Summary information on parliamentary government, elections and periods in office
Summary information on Parliamentary Government in South Australia
Parliament is the key institution in the system of representative government in the state of South Australia. It is the link between democratic elections and the formal machinery of state government, and the forum through which government is held accountable to the people of South Australia; see parliamentary system. Although the general role of parliament is clear, the structure and operation of parliament in South Australia has a number of distinctive features:
- The South Australian Parliament is bicameral: Bicameral parliaments have two houses; a lower house from which the premier is chosen and on which the government depends for its continuation in office; and an upper house which can undertake a variety of functions but which usually concentrates on reviewing legislation. The lower house of the South Australia Parliament is the House of Assembly, and the upper house is the Legislative Council. Information on elections and representation in the South Australian Legislative Council is not yet available on this website.
- ‘Parliament’ and ‘legislature’: The term parliament is usually refers to the two chambers of the South Australian Parliament, the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council. Before a law can be made in South Australia, it must gain support from a majority of members in both chambers. For this reason, parliament is often referred to as the legislature. But parliament (and law making) includes the executive branch of government; laws cannot be implemented without the consent of the Governor of South Australia, acting in the name of the Crown on the advice of the premier and other ministers. 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 South Australian House of Assembly
This website has information on the South Australian House of Assembly and the pattern of support that governments have had in the Assembly since 1890. 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 House of Assembly has been held, the existing government is confirmed in office or, if it looses the support of a majority of members in the House of Assembly, it is replaced by another government. If the extent of support for the government in the House of Assembly after the election is not clear -- something which was often the case in the days before the emergence of disciplined political parties -- the process of determining whether a government had majority support in the House of Assembly could 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 House of Assembly can derive that support from a single party (majority support)), or from a coalition of two (and very occasionally more than two) parties. In either case, the government has a secure majority in the House of 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 House of 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 House of Assembly. Minority governments can fall if the independents or minor parties withdraw their support for the government in the House of Assembly on a matter of confidence.
- Party of the premier in office after the election: As with the formation of a new government after an election, the selection of a premier 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 premier. The premier is usually the leader of the party 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 House of Assembly. Before the emergence of disciplined parties in the 1890s, it is hard to make precise statements about the number of members supporting the government. For this reason, the entries before 1893 are shown as zero. For information on governments formed after elections before 1893, see the entries for each general election before 1893 in the 'Elections' section of this website.
- 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 House of Assembly; the same disclaimer applied to elections before 1893. 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 House of 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 South Australia -- available through this website -- include sources and references.