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Politics of Australia facts for kids

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See also: Government of Australia
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The politics of Australia takes place within the framework of a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy. Australians elect parliamentarians to the federal Parliament of Australia, a bicameral body which incorporates elements of the fused executive inherited from the Westminster system, and a strong federalist senate, adopted from the United States Congress. Australia largely operates as a two-party system in which voting is compulsory.

Executive

Government House Canberra
Government House, Canberra, also known as "Yarralumla", is the official residence of the Governor-General.

The role of head of state in Australia is divided between two people: the monarch of Australia and the Governor-General of Australia. The functions and roles of the Governor-General include appointing ambassadors, ministers, and judges, giving Royal Assent to legislation (also a role of the monarch), issuing writs for elections and bestowing honours. The Governor-General is the President of the Federal Executive Council and Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Defence Force. These posts are held under the authority of the Australian Constitution. In practice, barring exceptional circumstances, the Governor-General exercises these powers only on the advice of the Prime-Minister. As such, the role of Governor-General is often described as a largely ceremonial position.

The Prime Minister of Australia is Malcolm Turnbull, leader of the Cabinet and head of government, holding office on commission from the Governor-General of Australia. The office of Prime Minister is, in practice, the most powerful political office in Australia. Despite being at the apex of executive government in the country, the office is not mentioned in the Constitution of Australia specifically and exists through an unwritten political convention. Barring exceptional circumstances, the prime minister is always the leader of the political party or coalition with majority support in the House of Representatives. The only case where a senator was appointed prime minister was that of John Gorton, who subsequently resigned his Senate position and was elected as a member of the House of Representatives (Senator George Pearce was acting prime minister for seven months in 1916 while Billy Hughes was overseas).

The Cabinet of Australia is the council of senior ministers responsible to Parliament. The Cabinet is appointed by the Governor-General, on the advice of the Prime Minister and serves at the former's pleasure. The strictly private Cabinet meetings occur once a week to discuss vital issues and formulate policy. Outside of the cabinet there are a number of junior ministers, responsible for a specific policy area and reporting directly to any senior Cabinet minister. The Constitution of Australia does not recognise the Cabinet as a legal entity, and its decisions have no legal force. All members of the ministry are also members of the Executive Council, a body which is – in theory, though rarely in practice – chaired by the Governor-General, and which meets solely to endorse and give legal force to decisions already made by the Cabinet. For this reason, there is always a member of the ministry holding the title Vice-President of the Executive Council.

Reflecting the influence of the Westminster system, ministers are selected from elected members of Parliament. All ministers are expected individually to defend collective government decisions. Individual ministers who cannot undertake the public defence of government actions are generally expected to resign. Such resignations are rare; and the rarity also of public disclosure of splits within cabinet reflects the seriousness with which internal party loyalty is regarded in Australian politics.

Elections

Julia Gillard August 2011
Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia from 2010–2013 and the first female Prime Minister of the country.

At a 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 Australian Constitution. The most recent Australian federal election took place on 2 July 2016.

The House of Representatives is elected using the Australian instant-runoff voting system, which results in the preferences which flow from minor party voters to the two major parties being significant in electoral outcomes. The Senate is elected using the single transferable voting system, which has resulted in a greater presence of minor parties in the Senate. For most of the last thirty years a balance of power has existed, whereby neither government nor opposition has had overall control of the Senate. This limitation to its power, has required governments to frequently seek the support of minor parties or independents to secure their legislative agenda. The ease with which minor parties can secure representation in the Senate compared to the House of Representatives has meant that these parties have often focused their efforts on securing representation in the upper house. This is true also at state level (only the two territories and Queensland are unicameral). Minor parties have only rarely been able to win seats in the House of Representatives.

Ideology in Australian politics

RobertMenzies
Sir Robert Menzies of the Liberal party, Australia's longest-serving Prime Minister
See also: Conservatism in Australia

In Australian political culture, the Coalition is considered centre-right and the Labor Party is considered centre-left. Australian conservatism is largely represented by the Coalition, along with Australian liberalism. The Labor Party categorises itself as social democratic, although it has pursued a liberal economic policy since the prime ministership of Bob Hawke.

Queensland, in particular, along with Western Australia and the Northern Territory, are regarded as comparatively conservative. Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, and the Australian Capital Territory are regarded as comparatively left of centre. New South Wales has often been regarded as a politically moderate bellwether state.

