What are Australia's main political parties? Compare & contrast the voting system of Australia with that of another country. Discuss the effects of Australia changing its bicameral system of government.
“ Modern democracy is party democracy; the political institutions and practices that are the essence of democratic government in the Western view were the creations of political parties and would be unthinkable without them. ” (Katz, 1980: page 1)
As a feature of modern democracy, the Australian system of government includes many political parties representing various groups of people of different ideologies and to protect the interests of these particular groups. Each party accommodates its own structures to a different conception of democracy, and maintains a different view of what a democratic society should be.
Having inherited our system of government from the British Westminster system, Australia also furthers the Westminster tradition of the ‘two party system’. This of course does not imply that there are necessarily only two parties. It simply derives its meaning from the two main points of view presented in the debate among parties. In Australia, there are three major parties; the ‘two parties’ consisting of the Labor Party and a coalition of the Liberal and National Party.
The Labor party is Australia’s oldest political party. Founded in the 1880s, the Labor Party was formed in the midst of depression & high unemployment. Traditionally the Labor Party has taken a role in voicing the needs of the common workers, & has taken the side in upholding social justice. The main goals of the Labor party are to eliminate poverty, create full employment and establish equal rights & opportunities. (Chapman, 1994: page 192) Currently, the Labor Party have not held office since 1996, & under leader Kim Beazley hold a considerable part of the House of Representatives.
The conservative Coalition consists of a long–time partnership between the Liberal and National party. This partnership has often been described as symbiotic. In this relationship, the leader of the Liberal party takes leadership of the coalition, & the leader of the National Party takes the role of deputy. Currently the coalition is lead by John Howard with his sidekick John Anderson.
The National Party, formerly the Country Party founded in 1920, was established to better represent the interests of the industries & residents of rural Australia. The National Party represents a unique aspect of Australia, from which we not only see our heritage as a nation as a whole, but also in that rural Australia represents a large & important part in Australia’s economy. It shows the considerable influence rural Australia exerts on the government. The principles of the National Party have always been to encourage export industries & private enterprise, taking care of the family, maintain Australia’s security & remain loyal to Britain & her empire. (Chapman, 1994: page 192)
The original Liberal Party, known as Fusion, emerged in 1909 as an alliance of various groups opposed to the Australian Labor Party. The modern Liberal Party, founded in 1944 at a conference held by Robert Menzies, is by far the youngest of the three major political parties. The principles of the Liberal Party have been to encourage private enterprise, competition & efficiency in industry, reduce taxation & government spending, & to raise the living standards of Australians. (Outlined in Appendix 1: The Original Liberal Party Principles)
Without doubt, the Liberal party has been one of the most important of all formative political influences on contemporary Australia. This is not to deny the dynamic force of Labor on the political system, nor does it ignore the importance the National Party exerts on the economy. Since its creation, the Liberal party have held government for a considerable majority of the period, reflecting the powerful effect it has had in consolidating the form of post-war Australia.
When electing members of the House of Representatives & Senate, different countries conduct different methods by which it allows it citizens to exercise their democratic rights. In discussing Australia’s voting system in comparison to that of another country, the example of the voting system adopted by the United States of America will be used to outline the differences.
In Australia, the voting system adopted for both House of Representatives & Senate is full preferential voting. This system requires the voter to make a decision of the most desirable candidate to the least. (see appendix B) In voting for the House of Representatives, when no candidates achieve an absolute majority (+50%) in the counting of first preference votes, the candidate with the least number of votes are redistributed according to his or her wishes and the subsequent preference is then counted. This process is repeated until a candidate reaches an absolute majority whereby they are immediately elected.
In the Senate, unlike in the House of Representatives, members are elected on a basis of proportional representation. To be elected, candidates must achieve a quota number of votes. Elected candidate’s surplus votes of that quota are then distributed at a fraction of a value to the continuing candidate for whom the next preference is shown. Candidates are elected as they reach the quota until all vacancies are filled.
The United States, however, has adopted the simpler ‘First Past the Post’ system. To put it simply, voters choose the desired candidate. The winner is declared from the greatest number of votes. This system is used in the elections of both members for the House of Representatives & the Senate, although this may vary state to state. This system cannot guarantee the most popular candidate wins.
In contrast to the means by which the Prime Minister of Australia is elected, an Electoral College elects the President of the United States of America. The Electoral College consists of Electors who are non-government employee citizens elected by the people to represent their choice of president. Each state is entitled to have as many Electors representing them as they have Senators & Congressmen representing them in Congress. The people, every 4 years through a system of ‘First Past the Post’ system whereby the top number of vote receivers fill the number of positions offered, elect these Electors. This is very different to the procedures followed in Australia whereby the party in office elects the Prime Minister.
Australia’s bicameral system of government originates to times of the Federation of the six colonies of Australia. The primary purpose of introducing the upper house was to act as a further scrutiny of propositions made by the government in the House of Representatives. The Senate also protects the interests of the individual states, each being represented equally. Which, to a certain extent can be seen as diminishing the democratic validity. On many occasions, the Senate is seen as disruptive, delaying important decisions & new legislations. However, the alternative of changing to a unicameral system would have adverse effects on the political stability that has been maintained by the current system of government.
Only having one house would give a lot of power to the government. This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the real motives of the people in power. Despite being a potential benefit, i.e. an efficient government would better manage a country if it were without the many steps taken to approve decisions; politically it would be extremely unstable. It is much better that there was an upper house to scrutinize the proposed decisions.
Being the ‘state’s house’, the Senate would represent the states equally. This is important in ensuring smaller states such as Tasmania have a power in decision making as not to be left in the dark. The result of this would be devastating to both social & political aspects. Socially, the smaller states could lose much industry, many moving to the other capital cities. This would make their current economic situation worse. Politically, they would not feel like an important part of Australia.
It is quite reasonable to argue that by having a Senate, it is better for Australia because logically, it provides a multitude of counsellors from which better decisions can be made. The frustration it causes is completely outweighed by the fact that by having a Senate, it protects our very principles of democracy
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