Australian Two Party System
The Australian Westminster model promotes a two party system that in modern history has started to undermine parliamentary democracy. This has created potential conflict between the modern representative party system and the principles of the supreme authority of parliament supporting the Westminster model of accountable government. The Australian Westminster parliamentary system consists of an upper and lower house, with the lower house forming government. The electoral system plays an important part in the selection of Australia??™s parliamentary representatives. Australia??™s Westminster model is a combination of the British Westminster system and America??™s Washington system which is the influence Australia??™s parliament is based upon. The Westminster system also known as responsible government is the implementation of a series of procedures for passing legislation in parliament.
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Australia??™s Westminster system is a bicameral parliament where members are elected by popular votes and others appointed (Singleton et al, 2009). It consists of an upper and lower house that are both elected representatives of the people. The lower house debate and discus legislation which they then vote on, considering that the governing party has a majority of the seats in the lower house this means that they will have the power to pass or reject the legislation moving to the upper house to be approved (Harris, 2001). The upper house (senate) is a smaller committee of parliament and acts like a review board and is capable of rejecting legislation that is passed in the lower house. The lower house must have support of the upper house in order to govern, they must also be willing to pass its budgets (Eccleston et al, 2006).
Australia??™s electoral system promotes a free and equal right of every person to participate in selecting Australia??™s government (Williams, 2001). The Australian public chooses from a selection of candidates nominated by their party that best represent their values, issues and morals. The Australian public elects the House of Representatives through a compulsory preferential voting system (Jaensch, 1994). For the house of representatives (lower house) to be able to form government it requires majority of the 150 seats that are elected by the Australian public through the electoral voting system held every 3 years (House of Representatives, 2005). Each seat represents a geographical area that is of equal eligible voters in each electorate area. Each candidate that is elected into parliament is responsible to the people views of their geographical area. The preferential voting system works by the Australian public numbering their areas candidates in preferential order. The votes from the candidate of lowest preference are reassigned to the next preference selected from that candidates votes. This process is then repeated with the next lowest preferred candidates until all preferential votes are assigned. This form of compulsory preferential voting tends to produce a 2 party system which favours Australia??™s major parties. This system can also enhance the power of minor parties, if a minor party wins a seat they hold bargaining power to the major parties if it is a close election. For example the 2010 election saw the liberal and labour party in a close election where neither party had enough seats to form government. The minor parties that had won seats then had the power to choose who they wanted to coincide with to form government. The Labour party won the election by gaining enough seats to from government with the help of the minor parties. This election could have gone either way if the minor parties had decided to join forces with the liberal party. This shows how the minor parties can have an influence on who forms government.
A two party system provides stability, the two main Australian parties are the liberal party and the labour party, both these party address main stream ideas to appeal to the Australian public to win government. Minor parties still play a significant role by representing the interest of the people that are not represented by the major parties. Minor parties tend to take on unpopular causes, this is said to be done as minor parties are unlikely to form government, which means they will be unable to implement legislations (Singleton et al, 2009). The minor parties are present to keep the major parties honest and to protest against extremist ideas.
Electing the senate is done differently using a proportional voting system where 12 candidates are elected from each state and 2 each from Australians capital territory and the northern territory. (Singleton et al, 2009). Proportional voting system is done through preferential voting and the single transferable vote. This type of system allows for the minor parties to gain a seat in the senate. Having different systems to elect the lower and upper house also allows different majority of parties to be in parliament. This creates a better overall representation of who the majority of the Australian public wishes to be run by (Senate Administrator, 2010).
Australia??™s electoral system allows the voter to elect a named candidate rather than a party. However there is a higher focus to vote for a parties political ideas rather than voting for a person. A disadvantage of the Westminster system is that the prime minister is elected by the legislature and not by the people. When Australians proceed to vote they must take into consideration the party leader and not just their areas candidate (Healey, 2003). Local candidates may be very popular but not be elected as they are under an unpopular leader. A candidate with popular support of the Australian people is unable to become prime minister if they cannot get elected into parliament. Australian candidates are unable to run for prime minister and must get elected to be the head of a party for the chance. Prime ministers are also able to lose their title is they lose their seat in parliament, even if they may be a nationally popular candidate. Head of parties however are pre-selected for what is called a safe seat, a seat that is unlikely to be lost at the next election (Summers, 2006). However this can also backfire, for example John Howard lost his seat in parliament as he was not elected in his electoral area, so he would have been unable to be selected as prime minister even if the liberal party had won the majority of the election.
