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Prime Minister of Australia

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This article is about the office of the Prime Minister of Australia. For a list of Australian Prime Ministers, see List of Prime Ministers of Australia.
Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia
Coat of Arms of Australia.svg
Malcolm Turnbull at the Pentagon 2016 cropped.jpg
Malcolm Turnbull

since 15 September 2015
Government of Australia
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Style The Honourable
Prime Minister
Member of
Reports to Parliament
Seat Canberra (primary)
Sydney (secondary)
Appointer Governor-General of Australia
Term length At the Governor-General's pleasure
Inaugural holder Edmund Barton
Formation 1 January 1901
Salary $507,338 (AUD)

The Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia is the head of government of Australia. The individual who holds the office is the most senior Minister of the Crown, the leader of the Cabinet and the chairperson of the National Security Committee. The office is not mentioned in the Constitution of Australia and exists only through longstanding political convention and tradition. Despite this, in practice it is the most powerful parliamentary position in Australia. The individual who holds the office is commissioned by the Governor-General of Australia.

Almost always and according to convention, the Prime Minister is the leader of the majority party or largest party in a coalition of parties in the House of Representatives. However, there is no constitutional requirement that the prime minister sit in the House of Representatives, though by convention this is always the case. The only case where a member of the Senate was appointed prime minister was John Gorton, who subsequently resigned his Senate position and was elected as a member of the House of Representatives (Senator George Pearce was acting prime minister for seven months in 1916 while Billy Hughes was overseas).[1]

Malcolm Turnbull has held the office of Prime Minister since 15 September 2015. He received his commission after replacing Tony Abbott as the leader of the Liberal Party, the dominant party in the Coalition government, following the outcome of the September 2015 Liberal leadership ballot.[2]


Coat of Arms of Australia.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Australia's first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton at the central table in the House of Representatives in 1901.

The Prime Minister of Australia is appointed by the Governor-General of Australia under Section 64 of the Australian Constitution, which empowers the Governor-General to appoint government ministers and requires them to be members of the House of Representatives or the Senate, or become members within three months of the appointment. The Prime Minister and Treasurer are traditionally members of the House, but the Constitution does not have such a requirement.[3] Before being sworn in as a Minister of the Crown, a person must first be sworn in as a member of the Federal Executive Council if they are not already a member. Membership of the Federal Executive Council entitles the member to the style of The Honourable (usually abbreviated to The Hon) for life, barring exceptional circumstances. The senior members of the Executive Council constitute the Cabinet of Australia.

The Prime Minister is, like other ministers, normally sworn in by the Governor-General and then presented with the commission (Letters patent) of office. When defeated in an election, or on resigning, the Prime Minister is said to "hand in the commission" and actually does so by returning it to the Governor-General. In the event of a Prime Minister dying in office, or becoming incapacitated, the Governor-General can terminate the commission. Ministers hold office "during the pleasure of the Governor-General" (s. 64 of the Constitution of Australia), so theoretically, the Governor-General can dismiss a minister at any time, by notifying them in writing of the termination of their commission; however, his or her power to do so except on the advice of the Prime Minister is heavily circumscribed by convention.

Despite the importance of the office of prime minister, the Constitution does not mention the office by name. The conventions of the Westminster system were thought to be sufficiently entrenched in Australia by the authors of the Constitution that it was deemed unnecessary to detail them. The formal title of the portfolio has always been simply "Prime Minister", except for the period of the Fourth Deakin Ministry (June 1909 to April 1910), when it was known as "Prime Minister (without portfolio)".[4]

If a government cannot get its appropriation (budget) legislation passed by the House of Representatives, or the House passes a vote of "no confidence" in the government, the Prime Minister is bound by convention to immediately advise the Governor-General to dissolve the House of Representatives and hold a fresh election.

