This website will be progressively updated as the final outcome of the election of 2 July is known, and as the 45th Parliament meets.

Learning

Appointment of the head of state

Closer Look – Parliament and Congress [PDF 1.59Mb, 16 pages]

There are fundamental differences between the Australian and US political systems in regard to the head of state. Although both nations are federated, Australia is a constitutional monarchy with the Queen as the head of state. The US is a republic with the President as the head of state.

The following table provides an overview of the distinguishing features of both nations' processes for the appointment of the head of state:

Head of state
AustraliaUnited States

Title

  • The Queen is the head of state.
  • The Governor-General is the Queen's representative in Australia.

Title

  • The President is the head of state.

Appointment

  • The Governor-General is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister.
  • The appointment is 'at the Queen's pleasure' and is usually for five years, although the term can be extended or shortened, again on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Appointment

  • The President is elected separately from the Congress.
  • The President is elected for four years by the people through a complex indirect voting system. This involves the following steps:
    • the two major parties hold state and territory based primary elections or party meetings to choose delegates to attend a national convention of their party, that then selects their presidential candidate
    • an election is then held in each state and the District of Columbia to select members of an electoral college that go on to elect the President
    • the 538 members of the electoral college normally cast their vote for the candidate with the largest number of popular votes in their state or territory. To become President, a candidate must receive a majority of votes (at least 270 of the 538).

Removal

  • The monarch is a hereditary position within the British royal family. The monarch cannot be removed, though he or she may abdicate as Edward VIII did in 1936.
  • The Governor-General may be removed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister.
  • No Australian Governor-General has ever been dismissed.

Removal

  • The President can be removed if impeached (charged with treason or a serious criminal offence) by the House of Representatives and convicted by a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate.

Reform

  • In recent times there have been calls for an Australian head of state rather than a monarch.
  • A referendum to change the Australian Constitution to make Australia a republic (and therefore to change our head of state) was defeated in 1999.

Reform

  • While there has been criticism of the complex indirect voting system for the President – and support for a direct and popular presidential election – no constitutional reform is proposed at this time.
Similarities

In both systems:

  • no significant similarities exist when it comes to respective heads of state.