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Politics Explainer: Legislature, Executive, Judiciary

If you've at least surpassed primary school education in Australia (hopefully you have), you will have heard of the term "separation of powers." Does that ring any faint, dusty bells of Year 6 days past? In this explainer, we'll brush off the cobwebs and make sure that you have a clear understanding of what exactly the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary are. Now you can at least pretend you paid attention in Year 6. 


 Visual courtesy of Sabena Bhadri

What is the separation of powers?


In the Australian Constitution (the long, big list of rules about how Australian laws and government function), the power to make and manage federal law is separated into three - i.e. the Constitution tells us that three different groups have distinct, separated roles in creating/enforcing national law. This makes sure that no one group ever has complete power over all law (because that's when societies start to creep into dictatorship territory). Each of the three groups also supervise each other, to make sure that they're doing the right thing. 


 The three groups supervising each other to make sure they're doing the right thing


These three groups are: the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary. 


You should at least memorise the three names. Seriously. This is like, basic stuff.



The Legislature, also known as Parliament, makes and changes the federal (national) law; i.e. they're the people making the law in the first place. 


As you can probably guess, the legislature is made up of the Parliament (the House of Reps + the Senate), and the Queen (who is represented by the Governor-General). 





The Executive executes the law. Simply put, this means that they actually put the law into action, by running the day-to-day government and administration of the country. For that reason, the Executive is also confusingly called the Government, while the Legislature is called the Parliament. 



The Executive is made up of the ministers (including the Cabinet - read our explainer on that here), the PM, the Governor-General, and all the various different government departments and ministries.





The Judiciary is probably the easiest to understand. It makes judgements about the law - i.e. it makes decisions about people who may or may not have broken the law in heaps of different circumstances. 


It's made up of the High Court and all the other federal courts. 

Ok, but what's with the Legislature and the Executive?


The relationship and difference between the Legislature and the Executive is confusing. Mostly because they're not very different at all. 



There's a huge amount of overlap between the two. Firstly, the ministers and Cabinet (for example, the Minister of Education) are all Members of Parliament themselves (the Minister of Education sits in the House of Reps). Same with the PM (who also sits in the House of Reps). So, a large part of the Executive also belong to the Legislature. The Governor-General also technically "heads" both of them - although most of the time, they act on the advice of the PM and ministers. 


The biggest distinction is that the Legislature strictly "makes" laws, while the Executive "enforces/executes/enacts" laws. That's why the Executive also includes all of those little government departments (e.g. Department of Education and Training) which do the day-to-day runnings of the country.


And that wraps up this week's Get With It explainer! Come back next week for your five minutes' worth of education. 


  • https://australianpolitics.com/executive/overview

  • https://www.peo.gov.au/learning/fact-sheets/separation-of-powers.html

  • https://boilingfrog.com.au/separation-powers-rule-law-australian-constitution/

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