Following a resignation in other circumstances, or the death of a prime minister, the governor-general will generally appoint as prime minister the person elected as leader by the governing party or, in the case of a coalition, the senior party in the coalition. There have been four notable exceptions to this:

  • When Joseph Lyons, prime minister and leader of the United Australia Party (UAP), died suddenly in April 1939, the governor-general, Lord Gowrie, called on Sir Earle Page to become caretaker prime minister. Page was the leader of the smaller party in the governing coalition, the Country Party. He held the office for three weeks until the UAP elected a new leader, Robert Menzies.
  • In August 1941 Menzies resigned as prime minister. The UAP was so bereft of leadership at this time that the Country Party leader Arthur Fadden was invited to become prime minister, although the Country Party was the smaller of the two coalition parties. The government depended on support from two independents, who two months later voted against Fadden's budget and brought the government down, paving the way for John Curtin to be appointed as Labor prime minister.
  • In July 1945 John Curtin died suddenly. His deputy, Frank Forde, was sworn in the next day as prime minister, although the Labor Party had not had an opportunity to meet and elect a new leader. Forde served for eight days until Ben Chifley was elected leader. Chifley was then sworn in, replacing Forde, who became Australia's shortest-serving prime minister.
  • Harold Holt disappeared while swimming on 17 December 1967 and was declared presumed dead on 19 December. The governor-general, Lord Casey, commissioned the Leader of the Country Party, John McEwen, to form a government until the Liberal Party elected a new leader. McEwen was prime minister for 23 days, until the election of (then Senator) John Gorton.

There were only three other cases where someone other than the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives was prime minister:

  • Federation occurred on 1 January 1901, but elections for the first parliament were not scheduled until late March. In the interim, an unelected caretaker government was necessary. In what is now known as the Hopetoun Blunder, the governor-general, Lord Hopetoun, invited Sir William Lyne, the premier of the most populous state, New South Wales, to form a government. Lyne was unable to do so and returned his commission in favour of Edmund Barton, who became the first prime minister and led the inaugural government into and beyond the election.
  • During the second parliament, three parties (Free Trade, Protectionist and Labor) had roughly equal representation in the House of Representatives. The leaders of the three parties, Alfred Deakin, George Reid and Chris Watson each served as prime minister before losing a vote of confidence.
  • During the 1975 constitutional crisis, on 11 November 1975, the governor-general, Sir John Kerr, dismissed the Labor Party's Gough Whitlam as prime minister. Despite Labor holding a majority in the House of Representatives, Kerr appointed the Leader of the Opposition, Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser as caretaker prime minister, conditional on the passage of the Whitlam government's Supply bills through the Senate and the calling of an election for both houses of parliament. Fraser accepted these terms and immediately advised a double dissolution. An election was called for 13 December, which the Liberal Party won in its own right (although the Liberals governed in a coalition with the Country Party).


The first Prime Minister of Australia, Edmund Barton (sitting second from left), with his Cabinet, 1901.

Most of the prime minister's powers derive from being head of Government. In practice, the Federal Executive Council will act to ratify all decisions made by the cabinet and, in practice, decisions of the cabinet will always require the support of the prime minister. The powers of the governor-general to grant Royal Assent to legislation, to dissolve and prorogue parliament, to call elections and to make appointments are exercised on the advice of the prime minister.

The formal power to appoint the Governor-General lies with the Queen of Australia, but this appointment is done on the formal advice of the Prime Minister. By convention, this advice is provided by the Prime Minister alone, and thus the appointment is effectively the Prime Minister's personal choice. The Prime Minister may also advise the monarch to dismiss the Governor-General, though it remains unclear how quickly the monarch would act on such advice in a constitutional crisis. This uncertainty, and the possibility of a "race" between the Governor-General and Prime Minister to sack the other, was a key question in the 1975 constitutional crisis.

The power of the prime minister is subject to a number of limitations. Prime ministers removed as leader of his or her party, or whose government loses a vote of no-confidence in the House of Representatives, must advise an election of the lower house or resign the office or be dismissed by the governor-general.[citation needed]

The prime minister's party will normally have a majority in the House of Representatives and party discipline is exceptionally strong in Australian politics, so passage of the government's legislation through the House of Representatives is mostly a formality. Attaining the support of the Senate can be more difficult as government usually lacks an absolute majority because the Senate's representation is based on overall proportion of votes and often includes minor parties.

