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Australian Political System: What You Need To Know And How It May Affect You

For those who probably aren’t well versed with Australia’s political system, this is a must-read to understand how politics in Australia generally works and how it may affect or change the way you live if you have decided to move to Australia. Whether you’re from an already liberal democratic country or an opposing conservative collectivist country, it is always good to know these things before moving over. To understand the Australian political system as a whole, we will first take a look at its political status and structure. 

1. Political status and structure in Australia

With a population of over 25 million people, Australia stands as an independent Western democratic country. The Australian government believes in a traditional liberal democratic practice that upholds the right to freedom of speech, expression, religious beliefs and gives access to basic human rights such as healthcare, education and jobs for all citizens. It is also based on principles of political equality, majority rule, justice in society and in court as well as the preservation of minority rights. 

A democratic practice helps to provide a safe and secure community for its citizens – one where individuals are respected with no judgements or biases and that there are peaceful ways to overcome clashing views and issues that may be perceived differently. It also helps to ensure good governance that is accountable, responsive, effective and transparent to its citizens.

The nation’s political structure is similar to that of the British model and exemplifies certain features of the US model. Australia’s government follows a mixed system of representative democracy and a constitutional monarchy. This means that citizens get to choose or support their preferred candidates to represent them in a parliament. Federal elections in Australia are typically held once every 3 years, with the next one due in the upcoming year 2022.

Australia is also a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as its current monarch. However, in a constitutional monarchy, the monarch does not have full power and must follow the country’s constitution – the set of rules by which a state or country is run. 

Australia is made up of six states and two main territories: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. Each state and territory has their own constitution, government, parliament and set of laws that protect and maintain order in that area. Since Australia is also a federation of states, the constitution gave the federal government power to make laws regarding national matters such as defence, taxation, trade, immigration, foreign affairs and many more.

However, all laws across the nation are not made by the federal government alone. The Australian Constitution decides how the federal and state governments share the power to make these laws. For more information on the Australian political system, the separation of power and the making of laws, click here.

2. Political parties

Whether it is the national, state or federal elections, the party or a coalition of parties with the highest number of elected members in the Parliament will usually form the government.

There are two main political parties in Australia – The coalition of the Liberal and National Parties and the Australian Labor Party. The coalition is currently in power while the Labor Party is in Opposition. There are also other minor parties and independents, where in some cases, do actually hold a balance of power. This means that if the government and opposition disagree on a certain issue or there is no majority vote on a certain issue, the votes of these minor parties and independents may decide the final outcome. In Australian politics, the minor parties and independents have played a growing role to support and lead its nation although it is still dominated by the two main parties.

For more information on the political parties in the house of representatives in Australia, click here.

3. Voting Rights

In Australia, enrolling to vote for all State, Federal and council elections is compulsory for all citizens aged 18 and above. You are required to go to the polling station and cast your vote even if you do not have a political candidate in mind that you support. Electors have various choices to choose how they want to cast their votes including postal voting, pre-poll voting, absentee voting, voting at Australian overseas missions and voting at mobile teams at hospitals, nursing homes, remote localities and finally ordinary voting at the polling station in their electorate. 

Penalties, which differ from state to state, might be imposed on those who fail to do so without a valid reason. In Victoria, the current penalty fee is $83 with a subsequent additional fee if payment is not made by the given deadline. In Western Australia, the penalty for first-time offenders is $20 and $50 for repeated offenders. In South Australia, a $70 fee applies if your reason for failing to vote is not accepted. 

The Australian Electoral Commission does provide a range of options available for Australian expats who will be living or going overseas and may, as a result, not be able to vote for the elections. For more information on the eligibility criteria to vote and special enrollments, click here.

4. Political Stability in Australia

In 2020, Australia was ranked as the 44 most politically stable country out of 194 countries in the world, according to the Index of Political Stability and Absence of Violence/Terrorism (-2.5 weak; 2.5 strong). This index measures perceptions of the likelihood that the government will be destabilized or overthrown by unconstitutional or violent means, including politically motivated violence and terrorism. With a value of 0.85 points (1.7 as the highest and -2.73 as the lowest value), Australia is a relatively safe and peaceful country to live in. 

In 2020, Australia has also achieved 1 point for the Political rights index, with 7 points as an indicator for weak rights and 1 point for strong rights. This point reflects the democratic beliefs and tradition that the Australian government upholds, proving that the country does value freedom of speech and expression for every individual. The Political Rights ratings from the Freedom House evaluate three categories: electoral process, political pluralism and participation, and the functioning of government. 

According to the Freedom from Corruption Index (0-100) in 2021,  Australia has achieved 90 points and was ranked as one of the top 10 countries to achieve low rates of corruption levels. This highly suggests that Australia has good governance and a transparent regulatory system that is able to lead its people towards building a stronger nation. 

5. Politics shape culture, and culture shapes politics

Some people find politics an interesting topic to talk about, whereas others may think of it as boring or complicated. But do you know it is true that politics shape culture and culture shapes politics, at least in one way or another? Whether or not you like politics as interest, subject or topic, the political system in a country is very much affected by the political culture in which it functions. And this, in turn, can affect people’s way of life to a large extent. Allow me to explain why.

First of all, political culture is usually described as a set of views, attitudes, behaviours, beliefs and sentiments that reflects how people think and feel about their country’s political system, including how it is being governed. Political culture often appears in the form of ideals and values and is carried down from one generation to the next. Though not all individuals share the exact same beliefs and values in Australia, of course, the vast majority supports these general ideas, such as equality, democracy, liberty and diversity.

Political culture is an important factor that influence the kinds of political identity a country has, and which is critical to the development of a nation – it helps to make communication possible, builds a community of people with similar beliefs and values and allows them to have a common understanding of how and why political events, actions and experiences take place in their country. More importantly, it also helps its people to make sense of the political decisions their leaders make. 

In democratic Australia, allowing citizens to be part of the political culture (also known as participant political culture) gives them the ability to voice their opinions, speak up for themselves and possibly direct changes if they feel things should be done a certain way.

Citizens can contribute to Australia’s political culture and can also, in turn, be affected by it. In other words, because the political system is affected by the political culture, the system that sets the rules and regulations has the ability to nurture a mentality that will interpret and set similar rules and regulations for its people to follow – And that is why the lives of citizens and even expatriates like yourself can be affected by a country’s political system to a large extent. 

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