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"We put all our politicians in prison as soon as they're elected. Don't you?"


"It saves time."
Neilette educates Rincewind on The Land Down Under's attitude towards politics, The Last Continent

Australian politics. More exciting than a velociraptor tearing into a flock of hyenas, more important than vital, icky surgery. Well, here goes:


Depending on who you ask, Australia became a "country" anywhere from 1854 to 1986.

  • 1854 or 1886: The first[1] or last[2] of the colonies became self-governing.
  • 1901: The most often-cited date, including by the government itself: on 1 January 1901, the six separate colonies became states and federated to form a single self-governing Commonwealth.
  • 1915: Australian troops first went into battle as part of an Australian army.
  • 1931 or 1942: With the Statute of Westminster, the Parliament of the UK abolished its nominal right to legislate for Australia and its other Dominions. Of course, this was theoretically self-abrogating, until Australia adopted the Statute as Australian law in 1942.
  • 1986: The Australia Act severs the last powers of the UK government over Australia. Namely, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is no longer a part[3] of the Australian judiciary.

Australia's political system is something of a hotchpotch, because when the Constitution was being written, its authors freely pillaged from other working democracies:

  • Like the UK, Australian uses the Westminster system. One effect of this is unlike presidential electoral campaigns, citizens only vote (officially) for their local candidate, or (unofficially) for political parties. The head of government is just whoever happens to lead the party that wins. Of course, this doesn't stop people voting based on personal charisma of political leaders.
  • Like the US, Australia is a federal system of states plus a few territories, and the federal government has elected upper and lower houses:
    • The Senate is the upper house, where each state is represented by twelve senators and the Australian Capital Territory (or ACT) and Northern Territory by two each.[4]
    • The House of Representatives is the lower house, for which each state and territory is divided into named divisions (neat, eh?) of roughly equal population, each of which elects one MP.
  • Like Switzerland, amending Australia's Constitution requires:
    • 1. The amendment to be proposed by parliament, and:
    • 2. The Australian people to approve in a referendum, with a majority in the overall population, and in each and every state. Referenda in Australia are notorious for failing, but some have passed - in 1967, an amendment was passed with 90.77% approval to recognise Australian Aborigines as human beings.[5]
  • Like many countries, Australia has the judiciary as an important check-and-balance for the government. The High Court of Australia has declared government legislation illegal if it contravenes Australia's legal obligations.

Australia's six states, and, to some extent, two of its territories,[6] have a degree of independence, and have their own parliaments with an upper house (except in Queensland, where they abolished the state-level upper house) and a lower house, which, like the House of Representatives, has a name for each seat.

Leaders and Government

The Parliament

The Prime Minister of Australia is the head of government. They are, as a rule, a sitting MP in the federal House of Representatives and the leader of the majority party in that chamber—they are in charge of the Cabinet (which consists of Ministers drawn from the House or the Senate) and generally run the whole show. The current Prime Minister is Julia Gillard, who is also our first female PM—although interestingly, she is not the first atheist [7] or the first redhead.[8] There is also a Deputy Prime Minister, who is also the deputy leader of the majority party—although in the case of a coalition government, the deputy prime minister is typically the leader of the smaller coalition party. The Deputy PM is roughly equivalent to the Vice-President of the United States: high visibility but very little actual responsibility, unless they have to step in as Acting PM (in the event of the Prime Minister being overseas, incapacitated or dead). The current Deputy Prime Minister is Wayne Swan.

The Prime Minister also has their own opposite number on the other side of politics: the leader of the second-largest party in the House of Representatives is designated Leader of the Opposition, and is in charge of their own Shadow Cabinet with Shadow Ministers from their own party. This is much less cool than it sounds: the purpose of the Shadow Cabinet is to criticise the real Cabinet, with each Shadow Minister focusing on their opposite number. The current Leader of the Opposition is Tony Abbott. There is also a Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the position of which is currently held by Julie Bishop.[9]

The Queen

The head of state of Australia is Queen Elizabeth II: her official title in this country is "Queen of Australia", and technically Australia is in personal union with the UK (that is, we are two separate countries which happen to have the same person as our monarch). Australia has probably the largest Republican movement out of the former British colonies, but support for an Australian Republic has dramatically decreased recently, particularly since the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate (everyone loves a good wedding).

In practice, all the responsibilities of the head of state are (and constitutionally, must be: the Queen cannot exercise her powers herself) delegated to the Governor-General of Australia, who is an acting head of state appointed by the Prime Minister for a single five-year term. All the Governor-General normally has to do is officially sign bills into law, although they do have certain emergency powers which have been exercised before—most notoriously in 1975, when Governor-General John Kerr sacked the Prime Minister and appointed the Opposition Leader in his place.

