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Since Australia has an election tomorrow, we've sent our foreign minister to represent us instead of the prime minister. However, I think the election occurs in the middle of the second day of the summit. What happens if there is a change of government (which seems likely)? Can the new prime minister issue new instructions to the old foreign minister for the second day?

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The selection of the Prime Minister is subject to provision 64 of the Australian Constitution:

  1. The Governor-General may appoint officers to administer such departments of State of the Commonwealth as the Governor-General in Council may establish.

Such officers shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor-General. They shall be members of the Federal Executive Council, and shall be the Queen's Ministers of State for the Commonwealth.

The Prime Minister, as one of the Queen's Ministers of State and a member of the Federal Executive Council, whilest duly elected by the people, is technically appointed by the Queen's representative, the Governor General. While the Governor General will respect the wishes of the people expressed in the election, it is up to him to appoint a minister who will then form a government. Additionally, the election itself will need to ratified by the appropriate authorities, a process which takes several days - official results are not certified as soon as the polls are released.

All of this is a long way of saying, "Just because the telly says Labor has lost, doesn't mean it actually happens immediately." There are procedures to follow, ratifications and certifications to certify, and of course, governments to form. It is unlikely that the process would be complete by the middle of the second day of the summit.

The new "prime minister" as a private citizen, could thus issue any kind of instructions he wants. And indeed, the fact that the election results will be "known" might even influence the "old" foreign minister by appealing to his conscience to abide by the "will of the people," but there would be no legal imperative to do so, until such time as procedures are complete.

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