Summary information on parliamentary government, elections and periods in office
Summary information on Parliamentary Government in the Northern Territory
Parliament is the key institution in the system of representative government in the territory of the Northern Territory. It is the link between democratic elections and the formal machinery of territory government, and the forum through which government is held accountable to the people of the Northern Territory; see parliamentary system. Although the general role of parliament is clear, the structure and operation of parliament in the Northern Territory has a number of distinctive features:
- The Northern Territory Parliament is unicameral: Its one house is the Legislative Assembly, the lower house, created by the granting of representative self-government to the territory in 1974 (see 'Sources', below).
- ‘Parliament’ and ‘legislature’: In the Northern Territory, the term parliament is usually refers to the the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. But parliament (and law making) includes the executive branch of government. In the Northern Territory, '... formal executive authority rests with an administrator whose powers are equivalent to a state governor...', Dean Jaensch, p.226 (see 'Sources', below). Part of the inheritance of a British-derived parliamentary system is that the executive retains control over much of the legislative process in parliament.
Parliamentary support for governments in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly
This website has information on the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly and the pattern of support that governments have had in the Assembly since 1974. The information is summarized in the table and subject headings set out below:
- Support for the government formed after each general election: Once a general election for the Legislative Assembly has been held, the existing government is confirmed in office or, if it looses the support of a majority of members in the Legislative Assembly, it is replaced by another government. If the extent of support for the government in the Legislative Assembly after the election is not clear, the process of determining whether a government had majority support in the Legislative Assembly can take some time (see government after election). Government support can fall into two broad categories shown by the combination of the two columns under this heading:
- majority and coalition support: Governments with a majority in the Legislative Assembly can derive that support from a single party (majority support)), or from a coalition of two (and occasionally more than two) parties. In either case, the government has a secure majority in the Legislative Assembly -- assuming the coalition arrangement persists -- and has the numbers to regulate the business of the Assembly.
- minority and minority coalition support: Governments may hold office even though they do not control a party or a coalition majority in the Legislative Assembly. Such governments are called minority governments and remain in office because of the support of independent members or minor parties who do not wish to become part of the government (become ministers), but are willing to support the government. This support may be conditional on the government following certain policies or changing the way the government organizes the business of the Legislative Assembly. Minority governments can fall if the independents or minor parties withdraw their support for the government in the Legislative Assembly on a matter of confidence.
- Party of the first minister (premier) in office after the election: As with the formation of a new government after an election, the selection of a first minister may de delayed until well after the election if it is unclear which party has majority support in the Assembly, or if there is dispute between coalition parties over the choice of first minister. The first minister is usually the leader of the party with with the most seats in the Assembly, or the leader of the larger party in a two party coalition.
- If coalition government, coalition party: The coalition party (or parties) listed under this heading is regarded as the minor partner in the coalition. While the parties forming a coalition government usually control a majority of seats in the Legislative Assembly, it is possible to have a minority coalition government.
- Number of seats held by governing party or coalition: The entries in this column refer to the number of seats held by the governing party or coalition in the Legislative Assembly.
- Seat share of governing party or coalition: This provides the same information as the previous column but expressed as a percentage of the total number of seats in the Legislative Assembly. Governments with a seat share of more than fifty percent are majority governments. Governments with fifty percent or fewer seats, are minority governments; a government with exactly fifty percent of the membership of the Legislative Assembly has to provide a Speaker for the Assembly whose vote can only be called upon when the government and combined opposition vote is tied. By providing the Speaker from its own ranks, the governing party or coalition loses its majority; in such circumstances, a government can provide the Speaker and become a minority government, or it can find an obliging independent or minor party member who is willing to become Speaker and use his or her casting vote to support the government.
Sources and references
The summary information on this page has been compiled from records in the Australian Politics and Elections Database at the University of Western Australia. The individual records for each general election and period in office in the Northern Territory -- available through this website -- include sources and references.
For information on the government and politics of the Northern Territory, see Dean Jaensch, 'Northern Territory', in Jeremy Moon and Campbell Sharman (editors), Australian Politics and Government: The Commonwealth, the States and the Territories, pp 224-238 (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 0521532051).