Australian system of government

This fact sheet examines Australia’s mixed system of government. It includes information about federation, representative democracy and constitutional monarchy, and the role of the separation of powers.

A system of government is the structure by which a country is run. Some examples are democracy, communism, dictatorship, monarchy and republic.

Australia has a mixed system of government; it is a representative democracy and a constitutional monarchy. It is also a federation of states.

A representative democracy

In a representative democracy, citizens choose candidates to represent them in a parliament. In Australia, federal elections are held approximately every 3 years to select members of parliament to represent Australians and make laws on their behalf.

Examples of other representative democracies include the United States, the United Kingdom and Argentina.

A constitutional monarchy

In a constitutional monarchy, the monarch does not have absolute power—they must follow the country’s constitution. The Australian head of state is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen appoints the Governor-General to act on her behalf.

Examples of other constitutional monarchies include Belgium, Tonga and Sweden.

A federation of states

A federation is a group of states that have joined together to form a single country. In 1901, 6 British colonies united to form the country of Australia. The colonies became Australian states and a federal Parliament was created with the power to make laws about national matters such as defence, immigration, trade and foreign affairs. The Australian Constitution—the set of rules by which Australia is run—sets out how the federal and state parliaments share the power to make laws.

The federal Parliament alone does not make all laws across the nation. Three levels of government work together to provide Australians with the services they need. The three levels are:

  • federal—Australian—Parliament, in Canberra
  • state and territory parliaments, in each state and territory capital city
  • local councils—also called shires—across Australia.

Some examples of other federations include Canada, India and Germany.

Separation of powers

The Australian Constitution defines 3 groups—the Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary—and describes how they share power. The separation of powers helps to ensure that no group has all the power, by giving each group their own area of responsibility:

  • Parliament (the Legislature) makes and changes the law.
  • Executive puts the law into action.
  • Judiciary settles disputes about the law.