Privileges of office


Prime Ministerial salary history
Effective date Salary
2 June 1999 $289,270
6 September 2006 $309,270
1 July 2007 $330,356
1 October 2009 $340,704[5]
1 August 2010 $354,671[6]
1 July 2011 $366,366
1 December 2011 $440,000
15 March 2012 $481,000[7]
1 July 2012 $495,430[8]
1 July 2013 $507,338[9]

On 1 July 2013, the Australian Government's Remuneration Tribunal adjusted the Prime Ministerial salary, raising it to its current amount of $507,338.


Prime Ministers Curtin, Fadden, Hughes, Menzies and Governor-General The Duke of Gloucester 2nd from left, in 1945.

Whilst in office, the prime minister has two official residences. The primary official residence is The Lodge in Canberra. Most prime ministers have chosen The Lodge as their primary residence because of its security facilities and close proximity to Parliament House. There have been some exceptions, however. Jim Scullin preferred to live at the Hotel Canberra (now the Hyatt Hotel) and Ben Chifley lived in the Hotel Kurrajong. More recently, John Howard used the Sydney prime ministerial residence, Kirribilli House, as his primary accommodation. On her appointment on 24 June 2010, Julia Gillard said she would not be living in The Lodge until such time as she was returned to office by popular vote at the next general election. (She became prime minister mid-term after replacing the incumbent, Kevin Rudd, who resigned in the face of an unwinnable party-room ballot.) During his first term, Rudd had a staff at The Lodge consisting of a senior chef and an assistant chef, a child carer, one senior house attendant, and two junior house attendants. At Kirribilli House in Sydney, there is one full-time chef and one full-time house attendant.[10] The official residences are fully staffed and catered for both the prime minister and his or her family. In addition, both have extensive security facilities. These residences are regularly used for official entertaining, such as receptions for Australian of the Year finalists.

The prime minister receives a number of transport amenities for official business. The Royal Australian Air Force's No. 34 Squadron transports the prime minister within Australia and overseas by specially converted Boeing Business Jets and smaller Challenger aircraft. The aircraft contain secure communications equipment as well as an office, conference room and sleeping compartments. The call-sign for the aircraft is "Envoy". For ground travel, the prime minister is transported in an armoured BMW 7 Series model. It is referred to as "C-1", or Commonwealth One, because of its licence plate. It is escorted by police vehicles from state and federal authorities.[11]

After office

Prime ministers are usually granted certain privileges after leaving office, such as office accommodation, staff assistance, and a Life Gold Pass, which entitles the holder to travel within Australia for "non-commercial" purposes at government expense.

Only one prime minister who had left the Federal Parliament ever returned. Stanley Bruce was defeated in his own seat in 1929 while prime minister, but was re-elected to parliament in 1931. Other prime ministers were elected to parliaments other than the Australian federal parliament: Sir George Reid was elected to the UK House of Commons (after his term as High Commissioner to the UK); and Frank Forde was re-elected to the Queensland Parliament (after his term as High Commissioner to Canada, and a failed attempt to re-enter the Federal Parliament).

Acting and interim prime ministers

From time to time prime ministers are required to leave the country on government business and a deputy acts in their place during that time. In the days before jet aircraft, such absences could be for extended periods. For example, William Watt was acting prime minister for 16 months, from April 1918 until August 1919, when Prime Minister Billy Hughes was away at the Paris Peace Conference,[12] and Senator George Pearce was acting Prime Minister for more than seven months in 1916.[13] An acting Prime Minister is also appointed when the prime minister takes leave. The Deputy Prime Minister most commonly becomes acting Prime Minister in those circumstances.