Parliamentary democracy is the formation of governments in parliament and is accountable to parliament between elections (Eccleston et al, 2006). It is the free and equal right to be able to participate in a government system. In Australia this is done by allowing the public to elect their representatives. Australian parliamentary systems do not have a clear separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches (government in Australia). Legislative power is held in the House of Representatives and the senate where as the executive power is held by the governor general but intertwines with the legislative power. The governor general represents the queen but often is just a figure head and does not interfere in day to day parliamentary procedures (Australian Constitution, 2011). The governor general under the Westminster system can enable a government to be defeated or forced into a general election, independently of a new government being chosen. A parliament can be dissolved and elections called at any time by passing a no confidence vote (Galligan et al, 2007). Also if the governor general or the lower house believes that the parliament or senate is not acting in the best interest of the electors they can call for an election. This makes sure that the government is always answerable to the parliament. (Singleton et al, 2009).
The Westminster system can be described a democratic parliamentary system of government (Schmitt et al, 1988). The Westminster system is a multi party system that has a head of government (prime minister) that is appointed by the head of state (governor general), majority of members of the elected parliament must support the appointed prime minister. The person appointed is the head of the majority party of government, for example Julia Gillard is the head of the labour parties which in turn makes Gillard Australia??™s prime minister. The Westminster system allows at any time for governments to be defeated, parliaments to be dissolved and elections called. This is done through the lower house of parliament passing a no confidence motion or defeating a motion by rejecting a budget (withholding/blocking supply) (Chapman, 2000). Australia??™s Westminster system can be very powerful in dissolving government if the conditions permit. If an important bill (such as the budget) is rejected or a resolution of no confidence is passed then the government must resign or seek a parliamentary dissolution where a general election is called and the government is re-elected or dissolved (March, 1995). Another important part of parliament in the cabinet, where members are seen as collectively responsible for government policy. Votes are rarely taken in cabinet as decisions are made by consensus. Publicly members of the cabinet must support government policy despite any private reservations. The prime minister holds the power to be able to hold a fellow minister accountable for the actions of a department. The ministers must therefore always be responsible for their actions and of their departments.
Australia is run under parliamentary democracy, which means ???our political system is based on the idea that Parliament is supreme.??™(Australian politics, 2011). Representatives are chosen at regular elections and are responsible for the formation of government, the laws of the nation and the scrutiny and monitoring of the executive government and other authorities created by parliament. The expenditure of public money is the main focus of monitoring and scrutiny. With a two party system it only allows the ideas and views of these two parties to be circulated in parliament. To pass legislation the lower house needs a majority of votes to create the law, if the house is run by two parties and made very difficult, is not obsolete, for a party member to reject the parties idea, the governing party will always have the final say on the legislation(Schmitt et al, 1988). The Australian public votes for a candidate but the elected candidate must support the views of their party which may not leave the candidate representing its electoral area to the best of their abilities (Feena, 2001). With the electoral system favoring a two party system it is unlikely that the voting process will change anytime soon with one of the two parties will always be able to form government.
In conclusion Australia is run under a Westminster system of responsible government that sees the formation of government in the lower House of Representatives. Australia is a parliamentary democracy, allowing government to be formed and holding the parliament responsible between elections. Under the Westminster system the parliament is made responsible to the Australian public as the governor general and the lower house can call no confidence votes which can see an election held and parliament representatives changed. The two party system is possible through Australia electoral system, allowing the liberal party and labour party to be dominant in being elected as representatives as they cover the main stream views and ideas of Australia. The two party system can undermine parliamentary democracy as the two parties have control over the upper and lower house.
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