More exciting than a velociraptor tearing into a flock of hyenas, more important than vital, icky surgery. A BBC News reporter once described Australian politics as resembling "a Soap Opera directed by Quentin Tarantino." Well, here goes:
Australia's political system is something of a hotchpotch, because when the Constitution was being written, its authors freely pillaged from other working democracies:
Like the UK, Australian uses the Westminster system. One effect of this is unlike presidential electoral campaigns, citizens only vote (officially) for their local candidate, or (unofficially) for political parties. The head of government is just whoever happens to lead the party that wins. Of course, this doesn't stop people voting based on personal charisma of political leaders.
Like the US, Australia is a federal system of states plus a few territories, and the federal government has elected upper and lower houses:
The Senate is the upper house, where each state is represented by twelve senators and the Australian Capital Territory (or ACT) and Northern Territory by two each.note Fun fact - some Australians suggested literally replicating the British system and having a House of Lords rather than a Senate. This was scornfully lambasted as the 'bunyip aristocracy', and would have consisted of randomly choosing families to have noble blood thereafter.
Note that like the US Senate and unlike the Canadian Senate or British Lords, the Australian Senate is effectively equal in power to the House, with the full and virtually unrestricted power to introduce and amend billsnote The exception being "money bills"—dealing with taxation and appropriations—which must originate in the House. This is true of most bicameral systems, however. Australia's Senate is nonetheless somewhat unique in that it also is forbidden from amending money bills. and block legislation (although by convention the Senate refrains from blocking bills whose failure would bring down the Government. Except for that one time).
The House of Representatives is the lower house, for which each state and territory is divided into named divisions (neat, eh?) of roughly equal population, each of which elects one MP.
Like the US, Australia has a written Constitution. This forms the ultimate authority which no laws or state actions can validly conflict with.
Like Switzerland, amending Australia's Constitution requires:
1. The amendment to be proposed by parliament, and:
2. The Australian people to approve in a referendum, with a majority in the overall population, and a majority of states (which in practice means 4 out of 6 states). Referenda in Australia are notorious for failing, but some have passed - in 1967, an amendment was passed with 90.77% approval to recognise Australian Aborigines as human beingsnote Well, to include them in the census: they were already Australian citizens, and had gained the right to vote in all elections five years previously. The same constitutional change also took away the right of states to make discriminatory laws..
Like many countries, Australia has the judiciary as an important check-and-balance for the government. The High Court of Australia has declared government legislation illegal if it contravenes Australia's legal obligations. It is the highest court of appeal, and also specifically tasked with interpreting the Constitution.
Australia's six states, and, to some extent, two of its territoriesnote The Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, have a degree of independence, and have their own parliaments with an upper house (except in Queensland, where they abolished the state-level upper house) and a lower house, which, like the House of Representatives, has a name for each seat. Tasmania is also different, the lower house is elected like the senate while the upper house is elected like the house of representatives.
The system has often been called "Washminster," which is actually a very good way of looking at it.
Depending on who you ask, Australia became a "nation" anywhere from 1854 to 1986. Australia's nationhood and independence developed throughout a gradual process of self-governance and separation from the UK rather than in a flashpoint like a revolution.
1854 or 1886: The firstnote New South Wales or lastnote Western Australia of the colonies became self-governing.
1901: One of the most often-cited dates, including by the government itself: on 1 January 1901, the six separate colonies became states and federated to form a single self-governing Commonwealth. At this point however, it was still subserviant to United Kingdom as a 'Dominion' of the Empire.
1915: Australian troops first went into battle as part of an Australian army.note Discounting the HMAS Sydney sinking the Emden as that was the navy, and Australian troops in the Boer war, as when that war was started there wasn't a unified Australian Army. This is considered by historians as the period when Australia forged its own national identity and proved itself to the rest of the world, and indeed ANZAC Day, a memoriam of 25th April 1915 when Australian troops landed in Gallipoli, is one of Australia's most important holidays. Some refer to it as Australia's "baptism by fire."
1931 or 1942: With the Statute of Westminster, the Parliament of the UK abolished its nominal right to legislate for Australia and its other Dominions. Of course, this was theoretically self-abrogating, until Australia adopted the Statute as Australian law in 1942.
1986: The other most often-cited date. The Australia Act severs the last powers of the UK government over Australia. Namely, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is no longer a partnote Formerly the highest court of appeal, in fact of the Australian judiciary.
Leaders and Government
The Prime Minister of Australia is the head of government. They are, as a rule, a sitting MP in the federal House of Representatives and the leader of the majority party in that chamber — they are in charge of the Cabinet (which consists of Ministers drawn from the House or the Senate) and generally run the whole show. The current Prime Minister is Tony Abbott of the Liberal Party.
There is also a Deputy Prime Minister. In a Labor Government the Deputy PM is also the deputy leader of the Labor Party, and in a Coalition government s/he is the leader of the smaller party in the Coalition (the Nationals). The Deputy PM's main responsibility is to step in as Acting PM in the event of the Prime Minister being overseas, incapacitated or dead. The current Deputy Prime Minister is Warren Truss.
The Prime Minister also has their own opposite number on the other side of politics: the leader of the second-largest party in the House of Representatives is designated Leader of the Opposition, and is in charge of their own Shadow Cabinet with Shadow Ministers from their own party. This is much less cool than it sounds: the purpose of the Shadow Cabinet is to criticise the real Cabinet, with each Shadow Minister focusing on their opposite number. The current Opposition Leader is Bill Shorten.
Unlike most parliamentary systems, the Senate is actually pretty powerful and any law must be passed with approval from both chambers. The House of Representatives does have the sole power to effectively decide which party goes into government, but many governments get frustrated when the Senate amends or rejects their bills.
The House of Representatives can sit for up to three years. Because the chamber doesn't start sitting until 1-2 months after the election, and that an election isn't held for up to 2 months after the dissolution, the actual gap between two elections can in theory be over 3 years and 4 months. The Governor-General orders the election to be held when requested by the Prime Minister.
The two territories each elect their two senators in each House election.
Out of the seats representing the states in the Senate, half of them will change over every three years on 1 July. Each state will elect 6 of its 12 senators to 6-year terms in a normal Senate election, which can be held up to 11 months before the changeover on a date chosen by the government. Most governments have tried to hold the elections of both chambers on the same day.
The use of multi-member seats means that minor parties have a stronger presence in the Senate (the 2013 election in particular produced a proliferation of minor parties). The Senate also gives stronger representation to smaller states and only half of it reflects the recent election results, with the other half reflecting the results of the previous election. In addition, it can take up to 11 months for the Senate to change after an election.
Since this sets up room for plenty of conflict, there exists a procedure called a double dissolution. If the Senate rejects bills from the House of Representatives under certain conditions, the government can dissolve both chambers. In this case, each state elects 12 senators in one go and they take their seats immediately. The next Senate changeover takes place in the second month of July to occur after the election, so another Senate election must be take place before then. There have been 6 double dissolutions in the history of Australia - the most recent was in 1987.
