The Cabinet of Australia, also known as the Federal Cabinet, is the chief decision-making body of the Australian government. The cabinet is appointed by the prime minister of Australia and is composed of senior government ministers who head the executive departments and ministries of the federal government. The cabinet is separate to the federal Department of the Prime Ministers and Cabinet.

Cabinet of Australia
Formation1 January 1901; 123 years ago (1901-01-01)
Legal statusBy convention
PurposeChief decision-making body of the Australian Government
Anthony Albanese
23 Cabinet ministers

Ministers are appointed by the governor-general, on the advice of the prime minister, who is the leader of the Cabinet. Cabinet meetings are strictly private and occur once a week where vital issues are discussed and policy formulated. There are several Cabinet committees focused on governance and specific policy issues. Outside the Cabinet there is an outer ministry and also a number of assistant ministers (designated as parliamentary secretaries under the Ministers of State Act 1952),[1] responsible for a specific policy area and reporting directly to a senior Cabinet minister of their portfolio. The Cabinet, the outer ministry, and the assistant ministers collectively form the full Commonwealth ministry of the government of the day.

As with the prime minister of Australia, the Constitution of Australia does not recognise the Cabinet as a legal entity; these roles actually exist solely by convention. Decisions of Cabinet do not in and of themselves have legal force. Instead, it convenes to function as a practical "foreshadowing" of the business of the Federal Executive Council, which is, officially (per the Constitution), Australia's highest formal governmental body established by Chapter II of the Constitution of Australia. In practice, the Federal Executive Council meets solely to endorse and give legal force to decisions already made by the Cabinet.

All members of the Cabinet are members of the Executive Council; whereas the nominal presiding officer, the governor-general, almost never attends Executive Council meetings. A senior member of the Cabinet holds the office of vice-president of the Executive Council and acts as presiding officer of the Executive Council in place of the governor-general.[2]



Until 1956 the Cabinet comprised all ministers. The growth of the ministry in the 1940s and 1950s made this increasingly impractical, and in 1956 Liberal Prime Minister Robert Menzies created a two-tier ministry, with only senior ministers being members of the Cabinet, while the other ministers are in the outer ministry. This practice has been continued by all governments since, with the exception of the Whitlam government.

When the non-Labor parties have been in power, the prime minister has advised the governor-general on all Cabinet and ministerial appointments at his own discretion, although in practice he consults with senior colleagues in making appointments. When the Liberal Party and its predecessors (the Nationalist Party and the United Australia Party) have been in coalition with the National Party (or its predecessor the Country Party), the leader of the junior Coalition party has had the right to nominate his party's members of the Coalition ministry, and to be consulted by the prime minister on the allocation of their portfolios.[citation needed]

When the Labor Party first held office under Chris Watson, Watson assumed the right to choose members of the Cabinet. In 1907, however, the party decided that future Labor Cabinets would be elected by members of the Parliamentary Labor Party, the caucus, and this practice was followed until 2007. The prime minister retained the right to allocate portfolios. In practice, Labor prime ministers exercised a predominant influence over who was elected to Labor Cabinets, although leaders of party factions also exercised considerable influence.[citation needed]

Under two-tier ministerial arrangements introduced in 1987, each senior or "portfolio" minister was a member of the Cabinet. In 1996 this was modified by the Howard government, whereby two portfolio ministers, one being the attorney-general, were not members of Cabinet, and one portfolio had two Cabinet ministers. In subsequent Howard ministries, and the 2007 Rudd Labor ministry, all portfolio ministers were in the Cabinet.[3]

Before the 2007 election, Kevin Rudd announced that if Labor won the election he would dispense with this tradition and appoint the ministry himself. In fact, the caucus rule requiring the election of ministers remains in place. At the first caucus meeting after the election, Rudd announced the members of his chosen ministry, and the caucus then elected them unopposed, thus preserving the outward form of caucus election.[citation needed]



In a parliamentary context, the Cabinet is of little procedural consequence; its relationship to Parliament being similar to the relationship between the ministry as a whole and Parliament. It is fundamentally an administrative mechanism to assist with the decision-making process of the executive government.[3]



