Elections in Australia

Elections in Australia

Australia elects a legislaturendash the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australiandash using various electoral systems: see Australian electoral system. The Parliament consists of two chambers:
* The House of Representatives has 150 members, elected for a three-year term in proportional single-seat constituencies with a system of alternative vote known as preferential voting.
* The Senate has 76 members, elected through a preferential system of proportional representation 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. In the event of a double dissolution, all Senate and House of Representatives seats are up for election.

Australia has a "de facto" two-party system between the Australian Labor Party and the Coalition of the Liberal Party of Australia, National Party of Australia and Country Liberal Party. It is very difficult for other parties to win representation in the House, let alone form the government. However, minor parties and independent candidates do have reasonable access to the Senate by virtue of its more favourable voting system. In recent decades, several parties besides the ALP and the Coalition have secured significant representation in the Senate, notably the D.L.P (1955-1974); the Australian Democrats (1977-2007); the Greens (WA) (1990-present) [ [http://wa.greens.org.au/parliament/ The Greens (WA)] ] and the Australian Greens (1996-present). Independent and other individual senators have also exercised influence, e.g., Brian Harradine (1975-2005), Family First's Steve Fielding (2004-current), and Nick Xenophon (2007-current); and, variously from 1984, representatives of the Nuclear Disarmament Party and One Nation.

Voting in Australian federal and state elections is compulsory.

Election timing

Although elections for the House of Representatives have usually corresponded to half-elections of the Senate, the rules which determine when the elections occur differ:

* The House of Representatives lasts no more than three years after it first meets, but may be dissolved earlier. After the House is dissolved, the next House must meet within 140 days. The maximum period between elections is therefore 3 years, 140 days, and the minimum approximately a month.

* Senators' terms are of fixed duration (unless a double dissolution occurs), and elections must occur within a year before the term expires.

Where a House is dissolved early, House and Senate elections may be asynchronous until either the House is again dissolved sufficiently early or a double dissolution occurs.

"Caretaker" convention

A series of conventional inactions has evolved covering the conduct of the business of government by ministers, their departments of state, and the Public Service during the "caretaker period" of the election. This period begins after the announcement of the election date, when the Governor General of Australia dissolves the federal parliament on advice from the Prime Minister. It ends after the election result is known and clear, when a newly elected government is sworn into office.

The conventions broadly include:
* Major policy decisions. The Government will cease taking major policy decisions except on urgent matters and then only after formal consultation with the Opposition. The conventions apply to the making of decisions, not to their announcement. Accordingly, the conventions are not infringed where decisions made before dissolution are announced during the caretaker period. However, where possible, decisions would normally be announced ahead of dissolution.
* Significant appointments. The Government will cease making major appointments of public officials, but may make acting or short-term appointments.
* Major contracts or undertakings. The Government will avoid entering major contracts or undertakings during the caretaker period. If it is not possible to defer the commitment until after the caretaker period, for legal, commercial or other reasons, a minister could consult the Opposition, or agencies could deal with the contractor and ensure that contracts include clauses providing for termination in the event of an incoming government not wishing to proceed. Similar provisions cover tendering.
* International negotiations and visits. The Government ordinarily seeks to defer such major international negotiations, or adopts observer status, until the end of the caretaker period.
* Avoiding APS involvement in election activities. The Australian Public Service adopts a neutral stance while continuing to advise the Government. There are several cases, notably the pricing of Opposition election promises, in which the APS conducts an investigation and report for the benefit of the electorate at large.


ee also

* Electoral calendar
* Electoral system
* Australian electoral system
* List of Australian federal by-elections

External links

* [http://psephos.adam-carr.net/countries/a/australia/ Adam Carr's Election Archive]
* [http://pandora.nla.gov.au/subject/6 Archived websites from Australian electoral campaigns since 1996]
* [http://www.dpmc.gov.au/guidelines/caretaker_conventions.cfm Guidance on Caretaker Conventions] ndash Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (Australia)

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