On 1 January 1901 the Australian colonies were joined to form the Commonwealth of Australia. Australia’s representative parliament was established as part of Federation. All citizens over 18 are eligible to vote in order to elect representatives to parliament.
Type of government
Australia is a representative democracy. It is also a constitutional monarchy. The Governor General represents the monarch as head of state and signs the law to make it official. This is called royal assent.
The constitution, power and law making
A book of rules called the constitution sets out the laws by which Australia is run. It includes rules about the make-up of the Australian Parliament, how parliament works, what powers the parliament has, how federal and state parliaments share power and the roles of the Executive Government and the High Court. The Parliament, the Executive Government and the High Court have the power to make and to manage federal laws. The Parliament makes and amends the law, The Executive act on the law and the judicature, interpret the law and make judgments on it when necessary.
The Australian Constitution can be changed by referendum according to the rules set out in Section 128 of the constitution. A referendum is a national ballot or vote on a question to change a part of the Australian Constitution. In a referendum the Parliament asks each Australian on the electoral roll to vote. If a majority of people in a majority of states (i.e. four out of the six) and a majority of people across the nation as a whole vote yes (called a double majority), then the part of the constitution in question is changed. Otherwise the constitution remains unchanged.
There are three levels of government in Australia;
The national level of government, also called the Commonwealth, exercises it’s power through the federal Parliament that is made up of a Senate and a House of Representatives.
The federal government looks after areas such as trade, defence, postal services, immigration, customs, currency and universities.
Most states also have a constitution and parliament. The territories have an assembly but technically the Federal government is in charge of them and can overrule the laws made by the Territory government.
State and territory governments look after areas such as schools and kindergartens, hospitals, police, roads and public transport and wildlife protection.
The state and federal governments sometimes share responsibility for providing services in some areas, for example health and education, using the money collected from taxes.
Sometimes called local councils or shires, local governments also make rules and laws for their local areas.
Local governments look after areas such as local swimming pools, libraries, waste collection and recycling, licenses for pets, parking laws and fines.
Australian Electoral Commission. Topic information - Government and Parliament
Parliament of Australia - Parliamentary Education Office
Australian Electoral Commission. Democracy Rules: an electoral education resource
Australia’s system of government
Fact sheet Australian system of government
Discovering Democracy Units
Municipal Association of Victoria
Parliament of Victoria