The Commonwealth government was created with a constitution patterned partly on the U.S. Constitution. The powers of the Commonwealth are specifically defined in the constitution, and the residual powers remain with the states.
Australia is an independent nation within the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II is the sovereign and since 1973 has been officially styled "Queen of Australia." The Queen is represented throughout Australia by a governor general and in each state by a governor.
The federal Parliament is bicameral, consisting of a 76-member Senate and a 148-member House of Representatives. Twelve senators from each state and two from each territory are elected for 6-year terms, with half elected every 3 years. The members of the House of Representatives are allocated among the states and territories roughly in proportion to population. In ordinary legislation, the two chambers have coordinate powers, but all proposals for appropriating revenue or imposing taxes must be introduced in the House of Representatives. Under the prevailing Westminster parliamentary system, the leader of the political party or coalition of parties that wins a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives is named prime minister. The prime minister and the cabinet wield actual power and are responsible to the Parliament, of which they must be elected members. General elections are held at least once every 3 years; the last general election was in October 1998.
Each state is headed by a premier, who is the leader of the party with a majority or a working minority in the lower house of the state legislature. Australia also has two self-governing territories, the Australian Capital Territory (where Canberra is located) and the Northern Territory, with political systems similar to those of the states.
At the apex of the court system is the High Court of Australia. It has general appellate jurisdiction over all other federal and state courts and possesses the power of constitutional review.
Political Conditions Three political parties dominate the center of the Australian political spectrum: the Liberal Party (LP), nominally representing urban business-related groups; the National Party (NP), nominally representing rural interests; and the Australian Labor Party (ALP), nominally representing the trade unions and liberal groups. Although embracing some leftists, the ALP traditionally has been moderately socialist in its policies and approaches to social issues. All political groups are tied by tradition to domestic welfare policies, mostly enacted in the 1980s, which have kept Australia in the forefront of societies offering extensive social welfare programs. Australia's social welfare safety net has been reduced in recent years, however, in response to budgetary pressures and a changing political outlook. There is strong bipartisan sentiment on many international issues, including Australia's commitment to its alliance with the United States.
The Liberal Party/National Party coalition came to power in the March 1996 election, ending 13 years of ALP government and electing John Howard Prime Minister. Re-elected in October 1998, the coalition now holds 80 seats (64 Liberal/16 National) in the House of Representatives, against 68 for the ALP and 1 independent. In the Senate, the Liberal/National coalition holds 34 seats, against 29 for the ALP, 9 for the Australian Democrats, 1 for the Greens, 1 for One Nation, 1 for the Country Labor Party, and 1 Independent. Lacking a majority in the Senate, the Liberal/National coalition has relied on the smaller parties and independents to enact legislation. Howard's conservative coalition has moved quickly to reduce Australia's government deficit and the influence of organized labor, placing more emphasis on workplace-based collective bargaining for wages. The Howard government also has accelerated the pace of privatization, beginning with the government-owned telecommunications corporation. The Howard government has continued the foreign policy of its predecessors, based on relations with four key countries: the United States, Japan, China, and Indonesia. The Howard government strongly supports U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region.
conventional long form: Commonwealth of Australia
conventional short form: Australia
Data code: AS
Government type: democratic, federal-state system recognizing the British monarch as sovereign
Administrative divisions: 6 states and 2 territories*; Australian Capital Territory*, New South Wales, Northern Territory*, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia
Dependent areas: Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Coral Sea Islands, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, Norfolk Island
Independence: 1 January 1901 (federation of UK colonies)
National holiday: Australia Day, 26 January (1788)
Constitution: 9 July 1900, effective 1 January 1901
Legal system: based on English common law; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal and compulsory
chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952), represented by Governor General Sir William DEANE (since 16 February 1996)
head of government: Prime Minister John Winston HOWARD (since 11 March 1996); Deputy Prime Minister John ANDERSON (since NA)
cabinet: Cabinet selected from among the members of Federal Parliament by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister
elections: none; the monarch is hereditary; governor general appointed by the monarch; following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or leader of a majority coalition is usually appointed prime minister by the governor general for a three-year term
note: government coalition - Liberal Party and National Party
bicameral Federal Parliament consists of the Senate (76 seats - 12 from each of the six states and two from each of the two territories; one-half of the members elected every three years by popular vote to serve six-year terms) and the House of Representatives (148 seats; members elected by popular vote on the basis of proportional representation to serve three-year terms; no state can have fewer than five representatives)
elections: Senate - last held 3 October 1998 (next to be held by October 2001); House of Representatives - last held 3 October 1998 (next to be held by October 2001)
election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Liberal Party-National Party coalition 35, Australian Labor Party 29, Australian Democratic Party 9, Green Party 1, One Nation Party 1, independent 1; House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Liberal Party-National Party coalition 80, Australian Labor Party 67, independent 1
Judicial branch: High Court, the Chief Justice and six other justices are appointed by the governor general
Political parties and leaders: Australian Democratic Party [Meg LEES]; Australian Labor Party [Kim BEAZLEY]; Green Party [Bob BROWN]; Liberal Party [John Winston HOWARD]; National Party [John ANDERSON]; One Nation Party [Pauline HANSON]
Political pressure groups and leaders: Australian Democratic Labor Party (anti-Communist Labor Party splinter group); Peace and Nuclear Disarmament Action (Nuclear Disarmament Party splinter group)
International organization participation: ANZUS, APEC, AsDB, Australia Group, BIS, C, CCC, CP, EBRD, ESCAP, FAO, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, NAM (guest), NEA, NSG, OECD, OPCW, PCA, Sparteca, SPC, SPF, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNFICYP, UNHCR, UNITAR, UNTAET, UNTSO, UNU, UPU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTrO, ZC
Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Michael THAWLEY
chancery: 1601 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036
telephone:  (202) 797-3000
FAX:  (202) 797-3168
consulate(s) general: Atlanta, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco
Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Genta Hawkins HOLMES
embassy: Moonah Place, Yarralumla, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2600
mailing address: APO AP 96549
telephone:  (6) 6214-5600
FAX:  (6) 6214-5970
consulate(s) general: Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney
Flag description: blue with the flag of the UK in the upper hoist-side quadrant and a large seven-pointed star in the lower hoist-side quadrant; the remaining half is a representation of the Southern Cross constellation in white with one small five-pointed star and four, larger, seven-pointed stars