This fabulous Republic has an indirectly elected, non-executive Head of State, the Chancellor. There are two linked tiers of government. At National level there is a House of Representatives and a Senate; there are also legislative Regional Assemblies and Regional Councils of review and mediation. (The semi-sovereign States and Territories, having outlived their usefulness, were finally dissolved without fuss in 2010. The process had begun in 2006, when urgent environmental, economic, political and strategic considerations in the Asia-Pacific had made it clear that Australia could no longer afford the luxury of a ponderous, 19th-Century Federation).
The Chancellor - the Head of State
The Chancellor (like the former Governor-General and State Governors) presides over the Cabinet when it meets as the Executive Council to enact legislation. S/he must be an Australian citizen in good standing, and may hold office once for a term of up to 5 years extendable once for a further 5 years. The incumbent, due to retire later in the year after 10 years, is Chancellor Sheelagh Brady. She is to join the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
The election of a Chancellor is conducted in secret by the Members of the National Parliament, monitored by the Electoral Commissioner (a Judge of the National Court) and the two Assistant Commissioners.
During September the President of the Senate accepts nominations from Senators, endorsed by 3 MHRs, with nominees’ acceptances. On the first Tuesday morning in October, the Senate meets in the presence of MHRs: as necessary, nominations are first reduced to 5 and then to 3 in two secret, computerised, optional-preferential ballots, the details known only to the President, the Commissioner and the two Assistant Commissioners.
The House of Representatives then meets in the presence of the Senators: the number of candidates is reduced to 2 and the provisional election then concluded in one more secret, single-vote ballot, the precise results known only to the Speaker, the Commissioner and the two Assistant Commissioners.
The Senate is invited to endorse the provisional result in a fifth secret ballot; a two-thirds majority is required. Failing this, there follows a sixth ballot, a re-run of the third but with optional preferences, and a seventh, a re-run of the fourth, the decision of the House being then final. At 6 p.m. the name of the Chancellor-Elect is announced by the Electoral Commissioner.
The Chancellor normally lives in Yarralumla. Admiralty House, the former Governor-General’s grace-and-favour house overlooking Sydney Harbour is available to the Chancellor, although naturally it is also used as a guesthouse for other countries’ heads of state in Sydney on official business. Each major city has comparable accommodation, namely the former ‘Government House’. Government House in Sydney provides an alternative to and/or backup for Admiralty House.
Parliamentary Government - National and Regional
Parliamentary terms run for five years. Elections are held on the first Saturday in June. There is one this year. The new parliaments meet on the first Tuesday in July.
Under exceptional circumstances (none have yet arisen), the Chancellor may agree to dissolve the National Parliament either on the advice of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate, or following representations by two-thirds of the Regional Assemblies. There are comparable provisions for dissolving Regional Assemblies.
The Regions vary in number of Regional Electorates and linked National Divisions and in composition:
- Major Metropolitan,
- Minor Metropolitan or Provincial,
- combined Provincial and Rural,
- Outlying Islands.
The House of Representatives (its members styled MHR) elects a non-executive Speaker and an executive Prime Minister. The Senate, essentially still a house of review, elects a non-executive President. Each House meets in Canberra for at least four weeks during each quarter, caucuses, Select Committees and Ministerial duties aside. Parliamentarians are assisted by members of their personal staff; Ministers rely also on their Departments. Presiding officers not already independents are expected to become so.
Each Regional Assembly (its elected members styled MRA) itself elects a non-executive Chair and an executive Premier; it sits for at least five weeks each quarter. Each Regional Council consists of the MHRs and Senators from the Region and its elected President is a Senator; it meets for one week every quarter. The function of President of the Executive Council is carried out at Regional level by the President of the Regional Council, who is thus the first-line arbiter in case of differences between Regional and the National Governments.
Tasmania aside, all HR Divisions and RA Electorates have 3 elected representatives. Nominations close on 31st March. Registration for elections is compulsory; so is voting, unless the voter contacts an Electoral office in advance to register ‘informal’, and at all elections there is optional preferential voting (voters need not express any preference for candidates of whom they disapprove). The candidate with the lowest number of first preferences is eliminated, and any other preferences distributed. The process is repeated until 3 names remain.
Electorates contain a nominal 80,000 voters, Divisions a nominal 240,000; actual numbers may vary within specified limits. There are special provisions for Outback Regions. Tasmania remains a special case: there are 5 Regional Electorates, each with 3 MRAs; there is 1 National Division with 5 MHRs; the island is a Region, with 3 Senators. There are also special provisions for Outlying Islands including Cocos, Norfolk, Lord Howe and Macquarie: for National Electoral purposes, they are defined as a Division with 1 MHR and a Region with 1 Senator. Senators represent either Regions, or Districts within Regions.
There is on balance 1 Regional Electorate for each 1990 National Division, each having 3 MRAs, thus:
146 Regional Electorates and 438 MRAs around the country
108 from 36 Major Metropolitan Electorates
189 from 63 Minor Metropolitan or Provincial Electorates
108 from 36 Rural Electorates
18 from 6 Outback Electorates
15 from 5 Tasmanian Electorates
(Outlying Islands are in a special category)
There is ordinarily 1 National Division for each 3 Regional Electorates, with 3 MHRs for each Division:
49 National Divisions and 147 MHRs
36 from 12 Major Metropolitan Divisions
63 from 21 Minor Metropolitan or Provincial Divisions
36 from 12 Rural Divisions
6 from 2 Outback Divisions
5 from Tasmania
1 from Outlying Islands