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Hello! I am from Sydney and I came across your blog by accident a week ago. It's been really interesting reading all about you and your family's adventures here in Australia! I was wondering whether you would make a post about the election and I'm glad you did!

Many Alerican friends of mine were similarly thrown by the same kinds of things that you have been. As for the idea of 'liberals' vs 'conservatives' I think the US distinction is generally not replicated in other countries. I think in Austrlia, as in some other countries, the philosophical ideal of conservatism is of 'conserving' something, of gradual and incremental change rather than radical change. I suppose there is nothing inherently non-liberal about that goal.

I recall about a year ago an article in the New York Times made the point that basically the whole of Australia's political spectrum would fit roughly within the spectrum of the US Democratic Party. All our major parties support relatively high income taxes, a nation-wide consumption tax (the GST), universal public healthcare, large public spending programmes - most interesting!

There are so many complexities of the Australian system. I studied comparative law (I'm a solicitor) and when I was doing comparative constitutional law, comparing the US and Australia I found the superficial similarities to be a little misleading because so many fundamental elements are so different. I think the most fundamental difference is, as you've mentioned, Australia is a constitutional monarchy. So much that is quirky flows from this. Although, I should note here that you (like my American friends!) mistakenly have called Elizabeth II the 'Queen of England'. Actually, in the context of Austrlia, Elizabeth II is 'Queen of Austrlia' - we are a separate and distinct monarchy. In the same way, Elizabeth II is 'Queen of Canada', 'Queen of New Zealand' and 'Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland' (etc etc). One person; many crowns.

As for the other complexities, I think the big one you omitted is proportional representation. Our Senate voting is so complex because not only of we vote preferentially but we also vote proportionately, in order to elect six senators from each state (during normal elections).

As for the frequency of elections, the power to dissolve parliament lies with the Queen and her representative the Governor-General. This power is exercised when the PM advises the Governor-General to dissolve parliament and issue writs for an election. The PM might give this advice any time within a period of time that is defined in the constitution. The constitution also makes provision for special extraordinary 'double disollution' elections, which the PM can advise if certain constitutional conditions are met. This means that elections occur roughly every three years at a Federal level but the precise timing depends on when the PM decides to visit the Governor-General to advise her to dissolve parliament. The states are roughly in the same situation: the Queen is at the top, represented by a Governor and she is advised by her premier in each state. NSW, like America, has set four-year terms of the parliament but in recent years that arrangement has been criticised because when we get a dud government it means we are stuck with them for years!

It's so sad that so many Australians have little idea about how we are governed - it's so quirky and fun.

Anyway, this comment has rambled on for long enough. In short: awesome blog, great election post, hope you enjoy Australia and our quirky politico-legal system!


Thanks so much for your insightful comment packed with so much information about the Australian government. It is a fascinating, and as you say, quirky, system.
Cheers, Christie


Here are some further points and clarifications from one of my primary sources of knowledge of all things Australian (and of many other topics as well!), David Brown:

"1. The lower house (Reps or Commons), the house of the people, is the most powerful and initiates legislation - for this reason, whomever can carry the most votes in the most powerful house is boss. The PM is not mentioned in the constitution - its simply a convention carried over from the British system - the PM is the person who carries the confidence of the house. Julia didn't any longer, so couldn't legitimately be called the leader/PM.

2. The Senate is a "house of review" and is the "States' " house.

3. Cabinet ministers are all members of either house of reps or senate - but the PM is ALWAYS a member of the house of reps.

Contrast this with US where the President initiates legislation and he and most of his cabinet are not members of congress.

4. Our system places all emphasis on the supremacy of parliament and the need for ministers and PM to be under the scrutiny of their peers in the house.

5. Our equivalent of the President is the Queen. The queen never initiates legislation - technically she can but dares never to do so for fear of upsetting parliament. In fact it is parliament who says who is queen. Ever since the revolution (of 1688) where the house of commons chose the king, our system has been an hereditary republic with a monarch appointed by parliament.

While queen Elizabeth II is ALSO the Queen of England, The Queen of England is a separate legal entity from the Queen of Australia. She signs all Bills that have been passed through both houses of parliament to make them law. (the Gov Gen signs on her behalf) While the Australian constitution gives a right of veto to the Queen, similarly to The UK it is never (and probably could never) be used. No monarch has dared use their veto since Queen Anne in 1708."

Thanks David!


Australians use the word "Liberal" here to mean the 19th century idea of free markets, free trade and laissez-faire, small-government policies - hence the "Liberal" party. We also use the small "l" liberal word in just the same way Americans do to mean socially progressive, libertarian, anti-traditional. The two uses of the word don't seem to get mixed up because the context of the conversation usually seems to imply if we are speaking of the political party or the "liberal" social worker who lives with her journalist life partner in an inner city urban renewal community - as opposed to the "Liberal" party's policy of cutting taxes and social security benefits. Now - can someone explain to me why the Republicans are called the GOP - I thought the Democrats were older?? hope this helps


Yes, very helpful explanation of Liberal vs. liberal. I think you have explained that to me before--possibly more than once, which shows how terrible my memory is.

As for the GOP, it was originally "Gallant Old Party" and was meant in an ironic sense. The Republicans were formed from a split in the Democratic Party sometime prior to the Civil War---but then, you probably know more about it than I do!

Here's a link: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1481/why-is-the-republican-party-called-the-gop
And one more: http://www.gop.com/our-party/our-history/



Since, you are an expat/foreigner, I wanted you to check out http://www.linkexpats.com (networking for expatriates). I thought it might be interesting for you and your readers, maybe you can add it to your links list as well.

The website is a networking website for expatriates and foreigners. LinkExpats has already been mentioned in Mashable, Washington Post, InTheCapital and other large technology news websites.

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