Three prime ministers have died in office – Joseph Lyons (1939), John Curtin (1945) and Harold Holt (1967) – and Robert Menzies resigned as Prime Minister in 1941. In each of these cases the Deputy Prime Minister (an unofficial office at the time) became an interim Prime Minister, pending an election of a new leader of the government party. In none of these cases was the interim Prime Minister successful at the subsequent election, however, The United Party agreed to make Arthur Fadden the Prime Minister, and leader of the Coalition, despite the fact that he was leader of the Party of the Junior Members

The powers and duties of an acting or interim Prime Minister is analogous to that of a caretaker Prime Minister.


Former prime ministers

As of April 2017, there are six living former Australian Prime Ministers.[14]

Bob Hawke
In office: 19831991
Age: 87
Paul Keating
In office: 19911996
Age: 73
John Howard
In office: 19962007
Age: 77
Kevin Rudd
In office: 20072010; 2013
Age: 59
Julia Gillard
In office: 20102013
Age: 55
Tony Abbott,
In office: 20132015
Age: 59

The greatest number of living former prime ministers at any one time was eight. This has occurred twice:

  • Between 7 October 1941 (when John Curtin succeeded Arthur Fadden) and 18 November 1941 (when Chris Watson died), the eight living former prime ministers were Bruce, Cook, Fadden, Hughes, Menzies, Page, Scullin and Watson.
  • Between 13 July 1945 (when Ben Chifley succeeded Frank Forde) and 30 July 1947 (when Sir Joseph Cook died), the eight living former prime ministers were Bruce, Cook, Fadden, Forde, Hughes, Menzies, Page and Scullin.

Of the other Prime Ministers, Ben Chifley died only one year and six months after leaving the prime ministership and Alfred Deakin lived another nine years and five months.[15]

All the others who have left office have lived at least another 10 years. Nine of them (Bruce, Cook, Fadden, Forde, Fraser, Gorton, Hughes, Watson, and Whitlam) lived more than 25 years after leaving the office, and all but one of them have survived longer than 30 years (Hughes lived for 29 years and 8 months following service).

The longest-surviving was Gough Whitlam, who lived 38 years and 11 months after office, surpassing Stanley Bruce's previous record of 37 years and 10 months after leaving the office.[16]


John Curtin is the only prime minister to serve time in prison (three days for failing to comply with an order for a compulsory medical examination for conscription, during World War I).[17]


The three youngest people when they first became prime minister were:

  • Chris Watson – 37[18]
  • Stanley Bruce – 39[19]
  • Robert Menzies – 44[20]

The three oldest people when they first became prime minister were:

  • John McEwen – 67[21]
  • William McMahon – 63[22]
  • Malcolm Turnbull – 60

The three youngest people to last leave the office of prime minister were:

  • Chris Watson – 37
  • Arthur Fadden – 46 years 5 months 22 days[23]
  • Stanley Bruce – 46 years 6 months 7 days

The three oldest people to last leave the office of prime minister were:

  • Robert Menzies – 71
  • John Howard – 68
  • John McEwen – 67

Rank by time in office

The longest serving prime minister was Sir Robert Menzies, who served in office twice: from 26 April 1939 to 28 August 1941, and again from 19 December 1949 to 26 January 1966. In total Robert Menzies spent 18 years, 5 months and 12 days in office. He served under the United Australia Party and the Liberal Party respectively.

The shortest-serving prime minister was Frank Forde, who was appointed to the position on 6 July 1945 after the death of John Curtin, and served until 13 July 1945 when Ben Chifley was elected leader of the Australian Labor Party.

This is a list of Prime Ministers of Australia by time in office. The basis of the list is the inclusive number of days from being sworn in until leaving office.


