Parliament. A Parliament can last for a set term which is specified for each jurisdiction and is dissolved by Governor or Governor General's Proclamation followed by a general election.

Once a prorogument has been granted due to a general election for Commonwealth Parliament, The House of Representatives is then dissolved. The dissolution of the House of Representatives triggers the issuing of writs for the election of new members to the House. The house can be dissolved and a new election called at any time.

Half-Senate elections (to elect half of the 72 state senators plus the four senators representing the two territories) are usually held at the same time as elections for the House of Representatives. The entire Senate is not dissolved, except in the special case of a double dissolution election under Section 57 of the Commonwealth Constitution.

Effects of Prorogation

The principal effect of ending a session by prorogation is to terminate business. After the Parliament is prorogued, bills and other business before the House of Representatives lapse and will need to be reintroduced in the next Parliament. Business before the Senate lapses immediately before the commencement of the next Parliament. Members are released from their parliamentary duties until Parliament is next summoned. All unfinished business is dropped from the Notice Paper and all committees lose their power to transact business, providing a fresh start for the next session. No committee can sit during a prorogation. 

Bills which have not received Royal Assent before prorogation are “entirely terminated” and, in order to be proceeded with in the new session, must be reintroduced as if they had never existed.

Caretaker Government

A caretaker government is a government of Australia during a period that starts when the parliament is dissolved by the Governor-General prior to a general election, and continues for a period after the election, until the next ministry is appointed.

Under normal circumstances, there is no separate appointment of a caretaker government. The existing government simply assumes "caretaker mode". The caretaker provisions explicitly recognise that, after the dissolution of parliament, the business of government must continue and that "ordinary matters of administration" must be addressed. Hence the provisions allow for the normal operations of all government departments. However, the caretaker conventions impose some restrictions on the conduct of the caretaker government.

The conventions broadly include the following:

  • Major policy decisions. The Government will cease taking major policy decisions except on urgent matters and then only after formal consultation with the Opposition.
  • Significant appointments. The Government will cease making major appointments of public officials, but may make acting or short-term appointments.
  • Major contracts or undertakings. The Government will avoid entering major contracts or undertakings during the caretaker period. If it is not possible to defer the commitment until after the caretaker period, for legal, commercial or other reasons, a minister could consult the Opposition, or agencies could deal with the contractor and ensure that contracts include clauses providing for termination in the event of an incoming government not wishing to proceed. Similar provisions cover tendering.
  • International negotiations and visits. The Government ordinarily seeks to defer such major international negotiations, or adopts observer status, until the end of the caretaker period.
  • Avoiding APS involvement in election activities. The Australian Public Service adopts a neutral stance while continuing to advise the Government.

Change of Government

When an opposition party or coalition wins enough seats at a general election to be able to command a majority in the House of Representatives, the incumbent Prime Minister formally advises the Governor-General that they should invite the Leader of the Opposition to form a government. The Governor-General then requests the incumbent Prime Minister and his or her Ministers to remain in government in caretaker capacity until a new government is sworn in. The Governor-General then contacts the Leader of the Opposition and invites them to form a government. The Leader of the Opposition accepts the invitation, and undertakes to inform the Governor-General when the new Ministry is in a position to be sworn in. If there are any delays due to voting recounts, the caretaker government continues in office.

Speak to a human

To speak to a TimeBase team member, freecall 1800 077 088 (Mon-Fri, 8am-4:30pm)

Request support