If a double dissolution still leaves Parliament deadlocked, the government can then call a joint session in which the two chambers sit as one and vote on legislation together. Since the House of Representatives is required to be twice the size of the Senate, this gives the latter a big advantage. There has only ever been one such joint sitting, in 1974.
The head of state of Australia is Queen Elizabeth II: her official title in this country is "Queen of Australia", and technically Australia is in personal union with the UK (that is, we are two separate countries which happen to have the same person as our monarch).
Australia has probably the largest republican movement note which of course has nothing to do with the US Republican party out of the former British colonies. This movement is very old. It predates the federation of modern Australia, and has been supported by key Australian cultural figures throughout history. For example, in 1887, Henry Lawson (one of Australia's two most revered poets) wrote his first ever poem, "A Song of the Republic", urging Australians to free their land of "old-world errors and wrongs and lies". However, a referendum to institute an Australian republic in 1999 was only supported by 45% of Australians - some republicans refused to support it because they wanted to directly elect a president, which was not the choice available. Those hoping for an upswell in republican sentiment in future generations were disappointed - support for an Australian republic has dramatically decreased, particularly since the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate (everyone loves a good wedding). Thus, the position of Australia's monarch may be a little contentious, but it remains secure.
In practice, all the responsibilities of the head of state are delegated to the Governor-General of Australia, who is an acting head of state appointed by the Prime Minister for a single five-year term. All the Governor-General normally has to do is officially sign bills into law, although they do have certain emergency powers which have been exercised before — most notoriously in 1975, when Governor-General John Kerr sacked the Prime Minister and appointed the Opposition Leader in his place.
The Governors-General did not get off to an auspicious start (the first one, Lord Hopetoun, tried to unconstitutionally appoint the then-Premier of New South Wales as caretaker Prime Ministernote Incidentally, said Premier was outspoken about being opposed to Federation), and were pretty much one boring British peer after another until Sir Isaac Issacs was appointed to the position in 1930: he was both the first Jewish Governor-General, and the first Governor-General to have been actually born in Australia (naturally, Britain was shocked and appalled). The last Governor-General from Britain, William Sidney, ended his term in 1965 — since then Australia has been generally opposed to appointing non-Australians to the position: there has been one Governor-General who was a member of the Royal Family (Prince Henry, son of George V, immediately after World War II) but when both Prince Charlesnote Who, incidentally, had spent two terms at Geelong Grammar School in Victoria and Prince William expressed interest in the position (in the 1980s and 2000s respectively) both were told "Um... how about no." The current Governor-General is Quentin Bryce, Australia's first female Governor-General.
An interesting effect of this is that from 2010 to 2013, the three people with the most power in Australia - the Monarch, the Governor-General and the Prime Minister - were all women. Of course, the richest person is also a woman...
As they are based off the same system, each state mirrors the federal government in its structure (except for Queensland, whose parliament is unicameral). The head of a state government is the Premiernote also known pre-Federation as the Prime Minister, but obviously this had to be changed later, and each state also has its own appointed Governor who acts as the Queen's representative for that statenote hence the title "Governor-General" for their federal equivalent.
There are currently two major political parties and a few significant minor parties. The current ruling party is the Coalition, the alliance between the Australian Liberal Party and the Australian National Party, which gained power after the Labor Party lost the 2013 election after maintaining power for six years (Australian Prime Ministers can stay in power for as long as the public votes their parties in and their parties continue to support them). (NB: Australian spell labor "labour" unless it's the Labor party, named the American way from a charming early twentieth-century vogue for 'modernised spelling' — the disco of its day. This does allow for the joke that the Labor Party can't spell and the Liberal Party can't use a dictionary.)
Labor: The Australian Labor Party is Australia's oldest political party, having formed during the 19th century. The ALP began as (and to a degree still is) the political arm of the Australian worker's union movement. Support from union bosses is still an important political commodity within the ALP. Initially, they were relatively strong socialists who advocated the nationalisation of the means of production. They also had a rather brutal split with the catholic Democratic Labor Party in the 1950s, which led to them being out of government for all but three of the next 23 years; then, after a three year government under Gough Whitlam, they returned to opposition. In 1983, they came back into power under Bob Hawke, who would become Australia's third longest serving Prime Minister. After losing the 1996 election to the Coalition, their next reign of power was between 2007 and 2013. Its support bases are the outer suburbs of the major cities, industrial provincial areas (the Hunter Valley, the Illawarra, and Geelong are the most prominent), and certain gentrified inner-city seats. Their members have a very wide range of political views ranging from Christian Social Conservatism to old-style Socialism to 'third-way' centrism, averaging out to a more or less Centre Left position.
The Coalition: Made up of two parties: the Liberal Party, the larger and more powerful, and the National Party, the smaller hanger-on. Despite its name, these days the Liberal Party is generally more conservative than Labor (hence creating awkward terminology, such as "small L liberal"), while the National Party is more concerned with rural issues (hence its original name, the "Country Party"). The Liberal Party have historically claimed to be a Classical Liberal party but their actual policy mix now is generally centrist with nods to either Classical Liberalism or Social Conservatism (depending on which will help win elections). In 1996, then-leader John Howard won the election, and the Coalition ended up maintaining power for 11 years after. They were out of power from 2007 to 2013, but are currently once again the government. The National Party stands for the interests of rural people, which can coincide with porkbarrelling. The Coalition gains much of its support from rural voters and richer suburbs, although in recent years they have gained increasing support in outer suburbs. As with Labor, members of the coalition parties will have a very wide range of political views ranging from Christian Social Conservatism to Classical Liberalism to 'third-way' centrism, averaging out to Centre Right.
In some regions of Australia the Coalition parties are formally merged into a single party, apparently to present a more coherent political front. There is the Liberal National Party, unique to the state of Queensland, and the Country Liberal Party, unique to the Northern Territory. The latter dates back to before the National Party's name change; the former was established in 2008. It may be noteworthy that Queensland and the Northern Territory were the only places where the National Party was more powerful than the Liberal Party...
The important minor parties include:
Australian Greens: Essentially like Greens everywhere, the Australian Greens promote the environment, but are also notable for its policies on drugs and immigration.note Many people believe they're for legalizing illegal drugs. They're not. Internationally famous for being one of the few Green parties to exert any meaningful pull at all, they tend to have very strong support in the inner-most city suburbs. Federally, they hold the balance of power in the Australian Senate with nine seats, and also hold one seat in the House of Representatives (whose support is integral to the passage of bills by the current minority government). On a state level the Greens also hold balance of power in the in the Tasmanian and ACT lower houses.
Katter's Australian Party: a very new political party founded by federal MP Bob Katter and his Nice Hat — the party's positions are heavily based on those of Katter himself, a former Independent from North Queensland well known for his eccentricity. The party is best described as "agrarian socialist", with strong social conservatism combined with a protectionist and anti-privatisation economic policy. Made a strong showing in the 2012 Queensland state election, winning two seats and 11.5% of the primary vote; they've since picked up one more state MP who defected from the LNP.