Since the 2007 elections, the voting patterns of the Australian electorate have shifted. There is more volatility in the Australian electorate than ever before. More Australian voters are swinging between the two major parties or are voting for third parties, with one in four Australians voting for a minor party.

Political parties

Organised, national political parties have dominated Australia's political landscape since federation. The late 19th century saw the rise of the Australian Labor Party, which represented organised workers. Opposing interests coalesced into two main parties: a centre-right party with a base in business and the middle classes that has been predominantly socially conservative, now the Liberal Party of Australia; and a rural or agrarian conservative party, now the National Party of Australia. While there are a small number of other political parties that have achieved parliamentary representation, these main three dominate organised politics everywhere in Australia and only on rare occasions have any other parties or independent members of parliament played any role at all in the formation or maintenance of governments.

Australian politics operates as a two-party system, as a result of the permanent coalition between the Liberal Party and National Party. Internal party discipline has historically been tight, unlike the situation in other countries such as the United States. Australia's political system has not always been a two-party system, but nor has it always been as internally stable as in recent decades.

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) is a self-described social democratic party which has in recent decades pursued a liberal economic program. It was founded by the Australian labour movement and broadly represents the urban working class, although it increasingly has a base of sympathetic middle class support as well.

The Liberal Party of Australia is a party of the centre-right which broadly represents business, the suburban middle classes and many rural people. Its permanent coalition partner at national level is the National Party of Australia, formerly known as the Country Party, a conservative party which represents rural interests. These two parties are collectively known as the Coalition. In Queensland, and more recently in NSW, the two parties have officially merged to form the Liberal National Party, and in the Northern Territory, the National Party is known as the Country Liberal Party.

Minor parties in Australian politics include a green party, the Australian Greens, the largest of the minor parties; a centrist party, Nick Xenophon Team; a nationalist party, Pauline Hanson's One Nation; and an anti-privatisation party, Katter's Australian Party. Other significant parties in recent years have included the Palmer United Party, the socially conservative Family First Party, and the socially liberal Australian Democrats, among others.

Timeline

Since federation, there have been 29 Prime Ministers of Australia. The longest-serving Prime Minister was Sir Robert Menzies of the Liberal Party, who served for 19 years from 1939–41, and again from 1949–66. The only other Prime Minister to serve for longer than a decade was John Howard, also of the Liberal Party, who led for more than 11 years from 1996–2007. The Coalition and its direct predecessors have governed at the federal level for a large majority of Australia's history since federation: 30,548 days as compared to Labor's 12,252 days.

Prime ministers' parties by time in office



House of Representatives primary, two-party and seat results

A two-party system has existed in the Australian House of Representatives since the two non-Labor parties merged in 1909. The 1910 election was the first to elect a majority government, with the Australian Labor Party concurrently winning the first Senate majority. Prior to 1909 a three-party system existed in the chamber. A two-party-preferred vote (2PP) has been calculated since the 1919 change from first-past-the-post to preferential voting and subsequent introduction of the Coalition. ALP = Australian Labor Party, L+NP = grouping of Liberal/National/LNP/CLP Coalition parties (and predecessors), Oth = other parties and independents.

