Although Australia is a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy that operates under the Westminster system, the Australian Parliament differs from the British Parliament because the members of the Australian Senate, unlike the British House of Lords, are elected. This is similar to the American Senate; however, as we will explore, Australian elections are very different from American elections. Elections for the House of Representatives are similar to lower house elections in Britain, New Zealand, and Canada. The intention behind having a House of Representatives and a Senate is so that the interests of Australian citizens and the various states are both represented in Parliament. This article will discuss the term lengths and constituency of the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the next article, the election process will be explored.
Australian elections are meant to be held every three years, as Section 28 of the Constitution states that a term in the House of Representatives cannot exceed more than three years. However, the Governor-General can call for an election before then, usually on the advice of the Prime Minister. A term starts on the first date that the House of Representatives meets after an election, and ends exactly three years later. In contrast, the term of Senators, according to Section 7, is six years. However, Section 13 requires that there be a half-Senate election every three years. What this means is that the terms of Senators are staggered. Therefore, at a federal election, all the House of Representatives seats and half of the Senate seats shall be up for election. At the next federal election, the other half of the Senate seats shall be up for election. Seats in the House of Representatives are also called electorates, and the voting citizens in each electorate elect one Member of Parliament (MP) to represent them. In contrast, Senators represent a state as a whole. Each state’s Senators are elected by all citizens of voting age who reside in that state.
The process for determining the number of MPs representing the people of each state, as well as the two self-governing territories of the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory, is outlined in Section 24. It relies on using the previous census statistics and some mathematical equations. The 2016 census will be used to demonstrate how this is calculated. As it was released in 2017, and the census is taken every five years, it was used to calculate the number of seats in the 2019 election. According to that census, there were 23,401,892 people in Australia. The first step in calculating the number of seats is to divide the population by double the number of Senators, of which there are 76. That means dividing 23,401,892 by 152, which is 153,960. That figure is the quota. To determine the number of members to be elected from each state, divide the population of a state in the 2016 census by the quota. For example, the population of Queensland was 4,703,193. Dividing that by the quota gives 30.54, which is rounded down to 30. Therefore, Queensland has 30 seats, each with approximately 153,960 people in its borders. This ensures that every seat around the country has approximately the same number of voters, although it does mean that urban centres will contain a higher number of seats. In the 2019 election, there were 151 seats, up from 150 in 2016. The Australian Capital Territory and Victoria both gained a seat, while South Australia lost one. This meant that the borders of the electorates have to be redrawn to account for the population changes and the new number of seats.
The process for determining the number of Senators is much easier. Under Section 7, each state must be represented by the same number of Senators, and that number cannot be less than six. That number can be increased by legislation. Following the passage of the Representation Act 1983 (Cth), 12 Senators represent each state. The half-Senate rule means that six Senate seats per state are up for election at any given federal election. The two self-governing territories, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, both have two Senators, who are elected every three years, rather than every six years. This is because they do not receive the same benefits given to the states in the Constitution, and what representation they do have instead comes from laws passed by the Commonwealth government.
Elections for the Australian Parliament are generally held every three years, coinciding with the end of a term for all MPs in the House of Representatives, half of the Senators from the states, and all four Senators from the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory. Therefore, at the 2019 election, elections were held for all 151 seats in the House of Representatives and 42 of the 76 Senate seats.
Stuart Jeffery, aka LibertyDownUnder, is the founder of the Australian Liberty Network. He is also the host of the Gumtree of Liberty and Gumtree of Liberty Live podcasts, and is editor of the Liberty Review. Stuart is currently studying a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts, majoring in international relations, at the University of Southern Queensland.