Palmer's United Party: Another new party from Queensland which has poached parliament seats from the LNP. It was founded by the billionaire Clive Palmer, ostensibly as a relaunch of the older party of the same name. Unlike the KAP, it is economically right wing, and socially progressive. Their policies include saving $5 billion on boat people sea patrols and detention by flying applicants to Australia for processing, supporting Gonski, axing the carbon tax, and better exploiting Australia's natural wealth.
Family First: A very recent party (founded in 2002), Family First has grown to become a significant minor party. Although it is technically secular, it is the "Christian" party of Australia, standing for such secular policies as reducing abortion, increasedcensorship, and thinking of the children. However, they're not exactly Pat Robertsons in cowboy Akubra hats. Examples include Indigenous issues and immigration policy - in both instances they take a more liberal (not Liberal — it's confusing) approach and as such line up with the "left," for various reasons (for instance, on the Indigenous issues, quite a lot of Indigenous people are socially-conservative Christians). The party has seats in South Australia.
Christian Democratic Party: Even more the Christian Right than Family First, this is a small but rather persistent party under the Reverend Fred Nile, who keeps up from his sinecure in the New South Wales Legislative Council.
Democratic Labor Party: Successor to the original DLP, which was an extremely important third party in the mid-20th century before disbanding. A remnant re-founded the DLP and claimed continuity with the old party, but remained completely unnoticed for about thirty years afterwards. However, in 2006 the DLP inexplicably made a comeback in the Victorian state election, winning one seat on the Legislative Council [i.e. state senate]; then, in the 2010 federal election, they again won a seat in the national senate (on only 2.2% of the primary vote, thanks to preference deals, rather like Family First six years before). Like the original DLP they are socially conservative and economically left-wing.
Australian Sex Party: Assuredly not Exactly What It Says on the Tin. A very new party which has yet to attain any real power but grabs a lot of attention, due to the name. Its official launch was conducted at Sexpo in Melbourne in 2008. The party was initially founded as a double issue party opposed to the Internet filter and for the legalization of gay marriage, an issue that the big parties are burying at present. They're also in favour of compulsory and specifically accurate, non-biased sex education in Australian schools, an R18+ video game category, legalising abortion, making the laws regarding pornography more consistent with other sex related laws, decriminalization of prostitution, creating Federal anti-discrimination laws for employment and (as a Take That to Family First) ending the tax exemption status to religious institutions that are not primarily a charity or some other community aid organisation. Time will tell whether the ASP will go the distance and satisfy the Australian people.
Liberal Democratic Party: Another very new party which, in the 2010 election, missed out on a seat representing New South Wales in the Federal Senate by 20 000 votes (losing to a Green). Formed in the mid 2000's by economist John Humphreys and allied with the Australian Libertarian Society. Unlike the British party of the same name, the LDP supports both social liberalism (being socially to the left of even the Greens; supporting ending the drug war, demonopolizing the gambling market, and supporting same-sex marriage and freer immigration) and economic liberalism (in the Classical Liberal sense of the term (being economically to the right of the Liberal party); supporting free markets, deregulation of the labor market, ending barriers to international trade). Roughly the Australian equivalent to the Libertarian Party in the United States or the Free Democratic Party in Germany.
The Wikileaks Party: Well you can guess who ran this party. Gained a fairly decent amount of media attention but mostly collapsed after severval of its candidates quit because to the parties preference deals (see below) were revealed to have included some unsavory groups.
Although these parties are stronger than other minor parties, the Greens and Katter's Australian Party only gained seats at the federal House of Representatives in 2010, which they retained in the 2013 election. However, the 2013 also saw a shift towards minor and even micro parties. In the technical sense, Australia does not have a two-party system. It's just that only two parties ever form government, two parties win the overwhelming majority of seats, and the only other party to have held a ministry in any government in the last 90 years is in a permanent, unending coalition with the Liberal Party.
Of course, not all politicians belong to political parties. Independents also influential as singular freelance politicians with no ties to any particular party. The larger parties may bend over backwards to get them to vote in their favour whenever they hold the balance of power in a house of Parliament. In the House of Representatives, there are currently five independent M Ps, two of whom (Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson) were expelled from their political parties (elected with the LNP and the ALP respectively); additionally, the House's sole KAP member Bob Katter was elected as an independent. In the Senate, there is currently one independent: "No Pokies" senator Nick Xenophon.
Here are a few formerly-important major parties and third parties which are now defunct or as good as defunct:
Protectionist Party — one of the original two main political parties, and the first to form government: home to Australia's first two prime ministers. As the name suggests, their main thing was protectionism — otherwise, the party had both liberal and conservative wings. While it existed, it governed as a minority government with Labor's (conditional) support. Dissolved 1909.
Free Trade Party, later known as the Anti-Socialist Party — the other of the original two main political parties. Again, their main issue was free trade, and the party had both liberal and conservative wings — but with the emergence of Labor as a major party they began to position themselves specifically against them (hence the name change). Spent most of their time in Opposition — only ever formed government once, and even then it was for less than a year. Also dissolved 1909.
Commonwealth Liberal Party, also known as The Fusion — formed from the Protectionist Party and Anti-Socialist Party merging in 1909, when they apparently realised they had more in common with each other than with Labor (who had now officially become a major party). Could be called the original ancestor of the modern-day Liberal Party.
National Labor Party — a short-lived offshoot of Labor, formed in 1916 from members expelled from the party over the issue of conscription... including the then-Prime Minister, Billy Hughes. Immediately entered into coalition with the Commonwealth Liberal Party, giving them the majority and therefore the government.
Nationalist Party — the new major party, formed when the Commonwealth Liberal Party and National Labor officially merged in early 1917. Governed for the next twelve-and-a-half years total, with two Prime Ministers, and remained in opposition for two years afterward before dissolving.
Australian Party — a short-lived offshoot of the Nationalists, formed in 1930 from members expelled from the party over the issue of industrial relations... including former Prime Minister Billy Hughes. Sound familiar? Once again, Hughes's defection led to the bringing-down of the sitting government — except this time Hughes et. al. didn't join the opposition but stayed as a minor party for a year or so before being absorbed into the Nationalists' successor, the United Australia Party.
Lang Labor — a minor party formed as an offshoot from the ALP, founded by Jack Lang during the Great Depression. Composed of a left-wing branch of the ALP who were dissatisfied with the ALP government then in power — so they helped to bring it down and let the conservative opposition in instead (yeah, Nice Job Breaking It, Hero). Eventually diminished and lost all significance, but hung onto existence until Jack Lang died.
United Australia Party — another old major party, founded in 1931 from the merging of the Nationalist Party with a group of defectors from Labor as well as the Australian Party and several conservative independents. Governed for nine-and-a-half years total, with two Prime Ministers, before finally dissolving in 1944. The immediate predecessor of the Liberal Party.
Democratic Labor Party: The original incarnation. The DLP dates back to the early 1950s when they split from the ALP, claiming that the ALP were too communist for their tastes. A rather large third party of socially-conservative social democrats, the DLP consistently directed their voter preferences to the Coalition in front of Labor, and therefore guaranteed that the Coalition could stay in permanent power for 23 years despite losing the popular vote twice. The original DLP finally disbanded in the mid-70s, although a remnant lived on and has recently won two seats in two elections (see above).
