Main articles: Government of Australia, Politics of Australia, and Monarchy in Australia
Parliament House, Canberra was opened in 1988, replacing the provisional Parliament House building opened in 1927.
The Commonwealth of Australia is a constitutional democracy based on a federal division of powers. The form of government used in Australia is a constitutional monarchy with aparliamentary system of government. Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of Australia, a role that is distinct from her position as monarch of the other Commonwealth realms. The Queen is represented by the Governor-General at the federal level and by the Governors at the state level. Although the Constitution gives extensive executive powers to the Governor-General, these are normally exercised only onthe advice of the Prime Minister. The most notable exercise of the Governor-General's reserve powers outside the Prime Minister's direction was the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in the constitutional crisis of 1975.
There are three branches of government, known as the separation of powers:
• The legislature: the Commonwealth Parliament, comprising the Queen, the Senate, and theHouse of Representatives; the Queen is represented by the Governor-General, who by convention acts on the advice of his or her Ministers.
• The executive: the Federal Executive Council (the Governor-General as advised by the Executive Councillors); in practice, the councillors are the Prime Minister and Ministers of State.
• The judiciary: the High Court of Australia and otherfederal courts. Appeals from Australian courts to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom ceased when the Australia Act of 1986 was passed.
The bicameral Commonwealth Parliament consists of the Queen, the Senate (the upper house) of 76 senators, and a House of Representatives (the lower house) of 150 members. Members of the lower house are elected fromsingle-member electoral divisions, commonly known as "electorates" or "seats", allocated to states on the basis of population, with each original state guaranteed a minimum of five seats. In the Senate, each state is represented by twelve senators, and each of the mainland territories (the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory) by two.
Elections for both chambers are normallyheld every three years, simultaneously; senators have overlapping six-year terms except for those from the territories, who only have three-year terms; thus only 40 of the 76 places in the Senate are put to each election unless the cycle is interrupted by a double dissolution. Although the Prime Minister is appointed by the Governor-General, in practice the party with majority support in theHouse of Representatives forms government and its leader becomes Prime Minister.
There are two major political groups that form government, federally and in the states: the Australian Labor Party, and the Coalition which is a formal grouping of the Liberal Party and its minor partner, the National Party. Independent members and several minor parties—including the Greens and theAustralian Democrats—have achieved representation in Australian parliaments, mostly in upper houses. The Labor Party came to office with Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister following the November 2007 election.
Every Australian parliament (federal, state, and territory) then had a Labor government until September 2008 when the Liberal Party formed a minority government in association with the National Partyin Western Australia. From 2005 to 2008 (a result of the 2004 election), the governing coalition led by John Howard won control of the Senate—the first time in more than 20 years that a party (or a coalition) has done so while in government. Voting is compulsory for all enrolled citizens 18 years and over, in each state and territory and at the federal level. Enrolment to vote is...