Caretaker government of Australia

Caretaker government of Australia

In Australia the term caretaker government is used to describe the government during a period that starts when the parliament is prorogued by the Governor-General prior to a general election, and continues for a short period after the election, until the next ministry is appointed. The caretaker government is expected to conduct itself in accordance with a series of well-defined conventions that are administered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, [ [ Guidance on Caretaker Conventions -Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet] ] although there is no law compelling the caretaker government to do so.

Under normal circumstances, there is no separate appointment of a caretaker government. The existing government simply assumes "caretaker mode". During the Australian constitutional crisis of 1975, the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, appointed a new government headed by Malcolm Fraser, subject to Fraser's agreement that he would immediately advise a general election, and his government would operate on a caretaker basis in the meantime. This was a unique set of circumstances, leading to a unique solution.

Caretaker conventions

The incumbent government continues to govern after parliament has been prorogued. The operation of the Australian political system ensures that a Cabinet is always maintained and that caretaker governments abide by the conventions. Any flouting of the conventions by a caretaker government would immediately come to light, and could go against them in the election campaign. There are occasions when major appointments or decisions cannot wait until after the election, and the opposition would normally be consulted about them, ensuring a bipartisan approach.

A document entitled "Guidance on Caretaker Conventions" is administered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Section 1.2 of the Caretaker Conventions states that a caretaker government operates until the election result clearly indicates that either the incumbent party has retained power, or in the case where there is to be a change of government, until the new government is appointed by the Governor-General. Section 1.6 indicates that these conventions are not legally binding, and do not constitute "hard and fast rules."

Caretaker government conduct

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 three primary restrictions on the conduct of the caretaker government. These are:

* To not implement unlegislated policy which may commit an incoming government
* To not make significant appointments (eg. judicial or diplomatic)
* To not enter into major contracts or undertakings.

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 he 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 him 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. [ [ Governor-General's invitation to form a government] ] This can be delayed by the counting of votes in closely contested seats, or by the processes by which ministers are chosen under the relevant party's rules. In the meantime, the caretaker government continues in office.


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