Aussie Politics Explained
How our political system works is something many millennials are not 100% certain about. However, it is something that can be very powerful if we all engage in it. To talk us through this, we had a chat with John Slater, who is an absolutely expert in politics (he’s worked for members of federal parliament and majored in political science so definitely deserves the title of ‘absolute expert’),
So whether you don’t understand why we’ve had so many prime ministers in the last decade, why we have the two houses in Parliament, how our voting system works or why it affects you, READ ON.
Australia runs under a democratic system, so what is a democracy?
In a democracy, the government is decided by the public. This doesn’t actually have to mean everyone in the country votes or that the government is elected strictly by the majority of votes. However broadly, the elected party is chosen by the people.
What does the Australian Parliament consist of and how was it formed?
The Parliament consists of two Houses (the House of Representatives and the Senate), and the Queen, represented in Australia by the Governor General. Australia’s parliament is a combination of the British Parliament and the American Congress. So when the Australian Parliament was being formed, they liked the idea of the British lower house where each member would represent an area of the country (logic being that when people live in the same area they often have common interests). This formed our House of Representatives (lower house). Our upper house (the Senate) was based off the US system where each state gets an equal number of senators. This means every state gets the same say, even though NSW is about 12 times as big as Tasmania.
That’s Parliament, what about the Australian Government?
The government gains its authority in parliament, but it operates in its own kind of sphere. The government is formed by the party which gets the most seats in the House of Representatives (at a minimum, 76 out of the 250 seats is required). This government comprises of the PM and ministers who have a range of powers and don’t have to pass laws to exercise them. At the top of Australia’s system of government is the Governor General (The Queen’s representative) however this role is more of a symbolic figure. Their job is to be basically be satisfied that whoever is in government does have the support of the house of reps majority.
Why do we need two houses in parliament?
As the government is elected from the majority of seats in the House of Reps, having the Senate (which we said has equal seats by every state) means that the amount of power that the government has can be counterbalanced. (they have a lot of control over immigration , defense force, diplomacy over trade to name a few).
Wait... so I don’t actually vote for the Prime Minister?
No, you vote for a local member of the party of your choice, and that party decides between them who the PM will be. For example, in your electorate you might vote for the Greens Candidate, LNP candidate or Labour candidate.If they’re party forms the majority in the lower house, then they choose the executive (i.e Scott Morrison currently). So essentially you are indirectly voting for the leader, through your local candidate.
What does it mean to be right or left wing?
These terms can be thrown around a lot but can often mean different things in different contexts. The fundamental differences between left-wing and right-wing ideologies center around the the rights of individuals vs. the power of the government. In an economics sense, right wing means having less government control, less regulation and giving individuals and businesses more freedom to do what they want. The logic being businesses and individuals can make good choices on their own.
The left wing economic perspective is that businesses are driven by self interest and the way they act might not be in favour of the general public, thus regulation is required. Left wing economics also suggests that workers are vulnerable and can be exploited without government stepping in (minimum wage, environmental regulation etc.). Generally, LNP is more right-wing and Labor is more left-wing.
What policies lie on the Federal Level?
Sometimes in can be difficult to distinguish what the local, state and federal government each have responsibility for. The federal government manage things like foreign affairs, national defense, trade, social services and welfare. But there are also a bunch of responsibilities that overlap with the state, including road infrastructure, health and education. Some projects might even have funding from all 3 levels of government. Often the State requires help from the Federal government as they raise more funds.
How do you find out about policies each party stands for? Do they have to keep these promised policies?
The best way to keep tabs is a good quality newspaper (The Fin Review, The Australian) or the website of either major parties (but this can also include a lot of spin keep in mind). When parties put forward figures about how much they are going to raise from tax changes and what that money will be spent on, it comes from the parliamentary budget office. This means there is some merit however it may definitely be exaggerated. When a party is elected to government, they sometimes don’t keep their promises- you can’t hold them to it. The biggest fact of accountability is that they have to face an election in a few years.
Why have we had so many Prime Ministers is the last decade?
Firstly, within both the labour and liberal parties, there have been leadership issues. A person is only the prime minister for as long as they retain the confidence of your colleagues. John explains that all leaders in the last decade have essentially taken missteps which have damaged their public profile and the popularity of the government; causing their colleagues to lose trust in them, which resulted in a leadership spill.
On top of this, the nature of the media in Australia has changed a whole lot. The amount of time the PM use to spend in front of a camera was far far less than now. We also have 24/7 news, websites and social media always looking for content (of which can be very opinionated or amplified). These platforms all force a ‘need to be kept happy’ pressure, which can be difficult to achieve.
Why should we care about politics?
If millenials like us think the whole system is broken, it means we aren’t going to engage in it. The system then becomes less responsive to our views. When society does that on a whole, it means the political class and the people that do run the government become even more detached to the needs and concerns of everyday people.
One of the best things that could happen for our system is to have more people involved in some kind of political engagement. The more voices we have contributing to public debate, the more likely the government is going to listen to the concerns of people.