House of Representatives results and polling
Election
Year
Labour Free Trade Protectionist Independent Other
parties
Total
seats
1st 1901 14 28 31 2   75
Election
Year
Labour Free Trade Protectionist Independent Other
parties
Total
seats
2nd 1903 23 25 26   1 Revenue Tariff 75
Election
Year
Labour Anti-Socialist Protectionist Independent Other
parties
Total
seats
3rd 1906 26 27 16 1 1 Western Australian 75
Primary vote 2PP vote Seats
ALP L+NP Oth. ALP L+NP ALP L+NP Oth. Total
13 April 1910 election 50.0% 45.1% 4.9% 42 31 2 75
31 May 1913 election 48.5% 48.9% 2.6% 37 38 0 75
5 September 1914 election 50.9% 47.2% 1.9% 42 32 1 75
5 May 1917 election 43.9% 54.2% 1.9% 22 53 0 75
13 December 1919 election 42.5% 54.3% 3.2% 45.9% 54.1% 25 38 2 75
16 December 1922 election 42.3% 47.8% 9.9% 48.8% 51.2% 29 40 6 75
14 November 1925 election 45.0% 53.2% 1.8% 46.2% 53.8% 23 50 2 75
17 November 1928 election 44.6% 49.6% 5.8% 48.4% 51.6% 31 42 2 75
12 October 1929 election 48.8% 44.2% 7.0% 56.7% 43.3% 46 24 5 75
19 December 1931 election 27.1% 48.4% 24.5% 41.5% 58.5% 14 50 11 75
15 September 1934 election 26.8% 45.6% 27.6% 46.5% 53.5% 18 42 14 74
23 October 1937 election 43.2% 49.3% 7.5% 49.4% 50.6% 29 44 2 74
21 September 1940 election 40.2% 43.9% 15.9% 50.3% 49.7% 32 36 6 74
21 August 1943 election 49.9% 23.0% 27.1% 58.2% 41.8% 49 19 6 74
28 September 1946 election 49.7% 39.3% 11.0% 54.1% 45.9% 43 26 5 74
10 December 1949 election 46.0% 50.3% 3.7% 49.0% 51.0% 47 74 0 121
28 April 1951 election 47.6% 50.3% 2.1% 49.3% 50.7% 52 69 0 121
29 May 1954 election 50.0% 46.8% 3.2% 50.7% 49.3% 57 64 0 121
10 December 1955 election 44.6% 47.6% 7.8% 45.8% 54.2% 47 75 0 122
22 November 1958 election 42.8% 46.6% 10.6% 45.9% 54.1% 45 77 0 122
9 December 1961 election 47.9% 42.1% 10.0% 50.5% 49.5% 60 62 0 122
30 November 1963 election 45.5% 46.0% 8.5% 47.4% 52.6% 50 72 0 122
26 November 1966 election 40.0% 50.0% 10.0% 43.1% 56.9% 41 82 1 124
25 October 1969 election 47.0% 43.3% 9.7% 50.2% 49.8% 59 66 0 125
2 December 1972 election 49.6% 41.5% 8.9% 52.7% 47.3% 67 58 0 125
18 May 1974 election 49.3% 44.9% 5.8% 51.7% 48.3% 66 61 0 127
13 December 1975 election 42.8% 53.1% 4.1% 44.3% 55.7% 36 91 0 127
10 December 1977 election 39.7% 48.1% 12.2% 45.4% 54.6% 38 86 0 124
18 October 1980 election 45.2% 46.3% 8.5% 49.6% 50.4% 51 74 0 125
5 March 1983 election 49.5% 43.6% 6.9% 53.2% 46.8% 75 50 0 125
1 December 1984 election 47.6% 45.0% 7.4% 51.8% 48.2% 82 66 0 148
11 July 1987 election 45.8% 46.1% 8.1% 50.8% 49.2% 86 62 0 148
24 March 1990 election 39.4% 43.5% 17.1% 49.9% 50.1% 78 69 1 148
11 Mar 1993 Newspoll 44% 45% 11% 49.5% 50.5%
13 March 1993 election 44.9% 44.3% 10.7% 51.4% 48.6% 80 65 2 147
28–29 Feb 1996 Newspoll 40.5% 48% 11.5% 46.5% 53.5%
2 March 1996 election 38.7% 47.3% 14.0% 46.4% 53.6% 49 94 5 148
30 Sep – 1 Oct 1998 Newspoll 44% 40% 16% 53% 47%
3 October 1998 election 40.1% 39.5% 20.4% 51.0% 49.0% 67 80 1 148
7–8 Nov 2001 Newspoll 38.5% 46% 15.5% 47% 53%
10 November 2001 election 37.8% 43.0% 19.2% 49.0% 51.0% 65 82 3 150
6–7 Oct 2004 Newspoll 39% 45% 16% 50% 50%
9 October 2004 election 37.6% 46.7% 15.7% 47.3% 52.7% 60 87 3 150
20–22 Nov 2007 Newspoll 44% 43% 13% 52% 48%
24 November 2007 election 43.4% 42.1% 14.5% 52.7% 47.3% 83 65 2 150
17–19 Aug 2010 Newspoll 36.2% 43.4% 20.4% 50.2% 49.8%
21 August 2010 election 38.0% 43.3% 18.7% 50.1% 49.9% 72 72 6 150
3–5 Sep 2013 Newspoll 33% 46% 21% 46% 54%
7 September 2013 election 33.4% 45.6% 21.0% 46.5% 53.5% 55 90 5 150
28 Jun – 1 Jul 2016 Newspoll 35% 42% 23% 49.5% 50.5%
2 July 2016 election 34.7% 42.0% 23.3% 49.6% 50.4% 69 76 5 150
Polling conducted by Newspoll and published in The Australian. Three percent margin of error.

