As an American I often come across the stereotype that as an American I am ignorant about things that happen outside of the states. Most of the time this isn’t seen as a terrible thing because it isn’t my fault that U.S. news is saturated with domestic issues, in fact most countries are proportionally over-saturated with U.S. news. in order to fight this stereotype I have done what any American would do and learned about how the government I am living under operates in comparison with the United States. After making just the right amount of “kangaroo court” jokes to myself while learning about it turns out that put simply the Australian government is actually very similar to the American political system.
With the amount of press Tony Abbott gets it wouldn’t surprise me if Americans that don’t have any real interest in Australia might still want to figure out how this guy seems to be allowed to be in charge of a country. You may also hear about the country’s honestly pretty bad history of not caring about climate change, although Americans are only now getting on the climate change bandwagon, and think how is a desert nation so backwards?
If you meet an Australian you can both blame them for Tony Abbott and at the same time commiserate with them because unlike the United States voting is mandatory in Australia, but the prime minister is not actually directly elected. Aside from some of the kind of outdated ceremonial Monarchy business those are probably two of the three big differences between the United States’ political system and Australia’s. In order to get that big looming Queen business out of the way for any Americans we’ll take a quick look at what powers the Queen has in Australia. Australia is technically a constitutional monarchy, meaning if she wanted lizzie could come down disband parliament and appoint her own prime minister. Because the queen is technically the “head of state” of a number of countries she obviously doesn’t have time to deal with all of them herself and so appoints a Governor-General who is chosen at the request of the prime minister. The Governor- General is a pretty ceremonial role and essentially does anything the PM advises them to do, but on behalf of the crown as well as the PM.
Aside from the ceremonial business having to do with the Queen, which we Americans gave up on a few hundred years ago, the political system in Australia is all business and not just thongs and roos. The system is based on the Westminster system meaning they have a bicameral legislative system headed by a prime minister, consisting of a senate and house of parliament. These work pretty much in the same way as the American system aside from the fact that voting for Australian citizens is mandatory. The other real differences are that there are more than just two viable political parties and that the number of seats in the senate and parliament change more often.
Earlier I mentioned that while everyone needs to vote in Australia they didn’t necessarily vote for Tony Abbot. Instead voting is tied to which political party you choose and then whichever party gains a majority or is able to form a coalition with another party is then able to appoint the head of their party as the prime minister who in turn picks out his cabinet. From there the executive body performs all the duties it does in America aside from vetoing power. Because the Australian system is based on the idea of political parties party lines are even more divided than in America and voting with the party line is not only expected but nearly mandatory.
So if Australian political parties seem to be so important lets take a look at what they are. There are of course two main parties that could essentially be likened to the Republican party and Democratic party as well as a few other parties that still garner some support. The current party in power is the Liberal party, of which Tony Abbott is the leader, if you have been paying attention that should make perfect sense to you. The Liberal party however isn’t liberal in the sense that we Americans know the word and is actually a lot closer to our Republican party in their views. The Liberal party is based on many Christian values, greater economic freedom, lower taxes, etc. The Labor party on the other hand is the major opposition party at the moment and is much closer to the Democrats of America, more socially progressive, greater economic regulation, big government, environmentalism, etc. Then of course there are the other smaller parties like the Greens (pretty much identical to our own Green Party but with more delegates), and the National party which caters to rural Australians and farmers.
That about sums things up on how to understand the Australian political system if you are fairly familiar with the American system. Things are pretty similar and I am sure if you talked to a traveling Aussie about the current Lib/Nat coalition government and how long they reckon it’ll last they will be astounded that you know about it and will quickly spill their similar ignorance about the American system. Feel free to ask any questions about the government or its policies below and I will pass them right along to Tony Abbott as soon as I next see him.