  Australian Labor Party   Liberal Party of Australia   Australian Country Party   Nationalist Party of Australia
  United Australia Party   Commonwealth Liberal Party   National Labor Party   Free Trade Party   Protectionist Party

Rank: No: Prime Minister: Portrait: Party: District: Assumed
Time in Office:
Time in Office:
  1. 12th Sir Robert Menzies
Portrait Menzies 1941.jpg United Australia Kooyong, VIC
26 April 1939 29 August 1941 2 years, 125 days 18 years, 160 days 1940 1949 1951
1954 1955 1958
1961 1963
  Liberal 19 December 1949 26 January 1966 16 years, 38 days
  2. 25th John Howard
(born 1939)
Image-Howard2003upr.JPG Liberal Bennelong, NSW
11 March 1996 3 December 2007 11 years, 267 days 1996 1998 2001
  3. 23rd Bob Hawke
(born 1929)
Bob Hawke Portrait 1983.jpg Labor Wills, VIC
11 March 1983 20 December 1991 8 years, 284 days 1983 1984 1987
  4. 22nd Malcolm Fraser
MalcolmFraser1982.JPEG Liberal Wannon, VIC
11 November 1975 11 March 1983 7 years, 120 days 1975 1977 1980
  5. 7th Billy Hughes
(1862–1952) Labor West Sydney, NSW
Bendigo, VIC
North Sydney, NSW
27 October 1915 9 February 1923 7 years, 105 days 1917 1919 1922
  National Labor
  6. 10th Joseph Lyons
Joseph Lyons 1.jpg United Australia Wilmot, TAS
6 January 1932 7 April 1939 7 years, 91 days 1931 1934 1937
  7. 8th Stanley Bruce
StanleyBruce2.jpg Nationalist Flinders, VIC
9 February 1923 22 October 1929 6 years, 255 days 1925 1928
  8. 2nd Alfred Deakin
AlfredDeakin.jpeg Protectionist Ballaarat, VIC
24 September 1903 27 April 1904 216 days 4 years, 313 days 1903 1906
5 July 1905 13 November 1908 3 years, 131 days
  Commonwealth Liberal 2 June 1909 29 April 1910 331 days
  9. 5th Andrew Fisher
Andrewfisher.JPG Labor Wide Bay, QLD
13 November 1908 2 June 1909 201 days 4 years, 297 days 1910 1914
29 April 1910 24 June 1913 3 years, 56 days
17 September 1914 27 October 1915 1 year, 40 days
  10. 16th Ben Chifley
Benchifley.jpg Labor Macquarie, NSW
13 July 1945 19 December 1949 4 years, 159 days 1946
  11. 24th Paul Keating
(born 1944)
Paul Keating - 2007-crop.jpg Labor Blaxland, NSW
20 December 1991 11 March 1996 4 years, 82 days 1993
  12. 14th John Curtin
JohnCurtin.jpg Labor Fremantle, WA
7 October 1941 5 July 1945 3 years, 271 days 1943
  13. 19th John Gorton
JohnGorton1954.JPG Liberal 22.2.1950 – 1.2.1968: Senate (Vic)
2.2.1968 – 23.2.1968: Not in Parliament
24.2.1968 – 11.11.1975: Higgins, VIC
10 January 1968 10 March 1971 3 years, 59 days 1969
  14. 27th Julia Gillard
(born 1961)
Julia Gillard 2010.jpg Labor Lalor, VIC
24 June 2010 27 June 2013 3 years, 3 days 2010
  15. 21st Gough Whitlam
Whitlam1955.jpg Labor Werriwa, NSW
5 December 1972 11 November 1975 2 years, 341 days 1972 1974
  16. 26th Kevin Rudd
(born 1957)
Kevin Rudd portrait.jpg Labor Griffith, QLD
3 December 2007 24 June 2010 2 years, 203 days 2 years, 286 days 2007
27 June 2013 18 September 2013 83 days
  17. 1st Sir Edmund Barton
Edmund Barton.PNG Protectionist Hunter, NSW
1 January 1901 24 September 1903 2 years, 266 days 1901
  18. 9th James Scullin
JScullin.jpg Labor Yarra, VIC
22 October 1929 6 January 1932 2 years, 76 days 1929
  19. 28th Tony Abbott
(born 1957)
Tony Abbott - 2010.jpg Liberal Warringah, NSW
18 September 2013 15 September 2015 1 year, 362 days 2013
  20. 17th Harold Holt
HaroldHoltPortrait1953.JPG Liberal Higgins, VIC
26 January 1966 19 December 1967 1 year, 327 days 1966
  21. 20th William McMahon
Nla.pic-an23458756-v.jpg Liberal Lowe, NSW
10 March 1971 5 December 1972 1 year, 270 days
  22. 29th Malcolm Turnbull
(born 1954)
Malcolm Turnbull at the Pentagon 2016 cropped.jpg Liberal Wentworth, NSW
15 September 2015 Incumbent 1 year,  226 days 2016
  23. 6th Joseph Cook
JosephCookPEO.jpg Commonwealth Liberal Parramatta, NSW
24 June 1913 17 September 1914 1 year, 85 days 1913
  24. 4th George Reid
George Reid cph.3c31684.jpg Free Trade East Sydney, NSW
18 August 1904 5 July 1905 321 days
  25. 3rd Chris Watson
ChrisWatsonSepia crop.jpg Labor Bland, NSW
27 April 1904 18 August 1904 113 days
  26. 13th Arthur Fadden
FaddenPEO.jpg Country Darling Downs, QLD
29 August 1941 7 October 1941 39 days
  27. 18th John McEwen
Nla.pic-an23474705-v.jpg Country Murray, VIC
19 December 1967 10 January 1968 22 days
  28. 11th Sir Earle Page
EarlePage.jpg Country Cowper, NSW
7 April 1939 26 April 1939 19 days
  29. 15th Frank Forde
Frankforde.jpg Labor Capricornia, QLD
6 July 1945 13 July 1945 7 days