Australian Democrats: Originally created in 1978 out of a merger of two left-wing splinter groups from the Liberal Party. Started off intending to be a happy medium between Labor and Liberal, maintaining a roughly centrist political view; over the next twenty years they steadily drifted to the left until they effectively ended up more left-wing than Labor (which had been drifting to the right at the same time). The party barely exists now, although it was the largest of the minor parties during the 1990s. They disintegrated spectacularly in the early 2000s, once it became apparent that all the party's major figures loathed each other and their own party. Famous campaigned under a pledge to "keep the bastards honest", the 'bastards' being either the major parties or politicians in general — which became somewhat amusing on reflection when they imploded.
One Nation - A party standing for the age-old Australian values of intolerance, ignorance and fish and chips. Received massive publicity in the late '90s, until it became apparent that all involved had no idea what they were doing. Led by Pauline Hanson, a former fish and chips shop owner from Queensland, who unexpectedly won a seat in Federal Parliament as an independent in 1996. From her maiden speech, claiming that Australia was 'swamped' with Asians, the party went through an inexplicable storm of popularity. At its height, the party won 23% of the vote in Queensland in the 1998 state election, second only to Labor. (If you visit Queensland, and you look around, one in four of them voted for One Nation.) Hanson lost her seat in Parliament in 1998, and later left the party. One Nation now exists largely in the memories of those who despised them — those who supported them are hopefully trying to forget the whole thing.
How did she win as an independent?. She was a Liberal who was dropped when they realised what she thought. Before the election, but too late to take her off the list.
Pauline Hanson went on to run again in the 2007 election in Queensland, under the banner of a new political party "Pauline's United Australia Party" (not to be confused with the original United Australia Party listed above) of which she seemed to be the sole member. Her most famous opponent (as far as the press seemed to think) was an ex football player who dropped out when someone forgot to register him. She lost.
Because there aren't so many sensitive issues in Australia as in the United States or the United Kingdom, most of the issues in Australian politics are relatively immediate. The only potentially divisive issue between Labor and the Liberals is the economy. Whilst both parties fundamentally accept a mixed economy, the Liberal party is (in general) slightly more likely to gravitate towards markets, whereas Labor is slightly more likely to gravitate towards government-based measuresnote Interestingly, on the major issue of Carbon Tax/Emission Trading Scheme, Labor stands firm on market-based mechanisms, whereas Liberal wants a direct government intervention. This varies between individual members of the parties, and it also varies depending on the issue. For instance, whilst the Hawke-Keating Labor governments did a lot of deregulation and privatization, Howard's government made a move towards a less regulated labour market and the unions within the ALP were not remotely happy.
Amusingly, the Taiwanese provided a better summary of the events in the leadup to the 2010 election than the Australian media did. You don't even need to understand Chinese.
Australia uses "preferential voting" — also known as the "Alternative Vote" system in the UK, or as "instant-runoff voting" (which despite initial hopes is not forcing pudgy, middle-aged politicians to sprint). Rather than voting for a singular candidate and have them win through a plurality (i.e. whoever wins the most votes) such as in other countries, Australians are made to vote for their members in order of preference, ranking them 1, 2, 3 and so on. If no one wins a majority (i.e. more than 50%) of #1 votes first off, then whoever got the least number is eliminated and those votes are distributed to whoever the voters ranked as #2 instead — the process is repeated until someone gets a majority.note The Irish vote the same way, with one key difference: Aussie divisions for the House of Representatives are single-member, while constituencies for the Dáil in Ireland are multi-member (3-5 TDs per constituency), technically making it a different system called Single Transferable Vote. For reasons of complicated electoral math, this has the effect that the Dáil is a quasi-proportional system and has a lot more parties than the House of Representatives. Even more confusingly, the Australian Senate uses the same system as the Irish Dáil, but still call it preferential voting. This (the system, not the name) is why you see all kinds of minor parties in the Senate that never or barely ever manage to win a seat in the House.
To prevent confusion, there are television and print ads explaining how a ranking ballot works ("put a '1' in the box of the candidate you prefer the most, etc. etc. etc."). On voting day, party supporters hand out "how-to-vote cards" at polling booths showing how each party prefers candidates from the other parties so that unsure people can just vote according to what their party wants.
Also of note is that voting is compulsory. You can generally get away with not voting but legally you're expected to vote. A $AUS20 fine applies for not voting.
In some states, you're not obliged to mark the ballot in any way. If you genuinely don't care about your vote, you can just write "All politicians are wankers" on your ballot and put that in. Of course, if you vote correctly and write "All politicians are wankers" on the ballot, than the vote counters, while recounting everything, will see your vote half-a-dozen times.
There is a joke: "For Christ's sake don't vote informal! I wrote 'Useless bastards!' on a ballot paper in 1971, and they've been in office ever since."
"Donkey voting" is a type of formal (valid) vote, where the voter just numbers each box, consecutively 1-onwards, this is usually an "I don't care vote" but it can be helpful if there is a lot of candidates in a lower house election because a lower house ticket must be completely filled to be valid. Unfortunately, most media outlets, and thus most voters, use the terms informal and donkey interchangeably. They are not.
A variation of donkey voting is to rank your favourite parties at the top, then rank all the others in the order they appear on the ballot paper, which is done by voters who have a preference but not interested in ranking the other candidates.
Some people intentionally vote informal because they feel the compulsory voting system has driven both major parties to the centre, forcing them to pander to the 'swing' voters, turning elections into tax cut auctions and fights over which party hates brown people more. They might also feel that regardless of which way they vote, there won't be a recognisable change in leadership; just in the voice doing the 'leading', and so their 'say' is pointless regardless. (The fact that by doing so they are in fact making damned sure that their vote won't count rarely seems to occur to them.)
The preferential voting system is worth noting because it means there's no such thing as a minor candidate "splitting the vote". If somebody really likes the Greens but would rather Labor win than Liberal, he can vote 1 Greens and 2 Labor, and ifwhen the Greens candidate doesn't get in, that vote goes to Labor rather than being wasted. Plenty of people vote for all the minor parties first, and their actual contribution to the election comes from whether it's Labor 7, Liberal 8 (or Labor 139-145, Liberal 146-151, as in some states' interminably long federal senate ballot papers) or vice versa.
Even so, not everyone realises this is the case. You still hear people saying they're going to give their first preference to a major party because "they need it more" (in fact, the opposite is true since the votes will eventually make their way, with their full power, to the two-party preferred statistic anyway).
Unfortunately the system has it's weaknesses as you have to number every single candidate (who can number over a hundred) to choose which ones get your preference votes so very few voters do so. Also if you vote the simpler way of labelling a single party for your vote the preference votes are distributed amongst parties according to "preference deals" or agreements between the parties. After the 2013 election it became major issue when a minor candidate who have a tiny amount of votes gained a seat purely through preference deals.
