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The Prime Minister of Australia is the head of government of the Commonwealth of Australia, holding office on commission from the Governor-General. The office of Prime Minister is, in practice, the most powerful political office in Australia. Despite being at the apex of executive government in the country, the Prime Minister is not mentioned in the Constitution of Australia and exists through an unwritten constitutional convention.

Barring exceptional circumstances, the Prime Minister is always the leader of the political party or coalition with majority support in the House of Representatives. The only case where a Senator was appointed Prime Minister was that of 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).

Since 3 December 2007, following the 2007 federal election, the Prime Minister of Australia has been Kevin Rudd.


Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, with his ministry (65th Australian ministry) and Governor-General Michael Jeffery, 2007.

The Prime Minister is appointed by the Governor-General under section 64 of the Australian Constitution. This empowers the Governor-General to appoint Ministers of the Crown, and requires such ministers to be members of the House of Representatives or the Senate, or become members within three months of the appointment. Before being sworn in as a minister, 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 title "the Honourable" (usually abbreviated to "the Hon") for life, barring exceptional circumstances. The senior members of the Executive Council constitute the Cabinet.

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), 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.

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 resign immediately. The Governor-General's choice of replacement Prime Minister will be dictated by the circumstances.

Following a resignation in other circumstances, or the death of a Prime Minister, the Governor-General will generally appoint as Prime Minister the person voted by the governing party as their new leader. There have been four notable exceptions to this:
  • When Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, 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 8 days, until Ben Chifley was elected leader. Chifley was then sworn in, replacing Forde, who became Australia's shortest-serving Prime Minister.
  • Prime Minister Harold Holtmarker disappeared while swimming on 17 December 1967, and on 19 December he was declared presumed dead. 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 five 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, a caretaker non-elected 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 Walesmarker, 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 Labour) 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 Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed the Labor Party's Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister. Despite Labor holding a substantial 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).


Most of the Prime Minister's powers derive from his or her position as the head of the Cabinet. 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 power of the Prime Minister is subject to a number of limitations. If the Prime Minister is removed as leader of his or her party, or if the government they lead loses a vote of no-confidence in the House of Representatives, they must resign the office or be dismissed by the Governor-General.

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 the passage of government-proposed legislation through the House 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.

Prime Ministerial salary and benefits

Prime Ministerial pay history
Date established Salary
2 June 1999 $289,270
6 September 2006 $309,270
1 July 2007 $330,300


The Prime Minister is the highest-paid member of parliament.

Ministerial salary is expressed as an additional percentage on top of the basic parliamentary salary. The Remuneration Tribunal's Report Number 1 of 2006 confirms the Prime Minister's additional salary as 160% of his parliamentary salary, ie. he earns in total 260% of the salary of an ordinary parliamentarian.


The Royal Australian Air Force's 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 office, conference room and sleeping compartments. The call-sign for the aircraft is "Envoy".

The Prime Minister's official residence is The Lodgemarker in Canberramarker, but not all Prime Ministers choose to make use of it. Jim Scullin preferred to live at the Hotel Canberramarker (now the Hyatt Hotel); Ben Chifley lived in the Kurrajong Hotel; and John Howard made Kirribilli Housemarker in Sydneymarker his primary residence, using The Lodge when in Canberra on official business. The official residences are fully staffed and catered for both the Prime Minister and his or her family. A considerable amount of official entertaining is conducted at these residences.

The current Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has 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 Housemarker in Sydney, there is one full-time chef and one full-time house attendant.

Prime Ministers continue to have allowances after leaving office, such as free office space, the right to hold a Life Gold Pass and budgets for office help and staff assistance. The Life Gold Pass entitles the holder to travel within Australia for "non-commercial" purposes at government expense.

Former Prime Ministers continue to be important national figures, and in some cases go on to successful post-prime ministerial careers. Some notable examples have included: Edmund Barton, who was a justice of the High Courtmarker; George Reid, who was High Commissioner to the United Kingdom; and Arthur Fadden, who was Treasurer under another Prime Minister, Robert Menzies.

Only one Prime Minister who had left the Parliament ever returned. Stanley Bruce was defeated in his own seat in 1929 while Prime Minister, but was re-elected to Parliament in 1931. After finally quitting political life in 1933, he was appointed High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

List of Prime Ministers

Below is a list of Prime Ministers of Australia by name, date assumed office, date left office, political party, total time in office and state represented in Parliament. The state(s) represented in parliament is not necessarily the one with which the person had the strongest association; the most extreme example being Bob Hawke who was born in South Australia, spent his formative years in Western Australia, worked in and represented Victoria and retired to New South Wales.

The parties shown are those to which the Prime Ministers belonged at the time they held office. Several Prime Ministers belonged to parties other than those given before and after their prime ministerships.

For a list showing further details, see List of Prime Ministers of Australia.

