Politics of Australia

Table of contents
1 Government
2 Political Conditions
3 Political Data
4 Institutions
5 Reference

Government

The Commonwealth government was created with a constitution patterned partly on the United States Constitution. The powers of the Commonwealth are specifically defined in the constitution, and the residual powers remain with the states. (See Australian Constitutional History.)

Australia is an independent nation within the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II is the sovereign and since 1973 has been officially styled "Queen of Australia." The Queen is represented throughout Australia by a governor general and in each state by a governor.

The federal Parliament is bicameral, consisting of a 76-member Senate and a 150-member House of Representatives. Twelve senators from each state and two from each territory are elected for 6-year terms using a single transferable vote system, with half elected every 3 years. The members of the House of Representatives are allocated among the states and territories roughly in proportion to population. In ordinary legislation, the two chambers have coordinate powers, but all proposals for appropriating revenue or imposing taxes must be introduced in the House of Representatives. Under the prevailing Westminster parliamentary system, the leader of the political party or coalition of parties that wins a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives is named prime minister. The prime minister and the cabinet wield actual power and are responsible to the Parliament, of which they must be elected members. General elections are held at least once every 3 years; the last general election was in November 2001.

Each state is headed by a premier, who is the leader of the party with a majority or a working minority in the lower house of the state legislature. Australia also has two self-governing territories, the Australian Capital Territory (where Canberra is located) and the Northern Territory, with political systems similar to those of the states.

At the apex of the court system is the High Court of Australia. It has general appellate jurisdiction over all other federal and state courts and possesses the power of constitutional review.

Political Conditions

Three political parties dominate the center of the Australian political spectrum: the Liberal Party (LP), nominally representing urban business-related groups; the National Party (NP), nominally representing rural interests; and the Australian Labor Party (ALP), nominally representing the trade unions and liberal groups. Although embracing some leftists, the ALP traditionally has been moderately socialist in its policies and approaches to social issues. All political groups are tied by tradition to domestic welfare policies, which have kept Australia somewhere near the forefront of societies offering extensive social welfare programs. Australia's social welfare safety net has been reduced in recent years, however, in response to budgetary pressures and a changing political outlook. There is strong bipartisan sentiment on many international issues.

The Liberal Party/National Party coalition came to power in the March 1996 election, ending 13 years of ALP government and electing John Howard as Prime Minister. Re-elected in October 1998 and November 2001, the coalition now holds 82 seats (69 Liberal/13 National) in the House of Representatives, against 65 for the ALP and 3 independents. In the Senate, the Liberal/National coalition holds 35 seats, against 28 for the ALP, 8 for the Australian Democrats, 2 for the Greens, 1 for One Nation, 1 for the Country Labor Party, and 1 Independent. Lacking a majority in the Senate, the Liberal/National coalition has relied on the smaller parties and independents to enact legislation. Howard's conservative coalition has moved quickly to reduce Australia's government deficit and the influence of organised labor, placing more emphasis on workplace-based collective bargaining for wages. The Howard government also has accelerated the pace of privatisation, beginning with the government-owned telecommunications corporation. The Howard government has continued the foreign policy of its predecessors, based on relations with four key countries: the United States, Japan, China, and Indonesia.

Political Data

Country name:
conventional long form: Commonwealth of Australia
conventional short form: Australia

Government type: democratic, federal-state system recognizing the British monarch as sovereign

Capital: Canberra

Administrative divisions: 6 states:

and 2 territories: Dependent areas: Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Coral Sea Islands, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, Norfolk Island

Independence: 1 January 1901 (federation of UK colonies)

National holiday: Australia Day, 26 January (1788)

Constitution: 9 July 1900, effective 1 January 1901

Legal system: based on English common law; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal and compulsory

Executive branch:
chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952), represented by Governor General Major General Michael Jeffery, AC, CVO, MC (Retd)(since 11 August 2003).

Institutions

Executive Branch


head of government: Prime Minister John Winston HOWARD (since 11 March 1996); Deputy Prime Minister John ANDERSON (since NA)
cabinet: Cabinet selected from among the members of Federal Parliament by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister
elections: The monarch is hereditary; governor general appointed by the monarch; following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or leader of a majority coalition is usually appointed prime minister by the governor general for a three-year term
note: government coalition - Liberal Party and National Party

Legislative Branch

A bicameral Federal Parliament consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives

Elections:

Senate and House of Representatives - last held Saturday, 10 November 2001
Election results:
House of Representatives- percent of vote by party:
Liberal Party 37.08
National Party 5.61
Australian Labor Party 37.84
Northern Territory Country Liberal Party 0.32
Australian Democrats 5.41
Australian Greens 4.96
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party 4.34
Unity - Say No To Hanson 0.21
Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group) 0.57
Other 3.67

House of Representatives - seats by party:
Liberal Party 68
National Party 13
Australian Labor Party 64
Northern Territory Country Liberal Party 1
Australian Democrats 0
Australian Greens 1
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party 0
Unity - Say No To Hanson 0
Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group) 0
Other (Independent) 3

(Source: Australian Electoral Commission)

Political Parties

Significant political parties (and their federal leaders):

Formerly significant parties:

Judicial branch

The High Court, comprising the Chief Justice and six other justices are appointed by the Prime Minister through the Governor-General

International organization participation

ANZUS, APEC, AsDB, Australia Group, BIS, C, CCC, CP, EBRD, ESCAP, FAO, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, NAM (guest), NEA, NSG, OECD, OPCW, PCA, Sparteca, SPC, SPF, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNFICYP, UNHCR, UNITAR, UNTAET, UNTSO, UNU, UPU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTrO, Zangger Committee

Flag description:
See: Flag of Australia

Reference

Much of the material in this article comes from the CIA World Factbook 2000 and the 2003 U.S. Department of State website.

See also : Australia

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