Voting in Australia is compulsory for all citizens aged eighteen and over. That is why elections are held on Saturday. The fine for not voting is currently $50.
Australia is a hybrid of the Westminster system of government. The head of our country, as a member of the British Commonwealth, is Queen Elizabeth II. She is represented in Australia by the Governor-General. The current Governor-General is Quentin Bryce.
|Photo taken from Governor-General's website|
There has been talk for many years now about Australia becoming a republic. We had a referendum about it some years ago, but the referendum resulted in Australia continuing to be a constitutional monarchy.
Back to our federal elections:
The Australian system of government is of two houses: the Lower House, the House of Representatives, and the Upper House, the Senate. The people who sit in both the Lower House and the Upper House are all elected by the people. There were many political parties represented in the elections on Saturday, but basically we have two major parties: the Australian Labor Party and the Coalition, which is made up of a partnership between the Liberal Party and the National Country Party. The Australian Labor Party is on the left of politics, the Coalition are the conservatives, or right wing. Right now, both parties are very close to centre in their philosophies and, occasionally, it's hard to tell the difference.
The country is divided into 150 electorates, each containing roughly the same number of voters. Each electorate votes for one person to represent them in the House of Representatives. There may be as few as two candidates standing for election in any electorate, up to as many political parties as there are at any given election. In the electorate where I live, we had seven candidates, one from the Australian Labor Party, one from the Liberal Party, one from the Greens (the largest of the "minor" parties), one from the Christian Democrats, one from One Nation, one from Australia First and one from Palmer United Party.
Each voter had to number each of the seven candidates in order of preference. Put simply, the candidate with the largest number of votes wins and becomes our representative in the House of Representatives for the next three years. This happens in a similar fashion (according to the number of candidates) in every electorate across the country. The major party with the largest number of votes (assuming they have 76 seats or more) becomes the Government, the other major party becomes the Opposition. The leader of the party automatically becomes our Prime Minister. We do not have have the American system where we vote for the leader of the country independently.
This past Saturday, the Coalition won 90+ seats so they are the new Government and we have a new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. Mr Abbott served as a Minister (1998-2007) under the previous Coalition Government, which led the country 1996-2007. He was also leader of the Opposition from 2009 till now, so he has a fair bit of experience at the highest levels of government and we hope and pray that he can do justice to the office of Prime Minister.
In 2007, the Federal election resulted in a "hung parliament". Neither of the two major parties were able to claim a clear majority, so deals had to be struck with the four people who had been elected by their electorates and who belonged to either one of the minor parties or who were independents (people acting on their own, not as a member of a political party). This is clearly not an ideal situation and it was with great relief that we saw a majority government returned in this election.
The Senators are also elected by the people. However, this time they are elected on a state wide basis, twelve senators form each state, and two each from the two mainland territories, 76 senators in total. Senators generally serve for six years. The Senate has a great deal of power as they can block any legislation even though it has already passed through the House of Representatives.
I won't confuse you further by detailing how Senators are elected. I hope this has been of some interest to you in understanding how our country is governed.