Since they're all interchangeable bastards, we don't bother remembering any politician's names, so the only ones the average Aussie will know (apart from Harold Holt above, or WWII PM John Curtin, or Robert Menzies post-WWII) are the last dozen-or-so Prime Ministers: Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, and Tony Abbott.
Edmund Barton if you're 20 years or older. That did cost a few million dollars for the TV ad campaign though.
Most are also able to remember Peter Garrett, but that's only because he was part of the band Midnight Oil.
As well as for the, ah, Pink Batts scheme. Does anyone actually know of this, aside from Australians?
No one in Queensland will ever forget the infamous premier (equivalent to an American state governor) Joh Bjelke-Petersen either, as much as they'd like to. He shamelessly dished out favors to developers, openly referred to an Aboriginal activist as "Mr. Witchetty Grub", openly supported South Africa's apartheid regime (and responded to protests by bringing in rural cops and stuffing jails until protesters had to be kept in paddy wagons), considered blasting shipping lanes through the Great Barrier Reef with ''nuclear weapons'', involved in the allegedly corrupt pro-development 'white shoe brigade'...and somehow managed to remain in power for nearly 20 years. And even then he was only forced to step down due to a growing bribe scandal in the State Police. He certainly didn't help improve Queensland's redneck stereotype. Though hated by many living in the cities, Bjelke-Petersen is still adored by those living in rural areas, particular around the area of Kingaroy where he lived.
Sir Joh (yes he got a knighthood) was a bad Premier. But the thing many people don't remember, either because of selective memory or because it was so long ago, is that he stayed in power so long because of huge gerrymandering of electorates, and the lack of any upper house to put breaks on his political bastardry.
He was also born in New Zealand. You can have him, we certainly don't.
Despite running what many may describe as a 'quasi—fascist' government, Sir Joh does need to take credit for the incredible development of Queensland, and particularly Brisbane and the Gold Coast, which, before his time, were little more than large country towns.
As a side note, most Prime Ministers until John Gorton have a suburb in the Australian Capital Territory named after them.
A note Relatively Brief Summary of Each Australian Prime Minister:
Edmund Barton (Protectionist Party) was Australia's first prime minister, from 1901 to 1903. Conservative, rich and racist — the first law his government passed was the foundation of the White Australia Policy, which effectively banned non-white people from immigrating to Australia. Media nickname "Toby Tosspot", owing to his fondness for the bottle. Resigned to become a High Court judge. He was actually pretty terrible as a Prime Minister, lazy, ineffectual and not all that clever, but he was The First. He was a pretty so-so High Court Judge, too.
Alfred Deakin (Protectionist Party) succeeded Barton, and was Prime Minister on three non-consecutive occasions between 1903 and 1910. Among people familiar with history, Deakin is remembered rather more favourably than Barton. His policies were small-l liberal, but no one remembers that. Deakin is also known for believing he could commune with dead politicians, who advised him on tactics.
(1903-1904) The first time he was Prime Minister, however, he didn't really do much at all. He won re-election in 1903, but a swing to Labour gave all three parties near-equal representation in the House. He ended up resigning in frustration after a year.
Chris Watson (Labour Party), Prime Minister for four months in 1904 after Deakin's resignation. He was the ALP's first ever Prime Minister, and the first Prime Minister to come from a Labour Party in the entire world... but didn't really do much in his brief tenure. Also noteworthy for having become Prime Minister without being an Australian citizen or even a British (Empire) subject: he was born in Valparaíso (Chile) to a German-Chilean father and a New Zealander mother, and was never naturalised.
George Reid (Free Trade Party), Prime Minister 1904-1905. Formed government during a brief period where the unofficial alliance between the Protectionists and Labour fell apart — spent a much longer period of time as Leader of the Opposition. He was of a liberal bent, but again no one remembers that. Later became Australia's first High Commissioner in London.
Alfred Deakin again (Protectionist Party).
(1905-1908) Fifteen months and two prime ministers after first resigning the position, Deakin became PM again. Successfully passed protectionist legislation... after which there wasn't much left that distinguished his party from the Free Traders/Anti-Socialists, resulting in them losing supporters. Managed to hold onto minority government after the December 1906 election despite having won the least number of seats of the three parties, but it didn't last another two years.
Andrew Fisher (Labour Party) was also Prime Minister on three non-consecutive occasions between 1908 and 1915. Left-wing and reformist, although still in favour of conscription, he was one of Labour's most successful Prime Ministers in the early 20th century.
(1908-1909) Fisher first became PM of a minority government in 1908 after forcing Deakin out. This time around, he only lasted seven months before Deakin took back the government.
Alfred Deakin yet again (Commonwealth Liberal Party).
(1909-1910) With the Protectionist Party bleeding supporters to Labour and to the Anti-Socialists, and most of their support being directed to Deakin himself, Deakin organised a merger of the Protectionists and the Anti-Socialists into the "Commonwealth Liberal Party" with himself as leader, giving them a majority and effectively creating Australia's modern two-party system. It backfired: a good deal of liberal Protectionists felt that Deakin had sold out his principles, and voted him out in the next election.
Andrew Fisher again (Labor Party — they dropped the "u" during his tenure, in 1912).
(1910-1913) Won big in the 1910 election, becoming the first person to be elected the head of a majority government in Australia. Passed a huge number of reforms, only one of which was officially changing his party's name to a misspelling. Lost the 1913 election by one seat.
Joseph Cook (Commonwealth Liberal Party), Prime Minister from 1913 to 1914. Former member of the Free Trade Party. Governed with a one-seat majority and a hostile senate — this led to a double-dissolution election after one year, which he lost.
Andrew Fisher yet again (Labor Party).
(1914-1915) Having won back the position of Prime Minister, he didn't keep it very long, resigning after a year.
Billy Hughes (Labor Party, then National Labor Party, then Nationalist Party) succeeded Fisher. The most xenophobic PM Australia has had (Former PM Malcolm Fraser even referred to his politics as 'evil'). He was kicked out of the Labor Party in 1916 over the issue of conscription (which he supported and most of the party didn't), but stayed Prime Minister by merging his small band of expelled supporters into the Commonwealth Liberal Party to form the Nationalist Party, which formed the new government and won a huge majority in 1917. Hughes stayed Prime Minister until 1923, when his party dumped him as leader so that they could enter into coalition with the Country Party to stay in governmentnote the coalition still lasts to this day, now as the Liberal/National Coalition (the Country Party being leery of Hughes's Labor background). Hughes spent his entire career jumping from party to party — Labor to National Labor to Nationalist to independent to Australian to United Australia to independent to Liberal. He sat in Parliament for fifty-one years, a record.
Hughes was extremely racist, and a vehement supporter of the White Australia Policy. At the Paris Peace Conference he was the most vocal opponent of Japan's Racial Equality Proposal (acting as a cat's paw for David Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson, who also opposed the proposal but less openly); the proposal's resultant defeat made Japan quite annoyed.
