State and politics
Australia is one a federal state consisting of six
non-sovereign states. The state power is divided into three
divisions: the Legislative Assembly, the Executive Assembly
and the Judicial Assembly.
The six states have far-reaching internal self-government
with their own legislative assemblies and governments, but
with some historically contested differences. The two
territories are directly governed by the federal government,
but since 1978 the Northern Territory has gradually gained
self-government. See ABBREVIATIONFINDER for how AU can stand for Australia.
The head of state is Elizabeth II, who is also formally
Queen of Australia and represented by a Governor General.
Support for the establishment of a republic in Australia
steadily increased during the 1990s, but when the issue
became the subject of a referendum in 1999, the monarchists
nevertheless barely won.
The legislative power lies with the Federal Parliament
with two chambers: the Senate and the House of
Representatives. The Senate has 76 members (twelve from each
state, two from each of the territories) elected for six
years (the three territories) in direct, proportional
elections; however, half of the sites are renewed every
The number of members of the House of Representatives is
proportional to the population. The 150 members are elected
by direct majority elections held at least every three
years. The party that has a majority in the House of
Representatives appoints the government.
Voting is compulsory and voting age is 18 years. Women
have been voting since 1902. The indigenous people,
Aborigines, gained voting rights in 1967.
The two major bourgeois parties ruled Australia 1949-72,
until 1966 with Robert Menzies as prime minister. In the
election to the House of Representatives in 1972, they were
seen defeated by Labor under the leadership of Gough
Whitlam. This initiated a comprehensive policy of reform.
Inflation and unemployment rose and after Labor lost a
majority in the Senate in 1974, it refused to approve the
government's budget. In the deadlock that occurred, the
Governor-General intervened. He dismissed Whitlam in 1975
and appointed Liberal Malcolm Fraserto lead a transitional
government. In a recent election, Fraser clearly won, and a
new conservative coalition was formed. The move to dismiss
the prime minister was something unique in Australia's
history. It led to a constitutional crisis and a protracted,
intense debate about the Constitution and the powers of the
The deep crisis in the world economy hampered the
economic recovery, while cracks arose in the government
coalition. In 1983, Labor regained power under Bob Hawke,
former chairman of the Australian trade union movement.
Hawke reintroduced parts of Whitlam's reforms but
otherwise brought politics to the right. When Hawke won his
third straight victory in the parliamentary elections in
1987, partly with the help of a divided opposition, he was
accused both by the opposition and by the left within his
party of having taken over the politics of the Conservative
The deteriorating economy led to the Labor government
losing in popularity. In 1991 Paul Keating (born 1944) took
over as Prime Minister. Under his leadership, contacts with
the Asian countries were emphasized and greater emphasis was
placed on the rights of indigenous peoples. The 1996
election led the Liberals and the National Party to take
over the government under the leadership of Liberal leader
John Howard. The bourgeois coalition was re-elected in 1998,
2001 and 2004.
Labor, which has long dominated politics at the state
level, assumed government power after the 2007 parliamentary
elections. New Prime Minister became Labor leader Kevin
Rudd. He began his reign with, for example, signing the
Kyoto Protocol, easing the country's increasingly criticized
asylum policy and officially acknowledging the country's
debt to the indigenous people, Aborigines. When Rudd was hit
by a crisis of confidence, Labor appointed Julia Gillard,
former Deputy Prime Minister, as a new party leader. Gillard
managed to form a new government by a marginal margin after
the parliamentary elections in August 2010.
Of the Conservative coalition parties, the Liberal Party
(LP) is the largest and traditional trustee of British
heritage. It has its strongest support in the cities and the
business community. The smaller, bourgeois National Party
(NP) was formed during the interwar period under the name of
Country Party to protect farmers' interests. NP still
attracts mainly voters in the countryside. The two bourgeois
parties work closely together and have for a long time ruled
The third major party, the Labor Party Australian Labor
Party (ALP), has the most supporters among the working
class, but in recent years has raised competition with the
liberals over middle-class voters. There are also several
smaller parties that have been able to gain influence
through the role of wave master in the Senate.
Since 2013, Australia has been ruled by the bourgeois
coalition, which, under Tony Abbott's leadership,
prioritized work on climate change and reintroduced a more
restrictive immigration policy. Refugee boats from Asia have
been forced to turn around before reaching Australia and a
controversial detention camp for asylum seekers was put into
operation in neighboring Nauru.
LP has been characterized by internal power struggles.
Abbott was challenged in 2015 by Malcolm Turnbull (born
1954), who in turn had to resign in 2016 in favor of former
Migration Minister Scott Morrison (born 1968).
In the 2019 elections, support for the bourgeois
coalition was established. In the House of Representatives,
the government parties received barely a majority.
Constitutionally, Australia is usually described as a
democratic monarchy within the Commonwealth. The monarch is
represented at the federal level by the governor general, at
the state level by the governors. Apart from the formal
affiliation of the commonwealth symbolized by the common
monarch, there are only a few legal links between Australia
and the United Kingdom.
Certain cases from the supreme courts of the states can
be brought by appeal to the Supreme Court of the
Commonwealth, Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
However, the Australian judiciary bears great resemblance to
English. The judicial system is richly developed state-wide
and not developed federally.
The legislative power has long been exercised essentially
by Parliament, but the content of public, private and
criminal law rules, like the judicial process, is strongly
influenced by English common law, and precedents
from the English supreme courts are still considered
authority in Australia.
The death penalty was abolished in 1985; the last
execution took place in 1967.
A distinctive feature of modern Australian society is the
wide representation of different cultures that originate
from immigration to the continent. Consequently, minority
rights, multiculturalism and ethnicity-related issues have
long played a major role in Australian politics.
Civil and political rights have traditionally had strong
protection, even though deviations are documented.
The main problems reported are domestic violence against
women and children, discrimination against indigenous people
and the situation of asylum seekers. Australia's foreign
residents are often stigmatized in society and discriminated
against in working life while being over-represented in the
Prolonged processing times of up to several years and
harsh internment conditions mainly affect immigrants
arriving in Australia by boat. The number of asylum seekers
who came to Australia by sea increased sharply in the 2010s,
which has put enormous pressure on the asylum repository's
capacity and processing times. From the United Nations
Refugee Commission, criticism has been directed at the
country regarding the conditions for asylum-seeking boat
refugees. The repositories are overcrowded and many times
unsanitary. The fact that asylum applications are not always
treated fairly, openly or within a reasonable time affects
the physical and mental health of those detained. Several
deaths during detention have been reported and in many of
the cases the cause has been determined for suicide.
||John Christian Watson
||George Houston Reid
||William Morris Hughes
||Stanley Melbourne Bruce
||James Henry Scullin
||Joseph Aloysius Lyons
||Arthur William Fadden
||Francis Michael Forde
||Joseph Benedict Chifley
||Harold Edward Holt
||John Gray Gorton