The land and its people
Australia was one of the first countries to establish democracy in the modern world. In the mid-nineteenth century, Australian colonies set about writing constitutions which produced democratically elected parliaments.
From the 1850s to the 1890s, when few other countries in the world were democratic, the Australian colonies progressively established universal male suffrage, and were also among the first to give women the vote.
Australian democracy has at its heart the following core defining values:
- freedom of election and being elected
- freedom of assembly and political participation
- freedom of speech, expression and religious belief
- rule of law
- other basic human rights.
Did you know?
Australia is a constitutional monarchy – 'constitutional' because the powers and procedures of the Australian Government are defined by a written constitution and 'monarchy' because Australia's head of state is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
The Australian Government follows the British (Westminster) tradition. The Governor-General, representing the Crown, exercises the supreme executive power of the Commonwealth. In practice, the Governor-General acts on the advice of the head of the Government, the Prime Minister, and other ministers.
The Prime Minister leads a cabinet of ministers, each of whom has responsibility for a portfolio of government duties. Commonwealth ministers, including the Prime Minister, are appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the leader of a political party or coalition which represents a majority of the House of Representatives in the federal parliament. Similar systems operate in the states and territories. There are also more than 560 local councils across the country.
The 1901 Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia sets out the powers of the Commonwealth and states. Each state has its own written constitution. The High Court of Australia and the Federal Court of Australia have the authority to interpret constitutional provisions. Under the Constitution, the legislative power of the Commonwealth is vested in the federal parliament. The parliament makes laws, authorises the Government to spend public money, scrutinises government activities, and is a forum for debate on national issues.
All Australians citizens over the age of 18 must vote in both federal and state elections.
Parliament and Government
- Approximately 16 million Australians vote for federal representatives
- 226 federal representatives
- 76 senators in the Senate
- 150 members in the House of Representatives
- 50%+ support needed to form government