Bizarrely, Hughes genuinely fearedan ethnic German uprising in Australia in the midst of WWI, and even had the police draw him secret escape and counter-militia measures, for when the German hordes descended upon the government. Unsurprisingly, and as the police consistently told him, this was totally pointless. Most ethnic Germans had been in Australia for generations. On another note, Hughes also shot invective at Irish and Catholic Australians during his pro-conscription campaign, despite the fact that huge numbers of Irish Australians actively volunteered for service.
Hughes was also instrumental in insisting that the Treaty of Versailles should oblige Germany to pay war reparations, ganging up with French PM Georges Clemenceau to browbeat Lloyd George into backing the measure. Reparations, of course, played a huge part in the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism. If only Woodrow Wilson's style had been less Holier Than Thou professorial lecturing and more annoying politicking...
In 1917, while Hughes was campaigning in Queensland, an anti-conscription protester lobbed an egg at him, hitting the PM square in the face. Hughes demanded that the man be arrested on the spot, and was furious when the police on the scene refused. So furious, in fact, that he subsequently founded the Commonwealth Police Force, the predecessor to today's Australian Federal Police.
Stanley Bruce (Nationalist Party), Prime Minister 1923 to 1929. When the Country Party forced Billy Hughes to resign as PM as a price for entering coalition with the Nationalists, Bruce was picked as his replacement. He was a conservative, stuck-up, condescending bastard who constantly wore an expression of deep disdain for those around him. His major political achievements were his "Men, Money, Markets" policies (increased immigration, increased government spending, more international trade) which had the cumulative result of driving the country to the ground in the Great Depression, thanks to enormous debt and a uniform economy. Bruce ended up being brought down by the man he replaced: in 1929, Hughes and a few other Nationalists crossed the floor on a crucial bill and were expelled from the Nationalists, forcing a federal election — an election which Bruce not only lost, but in which he became the first sitting Prime Minister to actually lose his own seat in Parliament. He was also infamously known for his irrational hatred of unions and the labour movement in general, and passed extremely harsh strike-breaking laws.
James Scullin (Labor Party), Prime Minister 1929 to 1932, and the first Catholic PM. Was sworn in two days before the Wall Street Crash, which made his entire tenure as Prime Minister all about the Great Depression. Ended up acting as Treasurer as well after the first one, Ted Theodore, was forced to resign in scandal. Spent the entire second half of 1930 in England begging for a loan; he left James Fenton as acting PM and Joseph Lyons as acting Treasurer, who drastically changed government policy to cut spending while he was away. After returning he tried to reinstate Theodore as Treasurer — as a result, his party suffered two splits at once: a faction of rightists (who included Fenton and Lyons) thought Theodore was too radical, and defected to the opposition; another faction (known as "Lang Labor", led by Jack Lang) thought Theodore wasn't radical enough. An early election was forced and Scullin lost in landslide.
Joseph Lyons (United Australia Party), Prime Minister 1932 to 1939. Formerly a Labor minister under Scullin, he left the party along with four other MPs in 1931 — they combined with the Nationalist Party plus three other independent MPs to form the United Australia Party (the Liberal Party's immediate predecessor). Is generally remembered favourably. The first Australian prime minister to die in office.
Sir Earle Page (Country Party), served as caretaker Prime Minister for nineteen days in 1939, taking over after Lyons' death. Only served as PM until the United Australia Party, as the dominant party in the Coalition, could elect a new leader — who turned out to be Robert Menzies, whom Sir Earle hated. The second-longest-serving federal MP in Australia, after fellow former PM Billy Hughes. Also the only sitting Prime Minister to have been knighted (several others were also knighted, but only after their times in office).
Robert Menzies (United Australia Party), Prime Minister on two non-consecutive occasions between 1939 and 1966, and Australia's longest-serving PM. Hugely anti-communist, and massive Britphile — once proclaimed that Australians were "British to [their] bootstraps", and had ambitions to become Prime Minister of the UK someday (obviously, never fulfilled). He ended up founding the Liberal Party, and is regarded as a founding father of modern Australian conservatism.
Menzies at the time was regarded as far more 'small l' liberal than the Labor Party. He would later say about the party he founded "We took the name 'Liberal' because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his rights, and his enterprise, and rejecting the socialist panacea."
Of course, considering Menzies was a dedicated supporter of the White Australia Policy, the individual was the 'white' individual specifically. Whatever his economic progressivism, Menzies was a dedicated social conservative. Notably, he did not see a difference between Australians and Britons. In 1950, his Australia Day speech extolled the greatness of the British Empire, and he even told his crowd ‘You and I are Australians. We are also British. We do not and cannot think of the people of the other British nations as a foreign people’.
(1939-1941) His first time as Prime Minister, however, wasn't so successful. He first took over soon after Lyons died, but proved to be not very good as a wartime Prime Minister and was unpopular fairly quickly. Held onto government after the 1940 election returned a hung parliament, but was forced to resign the following year.
He had the nickname "Pig Iron Bob" due to his promotions of iron exports to Japan in the thirties. The joke (and it says a lot about Australians that this is a joke) is that the Japanese gave it back soon after.
Arthur Fadden (Country Party), became Prime Minister in 1941 after Menzies' resignation, despite being from the Country Party and not the UAP. He only lasted 40 days before the independents who held the balance of power switched their support to Labor — which may have been some small consolation to Menzies.
John Curtin (Labor Party), Prime Minister 1941 to 1945, and also the first known agnostic PM. Led Australia during World War II, and is credited with starting Australia's close alliance with the US. Considered one of our great Prime Ministers, for his war-time leadership, great oratory and general sympathy for the poor guy. Had ill health all through his tenure and ended up being the second Australian Prime Minister to die in office.
Frank Forde (Labor Party), caretaker Prime Minister for seven days in 1945 after Curtin's death — the shortest tenure in the history of the country. Naturally, he isn't remembered for much else. Was also remembered for being the longest-lived Prime Minister (having lived to age 92 years, 194 days) until his record was surpassed by Gough Whitlam in 2009.
Ben Chifley (Labor Party), Prime Minister 1945 to 1949. Became Prime Minister one week after John Curtin died, and was re-elected the following year (defeating former Prime Minister Robert Menzies, the first leader of the Liberal Party). The last truly socialist Prime Minister of Australia, and one of the most influential. Is something of a hero of the Australian left. Ended up suffering a huge backlash in 1948 for trying to nationalise the banks and was branded a commie, and lost in landslide to Menzies in a rematch election the following year.
Chifley is best remembered for his "light on the hill" speech, which is seen as encapsulating the Australian Labor movement's ideals and aspirations. The appropriate section is quoted below:
Chifley: I try to think of the Labor movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody's pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective — the light on the hill — which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for. If the movement can make someone more comfortable, give to some father or mother a greater feeling of security for their children, a feeling that if a depression comes there will be work, that the government is striving its hardest to do its best, then the Labor movement will be completely justified.
Chifley is also notable for instituting the first mass-migration program to include non-British immigrants, with Australia under his watch accepting large numbers of refugees from across post-war Europe. However, as the migration program was primarily motivated by Australia being underpopulated and a fear that they needed to "populate or perish", special care was taken to ensure that all the immigrants were suitably white and theoretically able to be culturally assimilated. Still, it was a first step.