The Governors-General did not get off to an auspicious start (the first one, Lord Hopetoun, tried to unconstitutionally appoint the then-Premier of New South Wales as caretaker Prime Minister[10]), and were pretty much one boring British peer after another until Sir Isaac Issacs was appointed to the position in 1930: he was both the first Jewish Governor-General, and the first Governor-General to have been actually born in Australia (naturally, Britain was shocked and appalled). The last Governor-General from Britain, William Sidney, ended his term in 1965—since then Australia has been generally opposed to appointing non-Australians to the position: there has been one Governor-General who was a member of the Royal Family (Prince Henry, son of George V, immediately after World War II) but when both Prince Charles[11] and Prince William expressed interest in the position (in the 1980s and 2000s respectively) both were told "Um... how about no." The current Governor-General is Quentin Bryce, Australia's first female Governor-General.

The States

As they are based off the same system, each state mirrors the federal government in its structure (except for Queensland, whose parliament is unicameral). The head of a state government is the Premier,[12] and each state also has its own appointed Governor who acts as the Queen's representative for that state.[13]


There are currently five (or so) major political parties, although only the top two are actually worth noting. The current ruling party is the Australian Labor Party. (NB: Australian spell labor "labour" unless it's the Labor party, named the American way from a charming early twentieth-century vogue for 'modernised spelling' — the disco of its day.) The Party gained power after the Coalition, the alliance between the Australian Liberal Party and the Australian National Party, lost the 2007 election after maintaining power for over a decade (Australian Prime Ministers can stay in power for as long as the public votes their parties in and their parties continue to support them).

  • Labor: The Australian Labor Party is Australia's oldest political party, having formed during the 19th century. The ALP began as (and to a degree still is) the political arm of the Australian worker's union movement. Support from union bosses is still an important political commodity within the ALP. Initially, they were relatively strong socialists who advocated the nationalisation of the means of production. They also had a rather brutal split with the catholic Democratic Labor Party in the 1950s, which led to them being out of government for all but three of the next 23 years; then, after a three year government under Gough Whitlam, they returned to opposition. In 1983, they came back into power under Bob Hawke, who would become Australia's third longest serving Prime Minister. They were out of power again from 1996 to 2007, but are currently once again the government. Its support bases are the outer suburbs of the major cities, industrial provincial areas (the Hunter Valley, the Illawarra, and Geelong are the most prominent), and certain gentrified inner-city seats. Their members have a very wide range of political views ranging from Christian Social Conservatism to old-style Socialism to 'third-way' centrism, averaging out to a more or less Centre Left position.
  • The Coalition: Made up of two parties: the Liberal Party, the larger and more powerful, and the National Party, the smaller hanger-on. Despite its name, these days the Liberal Party is generally more conservative than Labor (hence creating awkward terminology, such as "small L liberal"), while the National Party is more concerned with rural issues (hence its original name, the "Country Party"). The Liberal Party have historically claimed to be a Classical Liberal party but their actual policy mix now is generally centrist with nods to either Classical Liberalism or Social Conservatism (depending on which will help win elections). The National Party stands for the interests of rural people, which can coincide with porkbarrelling. The Coalition gains much of its support from rural voters and richer suburbs, although in recent years they have gained increasing support in outer suburbs. As with Labor, members of the coalition parties will have a very wide range of political views ranging from Christian Social Conservatism to Classical Liberalism to 'third-way' centrism, averaging out to Centre Right.
    • In some regions of Australia the Coalition parties are formally merged into a single party, apparently to present a more coherent political front. There is the Liberal National Party, unique to the state of Queensland, and the Country Liberal Party, unique to the Northern Territory. The latter dates back to before the National Party's name change; the former was established in 2008. It may be noteworthy that Queensland and the Northern Territory were the only places where the National Party was more powerful than the Liberal Party...

The important minor parties include:

  • Australian Greens: Essentially like Greens everywhere, the Australian Greens promote the environment, but are also notable for its policies on drugs and immigration.[14] Internationally famous for being one of the few Green parties to exert any meaningful pull at all, they tend to have very strong support in the inner-most city suburbs. Federally, they hold the balance of power in the Australian Senate with nine seats, and also hold one seat in the House of Representatives (whose support is integral to the passage of bills by the current minority government). On a state level the Greens also hold balance of power in the in the Tasmanian and ACT lower houses.
  • Family First: A very recent party (founded in 2002), Family First has grown to become a powerful minor party. Although it is technically secular, it is the "Christian" party of Australia, standing for such secular policies as reducing abortion, increased censorship, and thinking of the children. However, they're not exactly Pat Robertsons in cowboy Akubra hats. Examples include Indigenous issues and immigration policy - in both instances they take a more liberal (not Liberal—it's confusing) approach and as such line up with the "left," for various reasons (for instance, on the Indigenous issues, quite a lot of Indigenous people are socially-conservative Christians). The real Christian Right is the small but rather persistent Christian Democratic Party under the Reverend Fred Nile, keeps up from his sinecure in the New South Wales Legislative Council.
  • Democratic Labor Party: Successor to the original DLP, which was an extremely important third party in the mid-20th century before disbanding. A remnant re-founded the DLP and claimed continuity with the old party, but remained completely unnoticed for about thirty years afterwards. However, in 2006 the DLP inexplicably made a comeback in the Victorian state election, winning one seat on the Legislative Council [i.e. state senate]; then, in the 2010 federal election, they again won a seat in the national senate (on only 2.2% of the primary vote, thanks to preference deals, rather like Family First six years before). Like the original DLP they are socially (far-)right-wing and economically left-wing.
  • Australian Sex Party: Assuredly not Exactly What It Says on the Tin. A very new party which has yet to attain any real power but grabs a lot of attention, due to the name. Its official launch was conducted at Sexpo in Melbourne in 2008. The party was initially founded as a double issue party opposed to the Internet filter and for the legalization of gay marriage, an issue that the big parties are burying at present. They're also in favour of compulsory and specifically accurate, non-biased sex education in Australian schools, an R18+ video game category, legalising abortion, making the laws regarding pornography more consistent with other sex related laws, decriminalization of prostitution, creating Federal anti-discrimination laws for employment and (as a Take That to Family First) ending the tax exemption status to religious institutions that are not primarily a charity or some other community aid organisation. Time will tell whether the ASP will go the distance and satisfy the Australian people.
  • Liberal Democratic Party: Another very new party which, in the 2010 election, missed out on a seat representing New South Wales in the Federal Senate by 20 000 votes (losing to a Green). Formed in the mid 2000's by economist John Humphreys and allied with the Australian Libertarian Society. Unlike the British party of the same name, the LDP supports both social liberalism (being socially to the left of even the Greens; supporting ending the drug war, demonopolizing the gambling market, and supporting same-sex marriage and freer immigration) and economic liberalism (in the Classical Liberal sense of the term (being economically to the right of the Liberal party); supporting free markets, deregulation of the labor market, ending barriers to international trade). Roughly the Australian equivalent to the Libertarian Party in the United States or the Free Democratic Party in Germany.
  • Katter's Australian Party: a very new political party founded by federal MP Bob Katter and his Nice Hat—the party's positions are heavily based on those of Katter himself, a former Independent from North Queensland well known for his eccentricity. The party is best described as "agrarian socialist", with strong social conservatism (most infamously a vociferous opposition to same-sex marriage) combined with a protectionist and anti-privatisation economic policy. Made a strong showing in the 2012 Queensland state election, winning two seats and 11.5% of the primary vote.
  • Independents: Singular freelance politicians with no ties to any particular party. The larger parties can often be seen bending over backwards to get them to vote in their favour in the both houses of Parliament, where they hold the balance of power along with the minor parties. In the House of Representatives, there are currently five independent M Ps, two of whom (Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson) were expelled from their political parties (elected with the LNP and the ALP respectively); additionally, the House's sole KAP member Bob Katter was elected as an independent. In the Senate, there is currently one independent: "No Pokies" senator Nick Xenophon.

Keep in mind that, although these parties are stronger than other minor parties, only the Greens have any seats currently at the federal House of Representatives. In the technical sense, Australia does not have a two-party system. It's just that only two parties ever form government, two parties win the overwhelming majority of seats, and the only other party to have held a ministry in any government in the last 90 years is in a permanent, unending coalition with the Liberal Party.

Here are a few formerly-important major parties and third parties which are now defunct or as good as defunct:

  • Protectionist Party — one of the original two main political parties, and the first to form government: home to Australia's first two prime ministers. As the name suggests, their main thing was protectionism—otherwise, the party had both liberal and conservative wings. While it existed, it governed as a minority government with Labor's (conditional) support. Dissolved 1909.
  • Free Trade Party, later known as the Anti-Socialist Party — the other of the original two main political parties. Again, their main issue was free trade, and the party had both liberal and conservative wings—but with the emergence of Labor as a major party they began to position themselves specifically against them (hence the name change). Spent most of their time in Opposition—only ever formed government once, and even then it was for less than a year. Also dissolved 1909.
  • Commonwealth Liberal Party, also known as The Fusion — formed from the Protectionist Party and Anti-Socialist Party merging in 1909, when they apparently realised they had more in common with each other than with Labor (who had now officially become a major party). Could be called the original ancestor of the modern-day Liberal Party.
  • National Labor Party — a short-lived offshoot of Labor, formed in 1916 from members expelled from the party over the issue of conscription... including the then-Prime Minister, Billy Hughes. Immediately entered into coalition with the Commonwealth Liberal Party, giving them the majority and therefore the government.
  • Nationalist Party — the new major party, formed when the Commonwealth Liberal Party and National Labor officially merged in early 1917. Governed for the next twelve-and-a-half years total, with two Prime Ministers, and remained in opposition for two years afterward before dissolving.
  • Australian Party — a short-lived offshoot of the Nationalists, formed in 1930 from members expelled from the party over the issue of industrial relations... including former Prime Minister Billy Hughes. Sound familiar? Once again, Hughes's defection led to the bringing-down of the sitting government—except this time Hughes et. al. didn't join the opposition but stayed as a minor party for a year or so before being absorbed into the Nationalists' successor, the United Australia Party.
  • Lang Labor — a minor party formed as an offshoot from the ALP, founded by Jack Lang during the Great Depression. Composed of a left-wing branch of the ALP who were dissatisfied with the ALP government then in power—so they helped to bring it down and let the conservative opposition in instead (yeah, Nice Job Breaking It, Hero). Eventually diminished and lost all significance, but hung onto existence until Jack Lang died.
  • United Australia Party — another new major party, founded in 1931 from the merging of the Nationalist Party with a group of defectors from Labor as well as the Australian Party and several conservative independents. Governed for nine-and-a-half years total, with two Prime Ministers, before finally dissolving in 1944. The immediate predecessor of the Liberal Party.
  • Democratic Labor Party: The original incarnation. The DLP dates back to the early 1950s when they split from the ALP, claiming that the ALP were too communist for their tastes. A rather large third party of socially-conservative social democrats, the DLP consistently directed their voter preferences to the Coalition in front of Labor, and therefore guaranteed that the Coalition could stay in permanent power for 23 years despite losing the popular vote twice. The original DLP finally disbanded in the mid-70s, although a remnant lived on and has recently won two seats in two elections (see above).
  • Australian Democrats: Originally created in 1978 to be a happy medium between Labor and Liberal, maintaining a roughly centrist political view. It barely exists now, although it was the largest of the minor parties during the 1990s. They disintegrated spectacularly in the early 2000s, once it became apparent that all the party's major figures loathed each other and their own party. Famous campaigned under a pledge to "keep the bastards honest", the 'bastards' being either the major parties or politicians in general—which became somewhat amusing on reflection when they imploded.
  • One Nation - A party standing for the age-old Australian values of intolerance, ignorance and fish and chips. Received massive publicity in the late '90s, until it became apparent that all involved had no idea what they were doing. Led by Pauline Hanson, a former fish and chips shop owner from Queensland, who unexpectedly won a seat in Federal Parliament as an independent in 1996. From her maiden speech, claiming that 'there are too many Asians in Australia', the party went through an inexplicable storm of popularity. At its height, the party won 23% of the vote in Queensland in the 1998 state election, second only to Labor. (If you visit Queensland, and you look around, one in four of them voted for One Nation.) Hanson lost her seat in Parliament in 1998, and later left the party. One Nation now exists largely in the memories of those who despised them—those who supported them are hopefully trying to forget the whole thing.
    • How did she win as an independent?. She was a Liberal who was dropped when they realised what she thought. Before the election, but too late to take her off the list.
    • Pauline Hanson went on to run again in the 2007 election in Queensland, under the banner of a new political party "Pauline's United Australia Party" (not to be confused with the original United Australia Party listed above) of which she seemed to be the sole member. Her most famous opponent (as far as the press seemed to think) was an ex football player who dropped out when someone forgot to register him. She lost.
      • Just to expand on that: the ex-football player's political career was short enough that The Chaser, in their 2010 electoral coverage, named the 'Award for Shortest Political Career' after him. His career didn't even last until the end of the press conference.
    • Irony of ironies, she's now decided to move to Britain and become an immigrant. Good riddance, assuming they let her in.
    • She came back, and ran for a seat in the New South Wales senate. She lost, and claims there was a (deliberate) miscount of the votes to keep her out.


Because there aren't so many sensitive issues in Australia as in the United States or the United Kingdom, most of the issues in Australian politics are relatively immediate. The only potentially divisive issue between Labor and the Liberals is the economy. Whilst both parties fundamentally accept a mixed economy, the Liberal party is (in general) slightly more likely to gravitate towards markets, whereas Labor is slightly more likely to gravitate towards government-based measures.[15] This varies between individual members of the parties, and it also varies depending on the issue. For instance, whilst the Hawke-Keating Labor governments did a lot of deregulation and privatization, Howard's government made a move towards a less regulated labour market and the unions within the ALP were not remotely happy.

Amusingly, the Taiwanese provided a better summary of the events in the leadup to the 2010 election than the Australian media did. You don't even need to understand Chinese.


Australia uses "preferential voting"—also known as the "Alternative Vote" system in the UK, or as "instant-runoff voting" (which despite initial hopes is not forcing pudgy, middle-aged politicians to sprint). Rather than voting for a singular candidate and have them win through a plurality (i.e. whoever wins the most votes) such as in other countries, Australians are made to vote for their members in order of preference, ranking them 1, 2, 3 and so on. If no one wins a majority (i.e. more than 50%) of #1 votes first off, then whoever got the least number is eliminated and those votes are distributed to whoever the voters ranked as #2 instead—the process is repeated until someone gets a majority.[16]

To prevent confusion, there are television and print ads explaining how a ranking ballot works ("put a '1' in the box of the candidate you prefer the most, etc. etc. etc."). On voting day, party supporters hand out "how-to-vote cards" at polling booths showing how each party prefers candidates from the other parties so that unsure people can just vote according to what their party wants.