Members of both the House of Representatives and Senate are eligible to serve as ministers and parliamentary secretaries. A minister does not have to be a member of either house, but Section 64 of the Constitution of Australia requires the minister to become a member within three months. The prime minister and treasurer are traditionally members of the House of Representatives, but the Constitution does not have such a requirement. As amended in 1987, the Minister of State Act 1952 permits up to 30 ministers. As members of one house cannot speak in the other, ministers in each house serve as representatives of colleagues in the other for answering questions and other procedures.[4]

As of September 2023 every government since federation has had senators serve as ministers. The Senate typically provides one-quarter to one-third of the ministry. Some former senators and others have proposed that senators should not be eligible to serve as ministers, stating that doing so is inappropriate for members of a chamber that act as the states' house and a house of review and because governments are only responsible to the House of Representatives. John Uhr and Senator Baden Teague state that an advantage of senators serving in ministries is that the Senate can compel them to answer questions about the government.[4]

Since the introduction of the two-tier ministry, meetings of Cabinet are attended by members only, although other ministers may attend if an area of their portfolio is on the agenda. Cabinet meetings are chaired by the prime minister, and a senior public servant is present to write the minutes and record decisions.

Since 1942, every member of the Cabinet has been a member of the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party of Australia, or the National Party of Australia.

Cabinet collective responsibility


The Australian Cabinet follows the traditions of the British parliamentary cabinet system, in following the principle of cabinet collective responsibility. While the Cabinet is responsible to parliament for making policy decisions, Cabinet discussions are confidential and are not disclosed to the public apart from the announcement of decisions. This secrecy is necessary to ensure that items of national security are not made public, and so that ministers can speak freely and disagree with each other during discussions.[5]

Ministers are bound by a principle of cabinet solidarity, meaning that once cabinet has made a decision, all ministers must publicly support and defend that decision, regardless of their personal views on the subject.[6]

Cabinet documents are held separately from other documents and may be destroyed once no longer in use, or when a change of government occurs.[7] Since 1986, minutes and records of Cabinet meetings are embargoed from public release or disclosure for 30 years.[8] Despite this, several filing cabinets containing classified documents were obtained by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation after they were sold at a government surplus auction. The documents, aspects of which were published in January 2018, reveal the inner workings of recent governments, and have been characterized by the ABC as the largest breach of cabinet security in the nation's history.[9]

Cabinet committees


As with other Westminster system cabinets, Cabinet committees play an important role in the effectiveness of the Cabinet system and providing avenues for collective decision-making on particular policy issues. As of 2024, the Cabinet committees are:[10]

The National Security Committee (NSC) focuses on major international security issues of strategic importance to Australia, border protection policy, national responses to developing situations (either domestic or international) and classified matters relating to aspects of operation and activities of the Australian Intelligence Community. Decisions of the NSC do not require the endorsement of the Cabinet. The NSC is chaired by the prime minister with the deputy prime minister as deputy chair and includes the attorney-general, the minister for foreign affairs, the minister for defence, the treasurer, the minister for immigration and border protection, and the Cabinet secretary.

The Expenditure Review Committee (ERC) considers matters of regarding expenditure and revenue of the Australian federal budget and the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. Decisions of the ERC must be endorsed by the Cabinet. The ERC is chaired by the prime minister with the treasurer as deputy chair and includes the deputy prime minister, the minister for social services, the minister for health, the minister for finance, and the minister for revenue and financial services.

The Parliamentary Business Committee (PBC) considers priorities for the Australian government's legislation program and requests to the prime minister for the presentation of ministerial statements. Decisions of the PBC do not require the endorsement of the Cabinet. The PBC is chaired by the leader of the house with the leader of the government in the Senate as deputy chair and includes manager of government business in the senate, the deputy leader of the house, and the assistant minister to the prime minister.

