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This blog is more likely to include posts of a political nature - and one that requires sisu on the part of many!

Archives dated prior to March 2008 are entries moved across from either LiveJournal or Octant.

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In a nutshell: how our system of government works.

Given the 2010 Federal election results (still pending), I’ve received (from both local and o/s) queries about how our Australian system of government works, so I thought I’d try and give a very brief overview, with inevitable small ‘errors of exception’.

Firstly, we are a Federated Commonwealth of States. In some ways, this is somewhat akin (though with vast differences) to, for example, the USA, in which numerous responsibilities remain the prerogative of individual States, rather than the Federal or national parliament.

The national parliament consists of two houses:

  • the Senate, which effectively represents the member States, and hence each State has an equal number of electors (12 each + 2 for each of the two territories which do not have ‘state’ status); and
  • the house of Representatives, which numbers 150, each representing their respective electorates of approximately equal number of citizens (hence the reason for electoral boundary alterations as population numbers change over time ).

Senate (Upper House)

The voting system for the Senate stems from a modification of proportional representation, but within each State. As each State has vastly different numbers of residents, smaller states are more heavily represented (ie, Tasmania, having approximately only one tenth of the population of NSW, still has the same number of Senators: 12).

Representatives (Lower House)

The Government, however, is selected from the lower house. In theory, any person or small group of individuals who has the support of more than 50% (ie, 76 seats or more) could form government. In practice, only the major political parties are likely to gain that kind of support. In a hung parliament such as we currently have, with both the LNP (Libs+Nats) & LAB (Labor) having less than 74 seats, the remaining elected representatives will need to indicate which side they intend supporting in order for either to be able to form an effective executive, or, as we generally call it, Government.

Once this executive is nominated, individuals gaining ministerial portfolios need not be from the lower house (Representatives), but have in the past been from a combination of upper (Senate) and lower (Representative) houses, and neither need they be from the major parties (hence the Libs often allocate some ministerial cabinet position to a member of a smaller party within their coalition).

Executive Government or Cabinet

Now also gets the other ‘tricky’ bit: the responsibility of deciding on who will in fact form the executive, ie, effectively form government, rests not on either the elected Representatives nor on the elected Senate, but rather on the government-appointed Governor-General [GG]. In the past, this has not proved a problem as convention dictates that the GG will follow the obvious choice of appointing the leader of whichever party has gained at least 76 seats.

Hence the reason for why the four independent candidates are discussing various options with the two major parties, in the latter’s respective hope that they will gain the support of a sufficient number of independents and thus become able to form government… but

…now comes the very tricky situation we face, and that the GG herself faces:

  • Firstly, our current GG was not only appointed by the Labor party, but her daughter is married to a Labor MP [member of Parliament]. Though her independence and professionalism will undoubtedly be maintained, it is also inevitable that whichever side she ‘favours’ will be in part seen or portrayed in light of this (whether as an influence for, or against, the choice made);
  • Secondly, though the tally for 2PP (two-party-preferred) votes in the house of Representatives is not yet complete, it appears likely that the final figures will be quite close to where they now stand: just over (less than half a percentage point) 50% towards LAB, and hence just under 50% towards LNP; BUT
  • Thirdly, and again though the tally is not complete, with a far greater preference of primary votes towards LNP (44%) than towards LAB (37%); as well as
  • Fourthly, a greater number of seats likely won by LNP (73) than LAB (72) – of these, one of the LNP is of an ‘independent’ National Party seat, and another seat, currently considered a LAB seat, is in fact way too close to even now definitely call;
  • Fifthly, the upper (Senate) house will continue to have a higher LNP number of senators… only until next July, after which some senator changes will take effect. This is due to the fact that Senate positions change at a specified time, rather than at election time. In effect, this means that whoever forms government will need to effectively deal, for part of its time in office, with a Senate that is at odds with the lower (Representative) house.

So, in a nutshell, this remains our situation…

please do make a comment in case I’ve overlooked something that really should be included. I’ve tried and avoid political orientation in this post for the sake of explaining the situation, rather than commenting on my own preferences (which should be obvious from other posts I’ve made).

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