  • Also of note is that voting is compulsory. You can generally get away with not voting but legally you're expected to vote. A $AUS 20 fine applies for not voting.
    • In some states, you're not obliged to mark the ballot in any way. If you genuinely don't care about your vote, you can just write "All politicians are wankers" on your ballot and put that in. Of course, if you vote correctly and write "All politicians are wankers" on the ballot, than the vote counters, while recounting everything, will see your vote half-a-dozen times.
    • Informal votes (as any invalid vote is known as) can be rather creative too. In the 2007 election, the Senate ballot had the candidates grouped, with each group given a letter of the alphabet. This troper ranked them in the following order D, O, N, K, E and because there was no Y wrote in "Bob Dole" and assigned him that group. Democracy is fun. Or, alternately, you can try and have a say in actually running your bloody country.
      • There is a joke: "For Christ's sake don't vote informal! I wrote 'Useless bastards!' on a ballot paper in 1971, and they've been in office ever since."
    • "Donkey voting" is a type of formal(valid) vote, where the voter just numbers each box, consecutively 1-onwards, this is usually an "I don't care vote" but it can be helpful if there is a lot of candidates in a lower house election because a lower house ticket must be completely filled to be valid.
    • Some people intentionally donkey vote because they feel the compulsory voting system has driven both major parties to the centre, forcing them to pander to the 'swing' voters, turning elections into tax cut auctions and fights over which party hates brown people more. They might also feel that regardless of which way they vote, there won't be a recognisable change in leadership; just in the voice doing the 'leading', and so their 'say' is pointless regardless.
  • The preferential voting system is worth noting because it means there's no such thing as a minor candidate "splitting the vote". If somebody really likes the Greens but would rather Labor win than Liberal, he can vote 1 Greens and 2 Labor, and ifwhen the Greens candidate doesn't get in, that vote goes to Labor rather than being wasted. Plenty of people vote for all the minor parties first, and their actual contribution to the election comes from whether it's Labor 7, Liberal 8 (or Labor 139-145, Liberal 146-151, as in some states' interminably long federal senate ballot papers) or vice versa.
    • Even so, not everyone realises this is the case. You still hear people saying they're going to give their first preference to a major party because "they need it more" (in fact, the opposite is true since the votes will eventually make their way, with their full power, to the two-party prefered statistic anyway).


Since they're all interchangeable bastards, we don't bother remembering any politician's names, so the only ones the average Aussie will (apart from Harold Holt above) are the last dozen-or-so Prime Ministers: Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Howard, Howard, Howard, Howard, Rudd and Gillard.

    • Edmund Barton if you're 20 years or older. That did cost a few million dollars for the TV ad campaign though.
    • Most are also able to remember Peter Garrett, but that's only because he was part of the band Midnight Oil.
    • No one in Queensland will ever forget the infamous premier (equivalent to an American state governor) Joh Bjelke-Petersen either, as much as they'd like to. He shamelessly dished out favors to developers, openly referred to an Aboriginal activist as "Mr. Witchetty Grub", openly supported South Africa's apartheid regime (and responded to protests by bringing in rural cops and stuffing jails until protesters had to be kept in paddy wagons), considered blasting shipping lanes through the Great Barrier Reef with nuclear weapons, involved in the allegedly corrupt pro-development 'white shoe brigade'...and somehow managed to remain in power for nearly 20 years. And even then he was only forced to step down due to a growing bribe scandal in the State Police. He certainly didn't help improve Queensland's redneck stereotype. Though hated by many living in the cities, Bjelke-Petersen is still adored by those living in rural areas, particular around the area of Kingaroy where he lived.
      • He managed to stay in power by abusing the horribly unfair electorate divisions at the time (the rural areas of Queensland had far too many electorates for their size; Sir Joh was a member of the Country/National Party, which traditionally represents rural Australia). So, in effect, he was Queensland's one and only dictator. Jesus Christ.
      • He was also born in New Zealand. You can have him, we certainly don't.
      • I'll be the first to admit that Sir Joh (yes he got a knighthood) was a bad Premier. But the thing many people don't remember, either because of selective memory or because it was so long ago, is that he stayed in power so long because of huge gerrymandering of electorates, and the lack of any upper house to put breaks on his political bastardry. And that those two things were institutionalised by the previous government, which was the opposition all those long 20 years. Might there be an Aesop in that?
      • Less than you might think: Queensland abolished its upper house in 1922. Joh was 11 then.
      • Despite running what many may describe as a 'quasi—fascist' government, Sir Joh does need to take credit for the incredible development of Queensland, and particularly Brisbane and the Gold Coast, which, before his time, were little more than large country towns.
  • As a side note, most Prime Ministers until John Gorton have a suburb in the Australian Capital Territory named after them.

