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Parliament's role

What is Parliament?

Parliament, also known as the legislature, is the body that makes laws (including for the allocation of funds for government expenditure); debates public policy; holds the government to account for its policies, actions and spending; and represents the people of Western Australia.

Parliament has three parts; the Legislative Council (upper house), the Legislative Assembly (lower house), and the Queen (represented by the Governor). Legislation must pass through these three parts to become law.

Governance of the houses

The President of the Legislative Council and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly (the 'Presiding Officers') preside over their respective house of Parliament, maintaining order in debate and applying and interpreting the practices and procedures of the house. They rely on the standing orders, precedents, rulings of past Presiding Officers and various other procedural authorities to undertake this task.

Forming government

The party (or coalition or alliance of parties) with the support of the majority of members in the Legislative Assembly forms government. The opposition (the party in opposition with the most members) and other non-government parties in the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council perform an important role as a check on the government.

The leader of the majority, known as the Premier, appoints ministers from the governing party’s membership in the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council, who jointly become the ministry (cabinet) or executive government.

Ministers tend to be concentrated in the Legislative Assembly where government is formed, although the Western Australian Constitution requires that at least one minister must be a member of the Legislative Council. This ensures that the executive government is represented in both houses of Parliament and is responsible to each, not merely the house where government is formed.

The executive provides for the ongoing administration and services of government departments and authorities.

Passing laws (Statutes)

Parliament makes laws for the 'peace, order and good government' of the state. Bills therefore address issues that impact Western Australians, such as health, education, welfare and roads.

The Western Australian Parliament makes, modifies or repeals laws by acts of Parliament – often referred to as statutes or legislation. Bills (proposed laws) passed by the two houses are given royal assent in the name of Her Majesty by the Governor and become acts of Parliament.

The normal flow of the legislative process is that a bill is introduced into one of the two houses by a minister or member, where it must pass through a number of stages before it is transmitted to the other house for its agreement (concurrence). If agreed to by the other house, it is then given the royal assent by the Governor. The bill then becomes an act of Parliament. A bill can be introduced into either house with the exception of a money bill, which must originate in the Legislative Assembly as the house of government.

During the debate stage, members scrutinise the detail of the bill to ensure that the laws to be introduced are acceptable to the people they represent (their constituents). Bills are often referred to a committee, most frequently in the Legislative Council, to review in more detail and to directly seek government, community and other stakeholder input about its provisions, how the proposed law is intended to operate, and who it will affect. The committee reports its findings and recommendations to the house for its consideration.

Amendments to the legislation are accepted by government if they improve or clarify the bill.

Some bills are heavily reliant on regulations (subsidiary legislation), delegated to a government agency to develop, to give effect to the bill. A joint house Delegated Legislation Committee reviews delegated legislation to ensure it falls within the parameters of the act.

For further information about the legislative process, see A Bill to an Act and WA Acts and Regulations.

Representing voters

Parliament provides a forum for the public’s interests and concerns to be debated by elected representatives. Members use parliamentary committees, question time and other procedures such as moving motions, conducting urgency debates, introducing bills and presenting petitions on behalf of members of the public to achieve community representation.

Granting government finance

Parliament appropriates (allocates) funding for government departments and authorities by passing money bills. Money bills can only be introduced in the Legislative Assembly. The appropriation (budget) bills are introduced into the Legislative Assembly just prior to the commencement of the financial year (usually May each year). These are closely scrutinised and, when passed by Parliament, provide the annual recurrent and capital budget for government operations.

Examining the government

The Parliament examines, through parliamentary procedures such as debate, parliamentary questions and committees, government’s administration and expenditure.

The annual parliamentary estimates process, which is conducted by both houses, allows members to scrutinise how executive government is spending taxpayers’ money. The focus is on future government spending outlined in the government’s budget estimates for the financial year. For further information on the annual budget process see Scrutiny of Finance.

Educating the public

Parliament educates the public about the work of the Parliament and our democratic system of government. This occurs through a range of educational activities and resources delivered by the Parliamentary Education Office, such as public tours; tours for primary, secondary and tertiary students; and curriculum and other publications on Parliament.

The work of Parliament is supported by the Department of the Legislative Council, Department of the Legislative Assembly and the Parliamentary Services Department.

Get involved

Being an active citizen is a key element of our parliamentary democratic system. It ensures that public opinion is understood and actively considered by members of Parliament in debating legislation and public policy. The information outlined on the Get Involved page provides ways for you to connect with Parliament and have your opinion considered.