The other committees are the Government Communications Subcommittee, the National Security Investment Subcommittee, the Net Zero Economy Committee and the Priority and Delivery Committee.[11]

Current Cabinet

Party Faction[12][13] Minister Portrait Portfolio
  Labor Left Hon Anthony Albanese
(born 1963)

MP for Grayndler

  Right Hon Richard Marles
(born 1967)

MP for Corio

  Left Hon Penny Wong
(born 1968)

Senator for South Australia

  Right Hon Dr Jim Chalmers
(born 1978)

MP for Rankin

  Left Hon Katy Gallagher
(born 1970)

Senator for Australian Capital Territory

  Right Hon Don Farrell
(born 1954)

Senator for South Australia

  Hon Tony Burke
(born 1969)

MP for Watson

  Left Hon Mark Butler
(born 1970)

MP for Hindmarsh

  Right Hon Chris Bowen
(born 1973)

MP for McMahon

  Left Hon Tanya Plibersek
(born 1969)

MP for Sydney

  Hon Catherine King
(born 1966)

MP for Ballarat

  Right Hon Amanda Rishworth
(born 1978)

MP for Kingston

  Hon Bill Shorten
(born 1967)

MP for Maribyrnong

  Left Hon Linda Burney
(born 1957)

MP for Barton

  Right Hon Mark Dreyfus KC
(born 1956)

MP for Isaacs

  Left Hon Brendan O'Connor
(born 1962)

MP for Gorton

  Right Hon Jason Clare
(born 1972)

MP for Blaxland

  Left Hon Julie Collins
(born 1971)

MP for Franklin

  Right Hon Michelle Rowland
(born 1971)

MP for Greenway

  Hon Madeleine King
(born 1973)

MP for Brand

  Left Hon Murray Watt
(born 1973)

Senator for Queensland

  Right Hon Ed Husic
(born 1970)

MP for Chifley

  Hon Clare O'Neil
(born 1980)

MP for Hotham


Shadow cabinet


Led by the leader of the Opposition, the Opposition in parliament appoints from its ranks a shadow cabinet to monitor government ministers and present itself as an alternative government. The portfolios of shadow ministers usually correspond with those of the government. When the Liberal and National parties are in Opposition, the shadow cabinet is appointed by the leader of the Opposition in consultation with the leader of the Nationals. When Labor has been in Opposition, the caucus has elected the shadow ministry and the leader has allocated portfolios. Smaller opposition parties often appoint spokespersons for Cabinet portfolios, but these are not referred to as a shadow cabinet.

See also



  1. ^ "Current Ministry List – Parliament of Australia". Home – Parliament of Australia. 24 August 2018. Retrieved 9 May 2020.
  2. ^ "Federal Executive Council Handbook" (PDF). Government of Australia. June 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 July 2007. Retrieved 7 July 2007.
  3. ^ a b "Cabinet – Parliament of Australia". Home – Parliament of Australia. 21 August 2018. Retrieved 9 May 2020.
  4. ^ a b "No. 14 – Ministers in the Senate". Senate Briefs. Parliament of Australia. December 2016.
  5. ^ FAQ: Executive Government – The Cabinet Archived 26 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Parliamentary Education Office.
  6. ^ Australia's system of government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
  7. ^ Cabinet Handbook, 5th Edition Archived 28 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine, p32, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
  8. ^ Introduction to the Cabinet and its records Archived 5 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine, National Archives of Australia.
  9. ^ "The Cabinet Files reveal national security breaches, NBN negotiations, welfare reform plans". Australian Broadcast Corporation. 31 January 2018. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  10. ^ Australian Government Directory [1] Archived 16 January 2017 at the Wayback Machine Cabinet Committees
  11. ^ "Cabinet Committees". Directory. Australian Government. 19 November 2021.
  12. ^ James Massola (14 February 2021). "What are Labor's factions and who's who in the Left and Right?". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 7 June 2022.
  13. ^ Katharine Murphy (31 May 2022). "Anthony Albanese's ministry contains more surprises than expected following a factional kerfuffle". Guardian Australia. Retrieved 7 June 2022.