A [17] Brief Summary of Each Australian Prime Minister

  • Edmund Barton (Protectionist Party) was Australia's first prime minister, from 1901 to 1903. Conservative, rich and racist—the first law his government passed was the foundation of the White Australia Policy, which effectively banned non-white people from immigrating to Australia. Media nickname "Toby Tosspot", owing to his fondness for the bottle. Resigned to become a High Court judge. He was actually pretty terrible as a Prime Minister, lazy, ineffectual and not all that clever, but he was The First. He was a pretty so-so High Court Judge, too.
  • Alfred Deakin (Protectionist Party) succeeded Barton, and was Prime Minister on three non-consecutive occasions between 1903 and 1910. Among people familiar with history, Deakin is remembered rather more favourably than Barton. His policies were small-l liberal, but no one remembers that. Deakin is also known for believing he could commune with dead politicians, who advised him on tactics.
    • (1903-1904) The first time he was Prime Minister, however, he didn't really do much at all. He won re-election in 1903, but a swing to Labour gave all three parties near-equal representation in the House. He ended up resigning in frustration after a year.
  • Chris Watson (Labour Party), Prime Minister for four months in 1904 after Deakin's resignation. He was the ALP's first ever Prime Minister, and the first Prime Minister to come from a Labour Party in the entire world... but didn't really do much in his brief tenure. Also noteworthy for having become Prime Minister without being an Australian citizen or even a British (Empire) subject: he was born in Valparaíso (Chile) to a German-Chilean father and a New Zealander mother, and was never naturalised.
  • George Reid (Free Trade Party), Prime Minister 1904-1905. Formed government during a brief period where the unofficial alliance between the Protectionists and Labour fell apart—spent a much longer period of time as Leader of the Opposition. He was of a liberal bent, but again no one remembers that. Later became Australia's first High Commissioner in London.
  • Alfred Deakin again (Protectionist Party).
    • (1905-1908) Fifteen months and two prime ministers after first resigning the position, Deakin became PM again. Successfully passed protectionist legislation... after which there wasn't much left that distinguished his party from the Free Traders/Anti-Socialists, resulting in them losing supporters. Managed to hold onto minority government after the December 1906 election despite having won the least number of seats of the three parties, but it didn't last another two years.
  • Andrew Fisher (Labour Party) was also Prime Minister on three non-consecutive occasions between 1908 and 1915. Left-wing and reformist, although still in favour of conscription, he was one of Labour's most successful Prime Ministers in the early 20th century.
    • (1908-1909) Fisher first became PM of a minority government in 1908 after forcing Deakin out. This time around, he only lasted seven months before Deakin took back the government.
  • Alfred Deakin yet again (Commonwealth Liberal Party).
    • (1909-1910) With the Protectionist Party bleeding supporters to Labour and to the Anti-Socialists, and most of their support being directed to Deakin himself, Deakin organised a merger of the Protectionists and the Anti-Socialists into the "Commonwealth Liberal Party" with himself as leader, giving them a majority and effectively creating Australia's modern two-party system. It backfired: a good deal of liberal Protectionists felt that Deakin had sold out his principles, and voted him out in the next election.
  • Andrew Fisher again (Labor Party—they dropped the "u" during his tenure, in 1912).
    • (1910-1913) Won big in the 1910 election, becoming the first person to be elected the head of a majority government in Australia. Passed a huge number of reforms, only one of which was officially changing his party's name to a misspelling. Lost the 1913 election by one seat.
  • Joseph Cook (Commonwealth Liberal Party), Prime Minister from 1913 to 1914. Former member of the Free Trade Party. Governed with a one-seat majority and a hostile senate—this led to a double-dissolution election after one year, which he lost.
  • Andrew Fisher yet again (Labor Party).
    • (1914-1915) Having won back the position of Prime Minister, he didn't keep it very long, resigning after a year.
  • Billy Hughes (Labor Party, then National Labor Party, then Nationalist Party) succeeded Fisher. He was kicked out of the Labor Party in 1916 over the issue of conscription (which he supported and most of the party didn't), but stayed Prime Minister by merging his small band of expelled supporters into the Commonwealth Liberal Party to form the Nationalist Party, which formed the new government and won a huge majority in 1917. Hughes stayed Prime Minister until 1923, when his party dumped him as leader so that they could enter into coalition with the Country Party to stay in government[18] (the Country Party being leery of Hughes's Labor background). Hughes spent his entire career jumping from party to party—Labor to National Labor to Nationalist to independent to Australian to United Australia to independent to Liberal. He sat in Parliament for fifty-one years, a record.
    • Ever wondered how Australia got cool Pacific colonies like New Guinea when it was still part of the British Empire? Billy Hughes annoyed David Lloyd George into giving Australia the territories during the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.
      • Hughes was also quite racist, and a vehement supporter of the White Australia Policy. At the Paris Peace Conference he was the most vocal opponent of Japan's Racial Equality Proposal (acting as a cat's paw for David Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson, who also opposed the proposal but less openly); the proposal's resultant defeat made Japan quite annoyed.
      • Bizarrely, Hughes genuinely feared an ethnic German uprising in Australia in the midst of WWI, and even had the police draw him secret escape and counter-militia measures, for when the German hordes descended upon the government. Unsurprisingly, and as the police consistently told him, this was totally pointless. Most ethnic Germans had been in Australia for generations. On another note, Hughes also shot invective at Irish and Catholic Australians during his pro-conscription campaign, despite the fact that huge numbers of Irish Australians actively volunteered for service.
