Australia just held its federal elections and I think it is timely to talk about how the Parliamentary system and the election system work in Australia.

Note – The Australian Labour Party (ALP) won the 2022 federal elections and has formed a majority government. This will be the first time in a decade that the party has returned to power. For details visit – Link

The Australian Parliamentary system

Australia has a system of government structure that forms the core foundations for which the country is run. Australia has a democratic and mixed government system based on the British Westminster system. The model of government has a constitutional monarchy, federation and parliamentary democracy. This means that Australia:

  • has a queen represented in Australia by a governor-general and resides in the United Kingdom.
  • has a Prime Minister leads the government
  • has a Commonwealth parliament that makes laws for Australians and,
  • the federation of states gives some of its law-making powers to the national government.

Role of the Australian parliamentary system

  • Making laws

One of the roles of the Australian parliamentary system is the forming of new laws and amending the existing laws. To make or change a law, a bill is presented in parliament. A bill is typically introduced to improve the lives of the Australian people or solve a particular challenge or problem. A minister presents most of the bills; however, other parliamentary members can present their bills. Bills are discussed, debated, voted on and agreed on by a majority vote in the Senate and House of Representatives. It is then given the Royal Assent by the Governor-General and it becomes an Act of Parliament.

  • Representing Australians

The members of parliament represent the interests and views of Australians. Members of parliament represent the territories, states and electorates. They find out their people’s concerns and interests and present them in parliament. Members of parliament help their constituents or people they represent who might be having challenges or difficulties with issues, including migration, pensions and taxation.

There are 151 members of parliament elected to the House of Representatives. Each member represents 1 of the 151 electorates in Australia. There is approximately the same number of voters in each electorate. For any party to win a majority it requires to win 76 or more seats in the House of Representatives at the elections. Seventy-six senators represent Australian states and territories. There are 12 senators from each state and 2 senators each from the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory. 
  • Examining the work of government

Parliament checks and scrutinizes government work in various ways, including reviewing government decisions and investigating the bills in committees and debates. The government manages and runs critical national issues like immigration, trade and the environment. The government’s mandate is also to represent Australia internationally. Laws passed by the members of parliament are put into action and implemented by the government.

  • Formation of government

The Australian Government is formed by the party (or coalition of parties) with the support of the majority of members in the House of Representatives. Although the government is formed in the House of Representatives, the ruling party and the opposition have party members elected to the Senate.

The government oversees vital national issues like immigration, climate change, or the economy. The laws passed by the Parliament are put into action by the government.

Obligations to vote as a citizen

One of the legal requirements and obligations to vote in Australia is being of legal age, 18 years and over. You can enrol as a voter in Australia if you are 17 years old to be eligible to vote when you become 18 years of age. Australian citizens over 18 years must be enrolled and eligible to vote while ensuring that they keep their current residential address and enrollment up to date. Australian citizens above 18 years have the responsibility and right to participate in Australia’s democracy by voting and electing people to represent them in parliament. The representative elected makes decisions, new laws and amends existing laws on behalf of the citizens.

One of the initial reasons for introducing compulsory voting in Australia, and one of the arguments frequently advanced for maintaining it, is that it maintains a high level of participation in elections. Australia is one of the few countries where voting is enforced and absentees can face a fine or legal action if they have failed to cast a vote on election day without any legitimate reason.

The turnout at Australian elections has never fallen below 90% since the introduction of compulsory voting in 1924.

As voting is compulsory, electors are given several ways to cast their vote at an election, including postal voting, pre-poll voting, absentee voting, voting at Australian overseas missions and voting at mobile teams at hospitals and nursing homes and in remote localities, as well as ordinary voting at a polling place in their electorate. To make voting more accessible and inclusive the electoral commission also provides early voting centres for people who may be at work or travelling on election day. The latest elections which were held in May 2022 also offered people who were in isolation due to Covid to cast their vote over the phone.

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