Australia’s electoral system is in many respects a shining example of the fulfillment of a range of democratic values.
The secret ballot was first introduced in the Australian colonies in 1856 and all adult men and women over the age of 21 had the vote by 1908. By the end of the twentieth century, Australia could boast an electoral system that ranks among the fairest in the world.
Compulsory voting was introduced at federal elections in 1924 and remains in force today.
Following the use of the first-past-the-post voting system, the Federal Parliament legislated to introduce the preferential voting system in the 1919 general election, although the new system was first used at a by-election in 1918.
Proportional voting was introduced for Senate elections in 1949, heralding a new political era where minor parties such as the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), the Australian Democrats and The Greens could wield the balance of power in the upper house.
Importantly, the Australian electoral system is administered by an independent statutory authority, the Australian Electoral Commission. The Commission is charged with conducting elections and redistributing electoral boundaries in a fair and non-partisan manner.
Key Features of the Australian Electoral System
- Democratic features of the Australian Electoral System
- Compulsory Voting
- Secret Ballots
- Commonwealth Electoral Act – the full text from AUSTLII
History of the Electoral System
- History of Changes in Voting Methods
- Commonwealth Electoral Administration
- History of Changes in Parliament
- Simple Majority Voting – This method of voting is also known as “first-past-the-post”. It is not used in any Australian Parliament, although it is the most popular method of voting in other parts of the world.
- Preferential Voting – Sometimes described as the “alternate vote”, preferential voting is a uniquely Australian system of voting. Based on the principle that the winner should have 50% + 1 support, it allows voters to number the candidates in order of preference. This system is used in the House of Representatives and the lower house of every Australian State Parliament, aside from the ACT and Tasmania.
- Proportional Representation – Proportional representation voting is used for Senate elections in Australia. It is used to elect candidates in multi-member electorates and requires the winners to reach a set quota of votes.