      • Hughes was also instrumental in insisting that the Treaty of Versailles should oblige Germany to pay war reparations, ganging up with French PM Georges Clemenceau to browbeat Lloyd George into backing the measure. Reparations, of course, played a huge part in the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism. If only Woodrow Wilson's style had been less Holier Than Thou professorial lecturing and more annoying politicking....
  • Stanley Bruce (Nationalist Party), Prime Minister 1923 to 1929. When the Country Party forced Billy Hughes to resign as PM as a price for entering coalition with the Nationalists, Bruce was picked as his replacement. He was a conservative, stuck-up, condescending bastard who constantly wore an expression of deep disdain for those around him. Bruce ended up being brought down by the man he replaced: in 1929, Hughes and a few other Nationalists crossed the floor on a crucial bill and were expelled from the Nationalists, forcing a federal election—an election which Bruce not only lost, but in which he became the first sitting Prime Minister to actually lose his own seat in Parliament.
  • James Scullin (Labor Party), Prime Minister 1929 to 1932, and the first Catholic PM. Was sworn in two days before the Wall Street Crash, which made his entire tenure as Prime Minister all about the Great Depression. Ended up acting as Treasurer as well after the first one, Ted Theodore, was forced to resign in scandal. Spent the entire second half of 1930 in England begging for a loan; he left James Fenton as acting PM and Joseph Lyons as acting Treasurer, who drastically changed government policy to cut spending while he was away. After returning he tried to reinstate Theodore as Treasurer—as a result, his party suffered two splits at once: a faction of rightists (who included Fenton and Lyons) thought Theodore was too radical, and defected to the opposition; another faction (known as "Lang Labor", led by Jack Lang) thought Theodore wasn't radical enough. An early election was forced and Scullin lost in landslide.
  • Joseph Lyons (United Australia Party), Prime Minister 1932 to 1939. Formerly a Labor minister under Scullin, he left the party along with four other MPs in 1931—they combined with the Nationalist Party plus three other independent MPs to form the United Australia Party (the Liberal Party's immediate predecessor). Is generally remembered favourably. The first Australian prime minister to die in office.
  • Sir Earle Page (Country Party), served as caretaker Prime Minister for nineteen days in 1939, taking over after Lyons' death. Only served as PM until the United Australia Party, as the dominant party in the Coalition, could elect a new leader—who turned out to be Robert Menzies, whom Sir Earle hated. The second-longest-serving federal MP in Australia, after fellow former PM Billy Hughes. Also the only sitting Prime Minister to have been knighted (several others were also knighted, but only after their times in office).
  • Robert Menzies (United Australia Party), Prime Minister on two non-consecutive occasions between 1939 and 1966, and Australia's longest-serving PM. Hugely anti-communist, and massive Britphile—once proclaimed that Australians were "British to [their] bootstraps", and had ambitions to become Prime Minister of the UK someday (obviously, never fulfilled). He ended up founding the Liberal Party, and is regarded as a founding father of modern Australian conservatism.
    • Menzies conservative? Maybe compared to today's standards, but at the time he was regarded as far more 'small l' liberal than the Labor Party. He would later say about the party he founded "We took the name 'Liberal' because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his rights, and his enterprise, and rejecting the socialist panacea."
      • Note that the 'individual' referred to here is the 'White' individual specifically, as Menzies passionately believed in the White Australia policy. Whatever his economic progressivism, Menzies was a dedicated social conservative. Notably, he did not see a difference between Australians and Britons. In 1950, his Australia Day speech extolled the greatness of the British Empire, and he even told his crowd ‘You and I are Australians. We are also British. We do not and cannot think of the people of the other British nations as a foreign people’.
      • Whether he was considered "conservative" at the time or not, modern Australian conservatives do still look up to Menzies in that way.
    • (1939-1941) His first time as Prime Minister, however, wasn't so successful. He first took over soon after Lyons died, but proved to be not very good as a wartime Prime Minister and was unpopular fairly quickly. Held onto government after the 1940 election returned a hung parliament, but was forced to resign the following year.
      • He had the nickname "Pig Iron Bob" due to his promotions of iron exports to Japan in the thirties. The joke (and it says a lot about Australians that this is a joke) is that the Japanese gave it back soon after.
  • Arthur Fadden (Country Party), became Prime Minister in 1941 after Menzies' resignation, despite being from the Country Party and not the UAP. He only lasted 40 days before the independents who held the balance of power switched their support to Labor—which may have been some small consolation to Menzies.
  • John Curtin (Labor Party), Prime Minister 1941 to 1945, and also the first known agnostic PM. Led Australia during World War II, and is credited with starting Australia's close alliance with the US. Considered one of our great Prime Ministers, for his war-time leadership, great oratory and general sympathy for the poor guy. Had ill health all through his tenure and ended up being the second Australian Prime Minister to die in office.
  • Frank Forde (Labor Party), caretaker Prime Minister for seven days in 1945 after Curtin's death—the shortest tenure in the history of the country. Naturally, he isn't remembered for much else. Was also remembered for being the longest-lived Prime Minister (having lived to age 92 years, 194 days) until his record was surpassed by Gough Whitlam in 2009.
  • Ben Chifley (Labor Party), Prime Minister 1945 to 1949. Became Prime Minister one week after John Curtin died, and was re-elected the following year (defeating former Prime Minister Robert Menzies, the first leader of the Liberal Party). The last truly socialist Prime Minister of Australia, and one of the most influential. Is something of a hero of the Australian left. Ended up suffering a huge backlash in 1948 for trying to nationalise the banks and was branded a commie, and lost in landslide to Menzies in a rematch election the following year.
    • Chifley is best remembered for his "light on the hill" speech, which is seen as encapsulating the Australian Labor movement's ideals and aspirations. The appropriate section is quoted below:

