Politics of Australia

Politics of Australia

The Politics of Australia take place within the framework of parliamentary democracy. Australia is a federation and a constitutional monarchy, and Australians elect state and territory legislatures based on the Westminster tradition, as well as a bicameral Parliament of Australia, which is a hybrid of Westminster practices with the uniquely federalist element of the Australian Senate.

The legislative branch

At the national level, elections are held at least once every three years. The Prime Minister can advise the Governor-General to call an election for the House of Representatives at any time, but Senate elections can only be held within certain periods prescribed in the Constitution. The last general election was in November 2007. The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia consists of two chambers:

*The House of Representatives has 150 members, elected for a three year term in single-seat constituencies with a system of alternative vote known as full preferential voting.
*The Senate has 76 members, elected through a preferential system in 12-seat state constituencies and two-seat territorial constituencies with a system of single transferable vote. Electors choose territorial senators for a three-year term. The state senators serve for a six-year term, with half of the seats renewed every three years.

The voting system for the Senate underwent a significant change in 1948. Prior to that date Senate elections were conducted using a 'first past the post' voting arrangement. This could result in landslide victories to one political party under relatively small changes in the popular vote, as well as periodically resulting in a Senate with a large majority of opposition Senators. The change to a preferential system of voting has resulted in the numbers of Senators from each party more closely reflecting the numbers of votes the party list received, and a more balanced composition of the chamber. For most of the last quarter of a century, a balance of power situation has existed, whereby neither government nor opposition has controlled the Senate, with governments needing to seek the support of minor parties or independents to secure their legislative agenda.

The relative ease with which minor parties can secure representation in the Senate compared to the House of Representatives has meant that such parties have focussed their efforts on securing upper house representation, both at the national and state level (the two territories are unicameral). They have usually been unable to win seats in the House of Representatives (the Greens won a House seat at the 2002 Cunningham by-election, but lost it in the 2004 general election). Minor parties do however affect lower house politics through their recommendations to voters regarding which party should receive voters' preferences, a strategy regarded as decisive in the outcome of the 1990 federal election. [Timothy Doyle and Aynsley Kellow, "Environmental Politics and Policy Making in Australia", Macmillan, Melbourne, 1995, pp 130-131] A focus on the upper house has moulded the platforms and politics of minor parties, for which an upper house brokering role is the best opportunity to affect legislative outcomes. The demands placed on parties by this role can cause internal tensions within, and external pressure on, these parties, demonstrated by the splits within, and political decline of, the Australian Democrats.

Because legislation must pass both houses in order to become law, it is possible for there to be disagreements between the houses that can stymie government bills. Such deadlocks are resolved under section 57 of the Constitution, under a procedure called a double dissolution election. Such elections are rare, not because the conditions for holding them are seldom met, but because they can pose a significant political risk to the government that calls them. Of the six double dissolution elections held since federation, half have resulted in the fall of the government that called them. Only once (in 1974) has the full procedure for resolving a deadlock been followed, with a joint sitting of the two houses being held after the election to deliberate upon the bills that originally led to the deadlock.

The executive branch

Reflecting the influence of the Westminster tradition of British government, Australian government Crown ministers are drawn from amongst the elected members of parliament. [Section 64 of the Australian Constitution. Strictly speaking, they may be drawn from outside, but cannot remain a minister unless they within three months become a member of one of the houses of parliament.] The government is formed by the party or parties that have the confidence of the majority of members of the House of Representatives. In practice, this has equated to the party or coalition of parties that holds a majority of seats in that chamber.

By convention, the Prime Minister is always a member of the House of Representatives. On the only occasion that a Senator was made Prime Minister (John Gorton in 1968), Gorton immediately resigned and contested a seat in the House of Representatives.

The same high degree of discipline that characterises Australian party politics extends to the executive, where all ministers individually defend collective government decisions, and individual ministers who cannot undertake the public defence of government actions are generally expected to resign from the ministry. Such resignations are even less common than breaches of cabinet solidarity. The rarity of public disclosure of splits within cabinet reflects the seriousness with which internal party division is regarded in Australian politics.

Political parties and Australian politics

The role of parties in Australian politics

thumb|left|Political parties in government since 1945.">legend|#DCDCDC|No governmentOrganised, national political parties have dominated Australia's political environment and parliament since federation. Politics since 1900 can be characterised by the rapid and early rise of a party representing organised, non-revolutionary workersndash the Australian Labor Partyndash and the coalescing of non-Labor political interests into two parties: a centre-right party that has been predominantly socially conservative and with a base in business and the middle class (now the Liberal Party of Australia); and a rural or agrarian conservative party (now the National Party of Australia) (see following sections for more detail). While there are a small number of other political parties that have achieved parliamentary representation, these three parties dominate organised politics in all Australian jurisdictions, and only on rare (and generally short-lived) occasions have any other parties or independents played a role in the formation or maintenance of governments.

