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Comparing The American And Australian Political Systems

There are many similarities between the Australian and American political systems. However, there are also significant differences.

Like Australia, the United States has a system of government that enshrines the idea of indirect democracy. Like Australia, the American system is based on principles of political equality, majority rule and the preservation of minority rights. The United States is the oldest continuing democracy in the world today and one of the first to embrace the idea of popular sovereignty. However, it is relatively unique in the world with its emphasis on ideas of personal liberty.


  • Both are Federal systems (Federal and State governments).

  • Both have a parliament (called a congress in the US) composed of two houses – a House of Representatives and a Senate.

  • Both have a House that is popularly elected with electorate size determined by voting population.

  • Both have a Senate that represents the States equally – 2 senators per state in the US, 12 per state in Australia. Senators in both countries serve 6 year terms.

  • All legislation must be passed by both houses of parliament.

  • Both have written constitutions which delineate the powers of the Federal Government.

  • Both have an independent judiciary (Supreme Court in US, High Court in Australia) which interprets the constitution and acts as a final court of appeals.


  • The US is a republic, whereas Australia is a constitutional monarchy. The US president is both head of state and head of government and is directly elected by the people. Australia’s head of state is the British monarch who is represented by a Governor-General chosen by the Prime Minister.

  • In Australia, the government (ministry, cabinet, executive) is drawn from the parliamen and responsible to it, whereas in the US the Executive branch of government is independent of the congress and no person may be a member of congress and a minister simultaneously.

  • The Australian Prime Minister is chosen by the elected members of the party/parties that have won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, whereas the US President is directly elected by the people and must appoint non-members of the congress to fill ministerial posts.

  • Members of the Australian House of Representatives serve a 3-year term whereas US members of the House serve a 2-year term.

  • Half of the members of the Australian Senate face election every three years, whereas one-third of the US Senate is elected every two years.

  • In the event of a deadlock with the House, the Australian Senate can be dissolved and new senators chosen in a double dissolution election. The US Senate can never be dissolved.

  • Elections in the US are on set days for fixed terms, whereas an Australian Prime Minister may dissolve Parliament and call an early election.

  • Electoral enrolment and voting is compulsory in Australia, but voluntary in the US.

  • Party discipline is not as tight in the US as it is in Australia, leading to a situation where members of both parties will often form changing voting alliances on legislation.

  • Legislation in the US requires both legislative approval and the president’s signature, whereas in Australia convention ensures that legislation is automatically ratified by the Governor-General once passed by both houses. In the US the Congress can over-ride a presidential veto.
Malcolm Farnsworth
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