Prime ministers' parties by time in office

See also


  1. ^ "Pearce, Sir George Foster (1870–1952)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. 2006. Retrieved 24 June 2010. 
  2. ^ "Malcolm Turnbull sworn in as Australia's 29th Prime Minister". ABC News. 15 September 2015. Retrieved 15 September 2015. 
  3. ^ "No. 14 - Ministers in the Senate". Senate Briefs. Parliament of Australia. December 2016. 
  4. ^ "ParlInfo – Part 6 – Historical information on the Australian Parliament : Ministries and Cabinets". 
  5. ^ "Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and MPs in line to get a 3% pay rise". 
  6. ^ Hudson, Phillip (25 August 2010). "Politicians awarded secret pay rise". Herald Sun. Australia. 
  7. ^ [1] Archived 13 April 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ "Tony Abbott defends increase in MP salary, saying he's working hard for every Australian". Herald Sun. 5 July 2012. 
  9. ^ Peatling, Stephanie (14 June 2013). "PM's salary tops $500,000". Sydney Morning Herald. 
  10. ^ Metherell, Mark (19 February 2008). "Rudds' staff extends to a child carer at the Lodge". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 24 June 2010. 
  11. ^ (6 April 2009). "25% of government car fleet foreign made". Car Advice. Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  12. ^ "Australian Dictionary of Biography – William Alexander Watt". ADB ANU. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  13. ^ "Australian Dictionary of Biography – Sir George Foster Pearce". ADB ANU. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  14. ^ Cox, Lisa. "The 'special moment' seven surviving prime ministers were photographed together". 
  15. ^ "After office". 
  16. ^ "Prime Minister of Australia". Australian Policy Online. 
  17. ^ "Curtin, John (1885–1945)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. 2006. Retrieved 24 June 2010. 
  18. ^ "Watson, John Christian (Chris) (1867–1941)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 
  19. ^ "Bruce, Stanley Melbourne (1883–1967)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 
  20. ^ "Menzies, Sir Robert Gordon (Bob) (1894–1978)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 
  21. ^ "McEwen, Sir John (1900–1980)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 
  22. ^ "McMahon, Sir William (Billy) (1908–1988)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 
  23. ^ "Fadden, Sir Arthur William (1894–1973)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 

External links

  • Official website of the Prime Minister of Australia
  • Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • Australia's Prime Ministers – National Archives of Australia reference site and research portal
  • Biographies of Australia's Prime Ministers / National Museum of Australia
  • Classroom resources on Australian Prime Ministers
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