Robert Menzies again (Liberal Party), for a long time this time.
(1949-1966) Founded the Liberal Party while out of power, merging the United Australia Party with several minor parties, and became its first leader. Was widely regarded as unelectable until the whole debacle in 1948, after which he went on to win back the Prime Ministership. Cruised through his time as PM without serious opposition due to the ALP-DLP split. It was during his tenure, in 1962, that the right to vote in federal elections was extended to indigenous Australians. He lasted forever and ever and ever, governing for 17 years straight and finally not so much resigning as ascending to Camelot.
Heckler: I wouldn't vote for you if you were the Archangel Gabriel!
Menzies:Madam, if I were the Archangel Gabriel, I'm afraid you wouldn't be in my constituency.
Menzies was well-known for his wit, so much that a collection titled The Wit of Robert Menzies was the best-selling non-fiction book in Australia for a period.
Harold Holt (Liberal Party) — Prime Minister from 1966 to 1967, taking over after Menzies' retirement and winning re-election later that year. Didn't make much of a mark during his relatively short tenure: he was mainly known for being a strong supporter of the Vietnam War (which was popular at the time), expanding Australia's troop commitment and coming up with the quote "All the way with LBJ." Holt and his successors were less conservative than Menzies, and began to further ease restrictions on Asians and other non-White people, and drop the interchangeability of 'British' and 'Australian'. What Holt is most famous for nowadays is how he died — or rather, how he disappeared without a trace. One day in December 1967, after a few drinks and a tough day at the office, Harold Holt plunged into the surf at Portsea to impress a woman generally considered his mistress, and was never seen again.
And in true Australian spirit, in Melbourne we named a council swimming pool after him.
Harold Holt's death was the subject of many conspiracy theories that continue to this day. Theories range from him having deliberately committed suicide, to having faked his own death, to having been kidnapped in the water by a Chinese submarine.
And some Aussies love mocking the conspiracy theories.
Yes, haven't you heard? They're now looking for a dingo with a snorkel.
John McEwen (Country Party), caretaker Prime Minister after Holt's disappearance from 1967 to 1968... well, actually it was only 23 days, but it lasted over the New Year. It was expected that the Holt's deputy leader William McMahon would take over as PM in short order — but McEwen, who hated McMahon, officially said "No way in hell" and refused to let McMahon's candidacy even be considered. Eventually, the job went to...
John Gorton (Liberal Party), Prime Minister 1968 to 1971, and the first known atheist PM. Gorton eventually got the job of Prime Minister after a lot of factional in-fighting within the Coalition over who'd take over. Gorton ended up losing much of his initial popularity, just scraping re-election in 1969 and losing a leadership challenge to William McMahon 18 months later.
Gorton was Prime Minister during the Lunar landings of 1969. He also presided over the greatest loosening of censorship laws Australia has ever seen (spear-headed by Minister for Communications and his good mate, Don Chipp). And as a youth, one of his schoolmates was Errol Flynn.
Gorton was also the first and only member of the Upper House to become Prime Minister. By convention, the PM is supposed to be a member of the Lower House, so Gorton resigned his seat and ran in a by-election for Holt’s vacated Lower House seat, which he won. What this means is that, for a few weeks in February of 1968, Australia was in the peculiar position of having a Prime Minister who was not technically a member of parliament.
Gorton was a heavy drinker, a heavy smoker and a heavy womaniser. Not uncommon among Australian PMs by any means (his predecessor, Harold Holt, drowned while showing off in front of his mistress); unfortunately, Gorton was rather determinedly indiscreet about it. He was so well-known for taking the odd day off Parliament that his go-to excuse of having a touch of the flu became a punchline: around Canberra, the phrase "Gorton flu" became a popular euphemism for a hangover.
He was one of the Liberal Party's more progressive Prime Ministers, to the point that he alienated hard-line conservatives and traditionalists, who railed against "Gortonism". The Gorton Government saved the Great Barrier Reef from oil drilling, supported equal pay and increased funding for Aboriginal affairs, provided free health care for 250,000 poor families, expanded the social services system and increased Commonwealth education spending. After losing the Prime Ministership, Gorton co-sponsored a successful motion to decriminalise homosexuality, and after leaving parliament he campaigned for drug law reform.
Gorton also holds the distinction of being the only Prime Minister to vote himself out of office. Well, kind of. Faced with an evenly-split confidence vote in the party room and realising that he could not credibly hold onto the leadership, Gorton announced that he was using his tie-breaking vote as chairman to kick himself out. Technically, the chairman didn't get a casting vote in these proceedings, but in the heat of the moment nobody was about to argue with him.
William McMahon (Liberal Party), Prime Minister 1971 to 1972. After being barred from becoming Prime Minister in 1967 and with an increasingly-unpopular John Gorton in the top job, McMahon finally seized his chance to become PM after McEwen's retirement. Never actually won an election: he became PM through a leadership challenge and lost the election the following year. William McMahon is generally remembered for being the father of actor Julian McMahon, for rumours that he was gay, and for being the guy who lost a federal election to Labor after 23 years in power.
Gough Whitlam (Labor Party), Prime Minister from 1972 to 1975 and oldest still-living former PM. Made an astonishing number of reforms during his brief tenure. Huge increases in education funding, universal health care, decriminalisation of homosexual acts, withdrawal of troops from Vietnam, the complete public abandonment of the White Australia Policy, introducing the Racial Discrimination Act, granting Aboriginal land rights, ambitious new cultural policies, urban renewal projects for Australia's impoverished communities, and free tertiary education. Faced several scandals in government and severe inflation, owing largely to the fact that his ministers (none of whom had ever held government before) wanted to accomplish all their projects as quickly as possible and damn the consequences — in his own words, "Crash or crash through". In 1975, a hostile senate refused to pass the government supply bill (i.e. the budget) unless an early election was held. Governor-General John Kerr broke the face-off by firing Whitlam, appointing Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser as caretaker PM. Though Whitlam advised supporters to "maintain the rage", Fraiser won the election by a landslide a month later. The left adores Whitlam for his reforms (and despises John Kerr), while the right hates him with a passion. He's still alive, as of April 2014, and is currently the longest-lived Prime Minister of Australia to date.
Like Menzies, he's also remembered for a famous "zinger", in reply to persistent questioning about his views on abortion: "In your case, it should be retrospective."
Malcolm Fraser (Liberal Party), Prime Minister from 1975 to 1983. Won the 1975 election against Whitlam after getting media support from Rupert Murdoch's papers, the numerous scandals by Whitlam government ministers, and giving the reassurance that, unlike Gough, you could trust him not to change too much too quickly. His time as PM isn't approved of by the left or right — the left revile his government because of his role in "The Dismissal", while the right regard his government as a wasted opportunity because he wasn't enough like Margaret Thatcher. Since being voted out of office has become more left-wing in his views (or maybe he was always just a repressed small-l liberal) to the point that he left the Liberal Party in 2010, and has patched things up with Gough (the two campaigned together in support of a republic for the 1999 referendum). These days, the Liberal Party consider him a dirty hippie, while the left still hate him.
