Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Politics of Australia
The politics of Australia take place within the framework of parliamentary democracy. The government of Australia is a federation, and Australians elect state and territory legislatures as well as a bicameral Parliament of Australia. The Federal Parliament operates according to the Westminster System of government, though the fact that it has an elected Senate (like the United States) rather than a House of Lords has led to Australia's federal parliamentary system being described as the "Washminster" system. (See Main article: Government of Australia).
At the 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 Constitution. The last general election was in October 2004.
In the states and territories, elections are held at least every four years (except in Queensland, which has three-year terms). The state premiers and territory Chief Ministers have the same discretion in calling elections as the Prime Minister has at the national level. (See Main articles: Australian electoral system, Electoral systems of the Australian states and territories).
Three political parties dominate the Australian politics:
- The Liberal Party is a party of the centre-right which broadly represents business, the suburban middle classes and many rural people.
- The National Party of Australia (formerly the Country Party and now known for electoral purposes as "The Nationals") is a conservative party which represents rural interests.
- The Australian Labor Party (ALP) is a social democratic party founded by the trade unions and broadly represents the urban working class, although it has a base of middle class support as well.
Minor parties include:
- The Australian Democrats, a party of middle-class centrists
- The Australian Greens, a left-wing and environmentalist party
- One Nation, a populist anti-immigration party
- The Family First Party and the Christian Democratic Party, parties appealing to conservative Christians.
The proportional representation system allows these parties to win seats in the Australian Senate and in the state upper houses, but they have usually been unable to win seats in the House of Representatives (the Greens won a House seat at a 2002 by-election, but lost it in 2004).
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, November 2001 and October 2004, the coalition now holds a comfortable majority in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, the Liberal/National coalition was in a minority until the 2004 election, but from July 2005 it will have a working majority there. Until 2004, lacking a majority in the Senate, the Liberal/National coalition relied on negotiations with the smaller parties and independents to enact legislation.
Since its election Howard's conservative coalition has moved to reduce Australia's government deficit and the influence of organised labour, placing more emphasis on workplace-based collective bargaining for wages. The Howard government also accelerated the pace of privatisation, beginning with the government-owned telecommunications corporation, Telstra. The government's most sweeping change has been the introduction of a goods and services tax. The re-elected Howard government can be expected to use its Senate majority to accelerate the pace of change in accordance with its free-market ideology.
The Howard government reversed the foreign policy of its ALP predecessor, placing renewed emphasis on relations with Australia's traditional allies, the United States and Britain and downgrading support for the United Nations. Both major parties support maintaining good relations with regional powers such as China, Japan and Indonesia, although issues such as the independence of East Timor have sometimes made this difficult. Australia has become increasingly involved in the internal difficulties of its smaller neighbours, such as Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Nauru.
The list of political parties in Australia comprises the names and federal leaders of significant political parties as well as the names of other parties, including formerly significant parties.
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