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Elections in Australia

Australia is a democracy and while the head of state is technically the reigning monarch of the UK and therefore not elected, the Parliament that makes the laws and the Government that makes the decisions, actually is.

Elections are held at Federal, State and Local government levels. Voting is compulsory in State and Federal elections for all Australian citizens aged 18 and over. Voting at local government elections is optional.

It is necessary for eligible people to enrol to vote and then keep their enrolment up-to-date. There’s a lot more information on the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) website, especially the eligibility page.

The Australian Electoral Commission and its State-based equivalents, whilst funded by the taxpayer and technically Government agencies, are run independently to help ensure the impartiality of elections. It keeps the electoral roll, runs the polling booths, and even conducts electoral redistributions. This is designed to stop things like gerrymandering, where Governments try to manipulate election results by moving electoral boundaries to make some seats safer and others more marginal. The AEC is also paid to run other elections, like union elections, for instance.

Federal Elections

Federal Governments are elected for three years in Australia, although occasionally an election can be held earlier than that, if for some reason the business of Government comes to an impasse and the Prime Minister calls a “double dissolution” election. That is when both Houses of Parliament are dissolved and an entirely new Parliament is elected.

Elections are called by the Prime Minister. At every Federal election all seats in the House of Representatives fall vacant. Usually, half the seats in the Senate fall vacant. Voting for the House uses the preferential voting system, where the voter numbers each candidate in order of preference.

Voting in the Senate operates a little differently. Each state has 12 Senators and each Territory has two Senators. These are elected for a six-year term – with half coming up for re-election at each Federal election. Voting in the Senate can be done two ways – you can either vote preferentially (number each candidate in order of preference) “below the line” or you can vote “above the line”. The latter basically means you vote for the party you want to elect, rather than having to number dozens of candidates in order of preference.

State Elections

All Australian States and Territories have their own Parliaments and, therefore, hold their own elections.

New South Wales - NSW

NSW has a bicameral Parliament, elected for a four-year term by preferential voting in the Lower House and for an eight-year term by proportional representation in the Upper House.

Victoria - VIC

Elections in Victoria are held on the last Saturday in November, every fourth year. Lower House members are elected for four years by preferential voting. Upper House members are elected by proportional representation and represent eight regions.

Queensland - QLD

Queensland has a unicameral Parliament with elections held by preferential voting every three years.

Western Australia - WA

Western Australia has a bicameral Parliament with Lower House members elected for a four-year term. Upper House members are elected for four-year terms, using a single vote transfer form of proportional representation, representing regions.

South Australia - SA

SA has a two-house system with Lower House members elected by preferential voting for four-years. The Upper House is also elected for four year, using a single vote transfer version of proportional representation voting.

Tasmania - TAS

Tasmania’s Lower House is elected for four-year terms using a multi-member constituencies (five members each) and a single transfer vote form of proportional representation. The Upper House elections are held on a six-year cycle, on the first Saturday in May each year.

Australian Capital Territory - ACT

The ACT’s Assembly is elected for four-year terms from multi-million member constituencies by single vote transfer for proportional representation. It has no Upper House.

Northern Territory - NT

The NT has a unicameral Parliament elected by preferential voting for four-year terms in single member constituencies.

Local Government Elections

Local Government elections are held in accordance with the rules set out in the Local Government Act in each State, so the rules differ. The way local councils are structured, both organisationally and politically, also differs not just from State to State but also from council to council.

In some councils, political parties are not active – in others, they are. Some councils have directly elected mayors, others have mayors or presidents elected from amongst the councillors themselves.

Voting in Local Government elections is optional.

You can find more information about Australian Government and Politics or visit our Life in Australia section for more articles about living in Australia.

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