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The Executive Government of Queensland

Formation of a government

After the completion of a State election, the Governor commissions the leader of the political party which has won a majority of seats in the Legislative Assembly to form a government. As well, a government can be formed by two or more parties combining.

Responsible government

Responsible government in Queensland reflects the development of parliamentary government in Britain via the Westminster system. Therefore, Queensland's Constitution Acts are supplemented by Westminster conventions developed over centuries of parliamentary existence. In the 19th century, the 1832 Reform Act extended the franchise to the middle class allowing for the development of a political party system, which formed the linkage between the Parliament and the electorate. Because Members of the Ministry were also Members of the House of Commons, they could be removed by a vote of no confidence or the denial of supply, as well as the obligatory need to face the electors at fixed intervals.

The doctrine of responsible Government contains three major elements:

1.    The Queen's representative (the Governor) should act on the advice of responsible Ministers (the Ministry/Cabinet), which is led by a Chief Minister (the Premier);

2.    The Government is collectively responsible to the Parliament. Therefore, Ministers should be Members of the Parliament enjoying the support of the majority political party or coalition of parties in the House, and, as Members of the Ministry, need to speak with one voice on Cabinet decisions, while a vote of no confidence in the Parliament on a substantial issue means that the Ministry should resign; 

3.    Ministers are individually responsible to the Parliament for the administration of their portfolios, which includes the acts or omissions of public servants within their departments.

Responsible Government was established in Queensland by the Letters Patent and Orders-in-Council creating the colony on 10 December 1859 and allowing for the Constitution of a Legislative Council, a Legislative Assembly and an Executive Council to advise and assist the first Governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen. From that first Executive Council consisting of three Ministers - Robert Herbert (Colonial Secretary), Ratcliffe Pring (Attorney-General) and Robert Mackenzie (Colonial Treasurer), the complexity of Government activities has seen the number of portfolios increase (see Cabinet or Ministry below).

The Governor

The Governor of Queensland is the Queen's representative in the State who holds office during Her Majesty's pleasure by Commission under Her Majesty's Sign Manual, and whose appointment may be terminated only by instrument under Her Majesty's Sign Manual after publication in the Government Gazette. The Governor's office and powers have been established by Letters Patent, Royal Instructions, statutes and constitutional conventions.

In 1986, the Australia Acts, involving complementary legislation between the Commonwealth, the States and the British Parliaments severed the residual imperial links, i.e., judicial, legislative and executive, with the United Kingdom. The Constitution (Office of Governor) Act 1987 established in statutory form the latest 1986 Letters Patent constituting the office of Governor.

By constitutional convention, the appointment of Queensland's Governor is via advice from the Premier to the Queen. However, the office of Governor has been entrenched in Queensland by the Constitution Act Amendment Act 1977, because a referendum is required prior to any Bill, which provides for abolition of or alteration in the office, receives Royal Assent.  A double entrenchment also applies because the referendum section cannot be altered unless first being approved by a referendum.

The Governor, although not a member, presides over the Executive Council which gives formal, legal effect to the decisions of Cabinet, and at all times, the Governor is guided by the Executive Council's advice. Part of the Governor's role is to be consulted, to encourage and to warn. Therefore, particular items presented at Executive Council may be held over pending further information or clarification.

Other major functions performed by the Governor are assenting to Bills passed by the Legislative Assembly; summoning, proroguing and dissolving the Parliament; appointing Ministers and public officials; issuing writs for the election of the State's Senators; involvement in the filling of Senate casual vacancies; exercising the Queen's royal prerogative of mercy for offenders; as well as performing ceremonial and social duties.

No financial Bill can originate or be passed by the Legislative Assembly without first being recommended by a message from the Governor. As well, no part of the public revenue can be issued except by the Governor's warrant. The Governor also possesses discretionary or reserve powers in relation to the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly, and the appointment or dismissal of Ministers in the event of a change in Government. Thus, the Governor, as the monarch's representative, is a legitimate component of Queensland's representative Government, combining both traditional and functional roles as part of an inherited Westminster model.

Executive council

An Executive Council was established in Queensland by Letters Patent in 1859 to advise and assist the first Governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen. Currently, an Executive Council is provided for by the Constitution (Office of Governor) Act 1987, and consists of the total Ministry (Cabinet) with the Governor presiding. In the absence of the Governor, provision is made for either a Lieutenant-Governor, the Chief Justice or the next senior judge of the Supreme Court to act in the position.

The Executive Council is not a deliberative body but gives formal, legal effect to the decisions made in Cabinet. Each Cabinet Minister is sworn in as a Member of the Executive Council, and once a person is no longer a Minister, they must resign from that body. In Queensland, the Executive Council normally meets once a week and only requires a quorum of two Ministers plus the Governor in order to operate.

Proceedings of the Executive Council are confined to formal approval and signature by the Governor of such instruments as are required by the royal prerogative or legislation issued by the Governor-in-Council, and include Orders-in-Council, commissions, proclamations, regulations, appointment of judges, magistrates and public officials, approval of certain Government expenditure and disposition of Crown lands.

Cabinet or Ministry

The term Cabinet comes from the French and means a small room or closet signifying a body of persons meeting together to deliberate in secret. Originally, it comprised the monarch's trusted advisers. In Queensland, all Ministers are Members of Cabinet, which is responsible for the development and coordination of the Government's policies, hence the term Cabinet Government. Under section 42 of the Constitution of Qld 2001, there must be a Cabinet consisting of the Premier and a number of other Ministers. Under section 43, the maximum number of any Ministers at any time is 19. Cabinet is collectively responsible for the policies and programs on which it makes decisions, and outside, Ministers are obliged to speak with one voice on such matters, even though they may have opposed them in the privacy of the Cabinet meeting.

In Queensland, Cabinet usually meets on the Monday of each week at the Executive Building in Brisbane. Periodically, Cabinet meetings are held at other provincial and rural locations throughout the State. Proposals by Ministers are presented in the form of submissions which are circulated to all portfolios in the week prior. Once decisions have been reached, depending on their category, they are taken back to the Ministers' departments for implementation, or to Executive Council for its imprimatur. Certain submissions, after discussion at Cabinet, do not proceed, or are returned to the departments for further work.

Thus, Cabinet is an important component of parliamentary Government, because its Members are the senior decision makers within the governing party, who provide the linkages between the Executive Council, the Parliament and the Government departments.

Ministerial responsibility

Incorporated within the doctrine of responsible Government is the concept of ministerial responsibility. Ministers are individually responsible to Cabinet and the Parliament for their own actions, and also for those of their departments. Consequently, public servants implementing departmental policy act for and on behalf of their Minister. Collectively, Ministers, as a Government, are responsible to the Parliament, and if defeated on a vote of no confidence regarding a serious matter should resign. In public, collective responsibility requires Ministers to unanimously support decisions made by the Cabinet.

Because ministerial responsibility is based on convention which is open to interpretation, there are occasions when Ministers do not strictly adhere to the implied principles. In recent times, there have been examples where public servants have resigned due to maladministration within departments because, it has been argued, it would be impossible for a Minister to be responsible for the action of every subordinate. Similarly, other Ministers have remained in Cabinet, despite personal deficiencies, because political considerations have entered the equation.