Welcome to Adulthood! You can drink, you can get a credit card, and most importantly, you can vote for who represents you in the Federal Parliament! Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been rumoured to be announcing a Federal Election date any time in the next few weeks, and that means that if you are NOT enrolled to vote before the writs for the election are issued (very soon to when it is announced) then YOU CANNOT VOTE! Anyone 17 or over can enrol, and anyone 18 or over at the time of the election is required to vote in Federal elections. We think that everyone 17 or over should enrol, you only have to do it once, and you’ll be ready to go!
Triple J, in partnership with the Federal Electoral Commission have started a campaign called ROCK ENROL, to get everyone aged 17 and over enrolled to vote! Here at GRIND we think it is really important to have your voice heard, and that the opportunity to vote in the governance of our country is a really great thing. So check out the ROCK ENROL website to enrol to vote!
For all of you who are getting ready to vote, are or starting to become interested in the way our country is run, here is some basic information about the Government and how your vote works.
There are three “arms” of Federal Government. These are;
- the legislature (or parliament, made up of the House of Reps and the Senate.) is responsible for debating and voting on new laws.
- the executive, which is responsible for enacting and upholding the laws established by the legislature.
- the judiciary (the high court and federal courts) is the legal arm of the Commonwealth Government. It is independent of the other two arms, and is responsible for enforcing the laws and deciding whether the other two arms are acting within their powers.
When we talk about politics, the Prime Minister and voting, we are usually referring to the Legislature.
The Commonwealth of Australia is a federation, and that means we have a Federal Government and State Governments. State and Federal Governments do different things, and what these things are are outlined in the Australian Constitution. States also have their own constitutions, and if they want to pass a law the Federal Government doesn’t like, it can be overturned. There are State Elections and Federal Elections (there are also Council Elections) and if you are 18 or over you HAVE to vote in them!
Federal Parliament is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House of Reps is all of the individuals who we (the general public) vote in to represent us, they are our voices and are elected by preferential voting. Preferential voting is how you vote in a Federal election: you are given a ballot with a number of candidates for your electorate, you will then assign each of these candidates a number, 1 being your favourite choice, 2 being your second favourite, and so on. This is very important, so pay attention- sometimes who you vote for second can be just as important as who you vote for as first. If one candidate gets more than 50% of number 1 votes, they are the automatic winner, if this does not happen (which happens a lot) then the candidate with the least amount of votes is excluded, and if you voted for them then your second preference is counted as your first preference. This process is repeated until one candidate has more than 50% of the vote.
The senate does not use preferential voting, they use proportional representation, which is very complicated. The main thing you need to know about the senate is that they are NOT voted in directly by the public, instead they allocate senate seats to parties in proportion to their overall vote.
Political parties are like teams that Politicians can be part of. Australia has four main political parties. The Australian Labor Party (ALP) is a social democratic party founded by the Australian labour movement (that’s who is in charge right now). The Liberal Party is a party of the centre right. The National Party of Australia, formerly the Country Party, is a conservative party representing rural interests. The Australian Greens is a left-wing and environmentalist party. Being a member of a party means that you will generally agree with the policies your party agrees with, and disagree with the things your party disagrees with. Some politicians prefer to make up their own minds, and are voted in with no party, as an Independent. Often the big parties must rely on convincing the Independents to join their views for laws to be passed, especially in the Senate.
Something that lots of people who are new to voting don’t understand is that in Australia the public does not vote in our Prime Minister. The Prime minister is a candidate, like everyone else, who must be voted in in their particular electorate. The candidate who is chosen to be Prime Minister is NOT voted in by the public when we vote, the political parties elect their own ministers and Prime Minister. Lately lots of people have been saying that Julia Gillard is not our “real” Prime Minister because we did not vote for her, without realising that we didn’t vote for Kevin Rudd either, we voted for the ALP.
So, go enrol! It’s your country, and it’s your vote!
While you’re at it check out Count Me In