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How the Australian Elections Work

22 April, 2016

Just a day into a three-week special sitting of Parliament, the Senate handed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull a double dissolution trigger in a 36-34 vote against the government, laying out the onset of a quite long 75-day election campaign which will culminate on 2 July. This period is more than double the usual election season in the country.

So how does the Australian election work? We broke down the process for you.


The Parliament


The Parliament Housed in Canberra, the capital of Australia.

As we have established before, Australia’s legislative branch is called the Commonwealth Parliament. It is divided into two houses.

The Lower House or the House of Representatives has 150 members. Each member is elected every three years, and represents an electorate of 140,000 people (this figure can widely vary).

The Senate or the Upper House, on the other hand, has 76 members.  That’s 12 from each of the six states and two from the mainland territories, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Each member is elected every six years, half of which is up for reelection every three years, along with two from the territories and members of the Lower House.


The Voting System

The House of Representatives

Australia has a rather complicated election system, as it utilizes preferential voting. Here, no vote ever goes to waste.

For the House of Representatives, the ballot contains the names of the candidate preceded by box. You place a number on each of the box according to your preferred order.  So if you prefer the Greens candidate the best, you put a “1” on it. You place “2” on the Democratic candidate, since it’s your second best. And so on.  You need to number all the candidates or your vote gets “spoiled” or invalidated.

ballot-australia- elections

The ballot paper for the House of Representatives.


The primary votes (the ones marked as number 1) get counted first. If a candidate obtains more 50% of the primary votes, he/she gets elected. If no one in the primary vote secures the enough votes to win, the candidates with the fewest votes get eliminated. The votes get redistributed to the other candidates with the no. 2 preference.  This process gets repeated until a candidate secures enough votes.


The Senate

Electing members of the Senate is another story, as it utilizes a system of voting called proportional representation. There are two ways to vote with this system, "above" and "below the line."

The ballot for the Senate is divided by a line. Voting “above the line” means placing a number 1 on the box of your preferred party, and that party will decide the preferred votes for you. Voting “below the line” works just like with the House of Representatives. You place numbers on each box in the order of your preferred candidates. You need to place a number on every box, or your vote is spoiled.


ballot-australia- elections-senators

The ballot paper for the Senators.


A senatorial candidate must secure only 14.3% of the votes (33% in the territories) to be elected. If a candidate fails to obtain this, a complex system of vote re-allocation comes into play.


Compulsory Voting

Voting in Australia is not just a right and a privilege, but a civic duty as well. Under federal electoral law, failure to enroll and vote in federal elections, by-elections and referendums warrants a series of penalties such as criminal conviction and/or a fine of AU$170.

Compulsory voting is being enforced in the country since 1924. The government argues that voting is a civic duty not very much unlike taxation, jury duty, and compulsory education.



The Political Parties

There are more than ten political parties in Australia, but two are currently dominating the political arena, forming a de-facto tow party system. They are the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party.

Australian Labor Party (ALP)


Australian labor logo

The Australian Labor Party logo


Formed in 1893, ALP never climbed to being a major party until 1901. It has been in the opposition of the federal government since 2013. The left-wing party is formally linked to the Australian labor movement.


Liberal Party of Australia

Liberal Party of Australia

The Liberal Party of Australia logo


As opposed to ALP’s left wing stance, Liberal Party of Australia has a right-winged philosophy. It is founded in 1945 and is in collation with other smaller political parties like the National Party of Australia, the Country Liberal Party of the Northern Territory and the Liberal National Party of Queensland. It is affiliated to the International Democrat Union.


Other Political Parties in the County

  • Australian Greens
  • Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party
  • Family First Party
  • Glenn Lazarus Team
  • Jacqui Lambie Network
  • John Madigan's Manufacturing and Farming Party
  • Katter's Australian Party
  • Liberal Democratic Party
  • Nick Xenophon Team


Work in a country with the best political system ever. Throw us a message in the enquiry section below or call us at 1300 619 977 and we will help you get here.


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