He gets respect from liberals (not Liberal party Liberals that is, the other kind, which isn't mutually exclusive) who respect his humanitarianism, particularly his embrace of (following Vietnam) what is likely the largest single intake of Asian refugees the country has ever seen (similar refugees in the modern day are locked up, often for years, while security goes through paperwork).
Bob Hawke (Labor Party), Prime Minister 1983 to 1991, elected with a landslide majority less than a month after becoming Labor leader. Famous for his blokeiness: he held the world record for drinking an entire yard glass of beer (eleven seconds, during his days at Oxford), and after Australia's win in the 1983 America's Cup he proclaimed "Any boss who sacks a bloke because he doesn't turn up for work today is a bum!" After decades of almost unbroken defeats, Hawke developed an innovative new strategy for the Labor Party: be the Liberal Party instead. Hawke actually presided over the most extensive and thorough regime of deregulation and privatization the Australian economy has ever seen, before or since. Even centrist and leftist academic economists accept the benefits brought by his reforms, and these were combined with the establisment of Medicare (Fraser having previously watered down Whitlam's universal healthcare program), increased funding for schools, public housing, welfare funds, and the introduction of occupational superannuation. Defeated in a leadership challenge by Keating in 1991.
Paul Keating (Labor Party), Prime Minister 1991 to 1996. Is remembered for being PM during the "recession we had to have", in his words, and for making the Redfern speech. Despite low popularity he won the "unwinnable" 1993 election often attributed to his small-l liberal Liberal (told you it was confusing) opponent Dr John Hewson being unable to explain the GST in layman's terms on national television, but lost the 1996 election due to John Howard taking out the lower-middle-class support base — "Howard's battlers". Has the honour of being the only Australian Prime Minister to have a musical dedicated to him: Keating The Musical. Like Menzies and Whitlam, Keating is also notorious for his zingers - a good sampling appears on the page for the aforementioned musical.
John Howard (Liberal Party), Prime Minister 1996 to 2007. Famed for his huge eyebrows and ridiculous voice, loved by political cartoonists everywhere. A friend of George W Bush, Howard instituted the Pacific Solution to deal with asylum seekers which was rather controversial (later dismantled by Rudd, and re-introduced by Gillard). Won a narrow victory (losing the popular vote) in 1998, exploited voters' fears of "illegal" brown people coming to Australia to win the 2001 election, and cruised to a victory in 2004 over the loudmouthed and slightly unhinged Mark Latham. Actually had two ministers named Abbott and Costello (who often give off the vibe of absolutely hating one another).
Over his time as Prime Minister, Howard faced a lot of controversy, from bringing in taxes after swearing he wouldn't to protecting his friend the Governor General on child sex allegations to his support to America and Bush to angrily denying climate change to demanding the Labor party be made accountable on issues he refused to take responsibility for. The last straw was the introduction of his WorkChoices program in 2007, which gave huge amounts of power to employers in bargaining & contracting while massively undercutting workers' ability to collectively bargain — lost the election that year, and became the second ever sitting PM of Australia to lose his seat. Depicted in a negative light in Keating! The Musical, and generally despised by the Australian left for his philistinism, his delight in offending the sensibilities of minority groups, his dog-whistle politics on race, his regressive economic policies, his toadying to the Americans, his opposition to the Kyoto protocol. A whole lot of (anti) political music has been written about him (see Like A Dog by Powderfinger and The King is Dead by The Herd for some examples.)
Kevin Rudd (Labor Party), a.k.a. "Kevin07", "Kevin24/7", "Kevvie" or "K-Rudd"note the first was his own campaign slogan; the rest are nicknames, Prime Minister 2007 to 2010. Looks a lot like an overgrown schoolboy, speaks Mandarin. Presented himself as a moderate fiscal conservative. His Prime Ministership involved succesfully guiding Australia through the recession, making the first official apology to Indigenous Australians, and abolishing overseas detention centers for asylum seekers note and instead processing refugees on Australian soil. Failed attempts at reform include a 40% profit tax on mining companies and a draconian attempt to set up a mandatory internet filter. He's in about as many rap songs as John Howard, usually in reference to replacing him.
Rudd was ousted in a leadership challenge on 23-24 June, 2010 (when his own party pulled a Praetorian Guard on him), being replaced by then-Deputy PM Julia Gillard. After the following election, he was appointed to Gillard's Cabinet as the Foreign Minister, but abruptly quit the role in February 2012 under some incredibly silly circumstances.
Julia Gillard (Labor Party), Prime Minister from 2010 to 2013. Australia's first female Prime Minister — although interestingly, she is not the first atheist note there's been at least one other (John Gorton) plus three agnostics (John Curtin, Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke) or the first redhead.note James Scullin She replaced Kevin Rudd after a leadership challenge and called an early election. The election on 21 August 2010 resulted in a hung parliament, with both major parties ending up four seats short of the necessary 76-seat majority, after which Gillard negotiated to remain in government with the support of one Greens MP and three independents. Has generally been portrayed by satirists, comedians, and the press in general as a backstabber for ousting Rudd (cartoonists also tend to drastically exaggerate her nose).
Gillard's political platform consists of a lot of social conservatism (i.e. reduction in overall immigration, attempts to follow Howard's offshore processing of asylum seekers to avoid 'European-style social unrest', and a stance against gay marriage) but with less economic statism than Rudd tended to advocate. However, she did allow Labor to hold a conscience vote on same-sex marriage, and as a result supporting marriage equality is now part of the party platform (good luck getting Labor to actually enact it though). In 2012 she made a speech which excoriated Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for his various controversial remarks that she argued are sexist. This was following Abbott's claim that she was supporting a misogynist in parliament, to which she made this now famous response.
Kevin Rudd again (Labor Party), Prime Minister from June 27, 2013 to September 18, 2013, after a leadership spill with the vote going 57 his way compared to Julia's 45 - third time's the charm, it seems. Rudd was the first Australian Prime Minister to support gay marriage, having changed his stance since his last stint at the job.
Tony Abbott (Liberal Party), 2013 to present. After 3 years as opposition leader, the man once famous for a budgie-smugglers Catholic firebrand no-man gets the top job in a resounding defeat for Kevin Rudd on September 7 . So far his agenda consists of getting rid of the carbon tax, stopping the boats, stopping the carbon tax, cutting the carbon tax, a fully paid parental scheme, a full abolishing of the carbon tax, more money for road, no money for the carbon tax, a cheaper though less impressive NBN, and also getting rid of the carbon tax. He really doesn't like the carbon tax. They're like rabbits, cane toads and blackberries combined for him. Aside from his crusade against the industrial pollutant impact fee he has been mired in a storm of controversy from the closure of Holden and Qantas to the Indonesian spying scandal and building up hopes of finding the missing Malaysian flight when such hopes were overly optimistic. Also notable for only bothering to include one woman in his cabinet (compared to six in the previous) and very few, virtually no people who aren't white. He is the "Abbott" mentioned in the John Howard section above.note The "Costello" is then deputy leader of the liberal party and treasurer, Peter Costello.