Historical party composition of the Senate

The Senate has included representatives from a range of political parties, including several parties that have seldom or never had representation in the House of Representatives, but which have consistently secured a small but significant level of electoral support, as the table shows.

Results represent the composition of the Senate after the elections. The full Senate has been contested on eight occasions; the inaugural election and seven double dissolutions. These are underlined and highlighted in puce.

Election
Year
Labor Liberal National Democratic
Labor
Democrats Greens CLP Independent Other
parties
Total
seats
Electoral
system
1st 1901 8 11 17               36 Plurality-at-large voting
2nd 1903 8 12 14           1 1 Revenue Tariff 36 Plurality-at-large voting
3rd 1906 15 6 13           2   36 Plurality-at-large voting
4th 1910 22 14               36 Plurality-at-large voting
5th 1913 29 7               36 Plurality-at-large voting
6th 1914 31 5               36 Plurality-at-large voting
7th 1917 12 24               36 Plurality-at-large voting
8th 1919 1 35               36 Preferential block voting
9th 1922 12 24               36 Preferential block voting
10th 1925 8 25 3             36 Preferential block voting
11th 1928 7 24 5             36 Preferential block voting
12th 1931 10 21 5             36 Preferential block voting
13th 1934 3 26 7             36 Preferential block voting
14th 1937 16 16 4             36 Preferential block voting
15th 1940 17 15 4             36 Preferential block voting
16th 1943 22 12 2             36 Preferential block voting
17th 1946 33 2 1             36 Preferential block voting
18th 1949 34 21 5             60 Single transferable vote
19th 1951 28 26 6             60 Single transferable vote
20th 1953 29 26 5             60 Single transferable vote
21st 1955 28 24 6 2           60 Single transferable vote
22nd 1958 26 25 7 2           60 Single transferable vote
23rd 1961 28 24 6 1       1   60 Single transferable vote
24th 1964 27 23 7 2       1   60 Single transferable vote
25th 1967 27 21 7 4       1   60 Single transferable vote
26th 1970 26 21 5 5       3   60 Single transferable vote
27th 1974 29 23 6         1 1 Liberal Movement 60 Single transferable vote
28th 1975 27 26 6       1 1 1 Liberal Movement 64 Single transferable vote
29th 1977 27 27 6   2   1 1   64 Single transferable vote
30th 1980 27 28 3   5   1 1   64 Single transferable vote
31st 1983 30 23 4   5   1 1   64 Single transferable vote
32nd 1984 34 27 5   7   1 1 1 Nuclear Disarmament 76 Single transferable vote (Group voting ticket)
33rd 1987 32 26 7   7   1 2 1 Nuclear Disarmament 76 Single transferable vote (Group voting ticket)
34th 1990 32 28 5   8   1 1 1 Greens (WA) 76 Single transferable vote (Group voting ticket)
35th 1993 30 29 6   7   1 1 2 Greens (WA) (2) 76 Single transferable vote (Group voting ticket)
36th 1996 29 31 5   7   1 1 2 Greens (WA), Greens (Tas) 76 Single transferable vote (Group voting ticket)
37th 1998 29 31 3   9 1 1 1 1 One Nation 76 Single transferable vote (Group voting ticket)
38th 2001 28 31 3   8 2 1 2 1 One Nation 76 Single transferable vote (Group voting ticket)
39th 2004 28 33 5   4 4 1   1 Family First 76 Single transferable vote (Group voting ticket)
40th 2007 32 32 4     5 1 1 1 Family First 76 Single transferable vote (Group voting ticket)
41st 2010 31 28 + (3 LNP) 2 1   9 1 1   76 Single transferable vote (Group voting ticket)
42nd 2013 25 23 + (5 LNP) 3 + (1 LNP) 1   10 1 1 6 Family First,
Liberal Democrats,
Motoring Enthusiasts,
Palmer United (3)
76 Single transferable vote (Group voting ticket)
43rd 2016 26 21 + (3 LNP) 3 + (2 LNP)   9 1 11 Family First,
Liberal Democrats,
Jacqui Lambie,
Justice Party,
Nick Xenophon Team (3),
One Nation (4)
76 Single transferable vote (Optional preferential voting)

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