# Name Took office Left office Party Total Time In Office State Represented
in Parliament
1 Sir Edmund Barton Protectionist New South Wales
2 Alfred Deakin Protectionist Victoria
3 Chris Watson Labour New South Wales
4 Sir George Reid Free Trade New South Wales
Alfred Deakin Protectionist Victoria
5 Andrew Fisher Labour Queensland
Alfred Deakin Commonwealth Liberal Victoria
Andrew Fisher Labor Queensland
6 Sir Joseph Cook Commonwealth Liberal New South Wales
Andrew Fisher Labor Queensland
7 Billy Hughes Labor/Nationalist New South Wales, Victoria
8 Stanley Bruce Nationalist Victoria
9 James Scullin Labor Victoria
10 Joseph Lyons United Australia Tasmania
11 Sir Earle Page Country New South Wales
12 Robert Menzies United Australia Victoria
13 Sir Arthur Fadden Country Queensland
14 John Curtin Labor Western Australia
15 Frank Forde Labor Queensland
16 Ben Chifley Labor New South Wales
Sir Robert Menzies Liberal Victoria
17 Harold Holtmarker Liberal Victoria
18 Sir John McEwen Country Victoria
19 Sir John Gorton Liberal Victoria
20 Sir William McMahon Liberal New South Wales
21 Gough Whitlam Labor New South Wales
22 Malcolm Fraser Liberal Victoria
23 Bob Hawke Labor Victoria
24 Paul Keating Labor New South Wales
25 John Howard Liberal New South Wales
26 Kevin Rudd Incumbent Labor Queensland

Graphical timeline

Living former Prime Ministers

There are five living former Prime Ministers: Gough Whitlam (1972-75), Malcolm Fraser (1975-83), Bob Hawke (1983-91), Paul Keating (1991-96) and John Howard (1996-2007). Gough Whitlam is the oldest living former Prime Minister, and Paul Keating is the youngest. (As of 22 January 2009, Whitlam has achieved a greater age than any other person who was Prime Minister of Australia.)

The most recently deceased Prime Minister is Sir John Gorton, who died on 19 May 2002.

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.

Seven former Prime Ministers were alive during the periods 18 November 1941 13 July 1945, and 30 July 1947 13 June 1951.

Prime Ministerial Births and Deaths

Seventeen Prime Ministers were born prior to the Federation of Australia, 1 January 1901. The earliest-born Prime Minister was Sir George Reid, born 25 February 1845.

The first person born after Federation to serve as Prime Minister was Harold Holtmarker, born 5 August 1908. (Sir William McMahon, who was a later Prime Minister, was born 23 February 1908, and is the earliest-born of the Prime Ministers born after Federation.)

The first person born after the First World War to serve as Prime Minister was Malcolm Fraser, born 21 May 1930. (Bob Hawke, who succeeded Fraser, was born 9 December 1929, and is the earliest-born of the Prime Ministers born after WWI.)

The first (and currently the only) person born after the Second World War to serve as Prime Minister, is the incumbent, Kevin Rudd, born 21 September 1957.

The only Prime Ministers born during either of the world wars are Gough Whitlam, born 11 July 1916, during WWI, and Paul Keating, born 18 January 1944, during WWII.

The only two pairs of Prime Ministers who were born in the same year are:

Six Prime Ministers were born in the month of September, two more than the next most popular month, August. The six were: John Gorton (9 September), Joseph Lyons (15th), James Scullin (18th), Kevin Rudd (21st), Ben Chifley (22nd) and Billy Hughes (25th). None were born in June, October or November.

The only two Prime Ministers who shared the same birthday are Sir Edmund Barton and Paul Keating both born 18 January (1849 and 1944 respectively).

The only two Prime Ministers who shared the same death day are James Scullin and Frank Forde both died 28 January (1953 and 1983 respectively).

The only two Prime Ministers who were born and died in the same month of the calendar were: Sir Edmund Barton (18 January 1849–7 January 1920), and Sir Arthur Fadden (13 April 1895–21 April 1973).

The only case of a former Prime Minister dying on another Prime Minister's birthday was Sir Earle Page, who died on 20 December 1961, the then-incumbent Sir Robert Menzies' 67th birthday.

Three Prime Ministers died in office Joseph Lyons (1939), John Curtin (1945) and Harold Holt (1967). Holt's was a most unusual case he disappeared while swimming, was declared presumed dead two days later, and his body was never recovered. It was not until almost 38 years later, in 2005, that he was officially declared by the Victorian Coroner to have drowned at the time of his disappearance.

No two former Prime Ministers have died in the same year. The former Prime Minister Stanley Bruce died in August 1967, the same year as the then-incumbent Harold Holt drowned.


The three youngest people when they first became Prime Minister were:
  • Chris Watson 37
  • Stanley Bruce 39
  • Robert Menzies 44.

The three oldest people when they first became Prime Minister were:
  • John McEwen 67
  • William McMahon 63
  • Ben Chifley 59 years 10 months (George Reid was 59 years 6 months).

The three youngest people to last leave the office of Prime Minister were:
  • Chris Watson 37
  • Arthur Fadden 46 years 5 months 22 days
  • 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

Post-Prime Ministerial longevity

Nine ex-Prime Ministers (Bruce, Cook, Fadden, Forde, Fraser, Gorton, Hughes, Watson, and Whitlam) have lived more than 25 years after leaving the office, and all but two of these survived longer than 30 years (Hughes lasted 29 years and 8 months; Fraser has lasted 26 years but is still living).

The longest-surviving was Stanley Bruce, who died 37 years and 10 months after leaving the Prime Ministership. Should Gough Whitlam live till 25 September 2013, he will exceed Bruce's record (he would then be 97 years old).

At the other extreme, excluding the three Prime Ministers who died in office and the most recent ex-incumbent John Howard, all but two ex-Prime Ministers survived more than ten years. The two exceptions were Ben Chifley 1 year 6 months; and Alfred Deakin 9 years 5 months.

See also


  1. Australian Dictionary of Biography: Pearce, Sir George Foster (1870 – 1952)
  2. Prime Minister of Australia official website
  3. of Report on Ministers of State Salaries Additional to the Basic Parliamentary Salary
  4. Rudds' staff extends to a child carer at the Lodge National
  5. Harold Holt has now been formally declared to have drowned on 17 December (his body was never recovered), but his commission as Prime Minister was not officially withdrawn until 19 December as his status at that stage was "presumed dead".

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