Whether Australia's political system should be characterised as a 'two-party system' is a matter of debate, and can be said to vary to some degree from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Of Australia's three main parties, two (Liberal and National) are in long-standing coalition at the national levelndash however they are not always in coalition at the state level, and the Liberal Party is not always the senior partner (the National Party predominates in the state of Queensland). However, as the National Party only ever considers a coalition or similar arrangement with one of the other two parties (ie. Liberal), [Dean Jaensch, "Power Politics: Australia's Party System", Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1994, p. 11.] the system might be regarded as a two-party one in terms of choices of government, even though voters in some electorates may have a choice between three candidates with realistic chances of being elected to office.

Despite the entrenched role of formal parties in Australian politics, they are 'almost totally extra-legal and extra-constitutional'. [Dean Jaensch, "Power Politics: Australia's Party System", Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1994, p. 2.] In contrast to some other countries, such as the United States, Australian political parties and their internal operations are relatively unregulated. There is however a system of party registration through the Australian Electoral Commission and its state and territory equivalents, including reporting of some aspects of party activities, principally the receipt of major donations.

Political parties in Australia today

Major parties:
*The Australian Labor Party (ALP) is a social democratic party founded by the Australian labour movement and broadly represents the urban working class, although it increasingly has a base of middle class support. The Australian Labor Party currently governs.
*The Liberal Party is a party of the centre-right which broadly represents business, the suburban middle classes and many rural people. Its junior coalition partner is the National Party of Australia, formerly the Country Party and now known for electoral purposes as "The Nationals", a conservative party which represents rural interests. Their NT counterpart is the Country Liberal Party. They are collectively known as the Liberal/National coalition.

Minor parties include:
*The Australian Greens a green and socially progressive party
*The Family First Party, a socially conservative party

The list of political parties in Australia comprises the names and federal leaders of significant political parties as well as the names of other parties, including formerly significant parties.

The History of Australia's political parties

Australian politics operates as a "de facto" two-party system. Unlike in the United States, however, internal party discipline is extremely tight. Australia's system was not always a two-party system, however, nor was it always as internally stable as in recent decades.

Contemporary Australian national politics

The Australian Labor Party came to power in the November 2007 election, ending John Howard's 11 years in office as Prime Minister and head of Liberal/National coalition government. The Labor Party now holds a majority in the House of Representatives. The Senate, however, reverted to its prior state, with the balance of power being held by minor parties.

"More info: Australian federal election, 2007"

Administrative divisions

In the states and territories, elections are held at least once every four years (except in Queensland, which has three-year terms). In New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, election dates are fixed by legislation. However, the other state premiers and territory Chief Ministers have the same discretion in calling elections as the Prime Minister at the national level. (See "Main articles: Australian electoral system, Electoral systems of the Australian states and territories").

Regional or local government within each state is handled by Local Government Areas and unlike other equivalent forms of local government, they have relatively little power compared to the state governments (See "Main article: Local government in Australia").

ee also

*List of Australian ministers
*Politics of Australia and Canada compared
*Politics of Australia and New Zealand compared
*Canberra Press Gallery
*Political donations in Australia
*Political families of Australia



*Department of the Senate, 'Electing Australia’s Senators', [http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/pubs/briefs/brief01.htm "Senate Briefs" No. 1] , 2006, retrieved July 2007
*Rodney Smith, "Australian Political Culture", Longman, Frenchs Forest NSW, 2001.

Australian politics blogs, opinion pages and news sites

* [http://www.myperspective.org.au/ My Perspective] Australia's most comprehensive political discussion site. Featuring articles, political information, a forum and much more.
* [http://www.australianpolitics.com/ Australianpolitics.com] News, reference articles, and many other resources, maintained by teacher Malcolm Farnsworth
* [http://www.ozpolitics.info/ ozpolitics] Australian politics information, blog and feed site, unknown originator
* [http://elections.uwa.edu.au/ Australian Government and Politics Database] maintained by Campbell Sharman of University of Western Australia
* [http://www.anu.edu.au/polsci/austpol/aust/aust.html Australian National University Politics site] Australian politics links, maintained by Rick Kuhn, ANU

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