  Chifley: I try to think of the Labor movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody's pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective — the light on the hill — which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for. If the movement can make someone more comfortable, give to some father or mother a greater feeling of security for their children, a feeling that if a depression comes there will be work, that the government is striving its hardest to do its best, then the Labor movement will be completely justified.

    • Chifley is also notable for instituting the first mass-migration program to include non-British immigrants, with Australia under his watch accepting large numbers of refugees from across post-war Europe. However, as the migration program was primarily motivated by Australia being underpopulated and a fear that they needed to "populate or perish", special care was taken to ensure that all the immigrants were suitably white and theoretically able to be culturally assimilated. Still, it was a first step.
  • Robert Menzies again (Liberal Party), for a long time this time.
    • (1949-1966) Founded the Liberal Party while out of power, merging the United Australia Party with several minor parties, and became its first leader. Was widely regarded as unelectable until the whole debacle in 1948, after which he went on to win back the Prime Ministership. Cruised through his time as PM without serious opposition due to the ALP-DLP split. It was during his tenure, in 1962, that the right to vote in federal elections was extended to indigenous Australians. He lasted forever and ever and ever, governing for 17 years straight and finally not so much resigning as ascending to Camelot.
      • He also made one of the classic heckler putdowns:

 Heckler: I wouldn't vote for you if you were the Archangel Gabriel!

Menzies: If I were the Archangel Gabriel, you wouldn't be in my constituency.

      • It was also during the post-war period that Menzies staunchly resisted attempts to from the Department of Immigration to rollback the White Australia Policy. When in 1964 one of his ministers, Hubert Opperman, argued the policy was based on discrimination Menzies argued discrimination against non-Whites was 'the right sort of discrimination'. Menzies was essentially the last gasp for this rigid race-based ideology, as Holt and following Prime Ministers were open enough further ease restrictions on Asians and other non-White people, and drop the interchangeability of 'British' and 'Australian'.
  • Harold Holt (Liberal Party) — Prime Minister from 1966 to 1967, taking over after Menzies' retirement and winning re-election later that year. Didn't make much of a mark during his relatively short tenure: he was mainly known for being a strong supporter of the Vietnam War (which was popular at the time), expanding Australia's troop commitment and coming up with the quote "All the way with LBJ." What he's much more famous for nowadays is how he died—or rather, how he disappeared without a trace. One day in December 1967, after a few drinks and a tough day at the office, Harold Holt plunged into the surf at Portsea to impress a woman generally considered his mistress, and was never seen again.
    • And in true Australian spirit, in Melbourne we named a council swimming pool after him.
    • Harold Holt's death was the subject of many conspiracy theories that continue to this day. Theories range from him having deliberately committed suicide, to having faked his own death, to having been kidnapped in the water by a Chinese submarine.
      • And some Aussies love mocking the conspiracy theories.
  • John McEwen (Country Party), caretaker Prime Minister after Holt's disappearance from 1967 to 1968... well, actually it was only 23 days, but it lasted over the New Year. It was expected that the Holt's deputy leader William McMahon would take over as PM in short order—but McEwen, who hated McMahon, officially said "No way in hell" and refused to let McMahon's candidacy even be considered. Eventually, the job went to...
  • John Gorton (Liberal Party), Prime Minister 1968 to 1971, and the first known atheist PM. Gorton eventually got the job of Prime Minister after a lot of factional in-fighting within the Coalition over who'd take over. Gorton ended up losing much of his initial popularity, just scraping re-election in 1969 and losing a leadership challenge to William McMahon 18 months later.
    • Gorton was Prime Minister during the Lunar landings of 1969. He also presided over the greatest loosening of censorship laws Australia has ever seen (spear-headed by Minister for Communications and his good mate, Don Chipp). And as a youth, one of his schoolmates was Errol Flynn.
  • William McMahon (Liberal Party), Prime Minister 1971 to 1972. After being barred from becoming Prime Minister in 1967 and with an increasingly-unpopular John Gorton in the top job, McMahon finally seized his chance to become PM after McEwen's retirement. Never actually won an election: he became PM through a leadership challenge and lost the election the following year. William McMahon is generally remembered for being the father of actor Julian McMahon, for rumours that he was gay, and for being the guy who lost a federal election to Labor after 23 years in power.
  • Gough Whitlam (Labor Party), Prime Minister from 1972 to 1975 and oldest still-living former PM. Made an astonishing number of reforms during his brief tenure. Huge increases in education funding, universal health care, decriminalisation of homosexual acts, withdrawal of troops from Vietnam, the complete public abandonment of the White Australia Policy, introducing the Racial Discrimination Act, granting Aboriginal land rights, ambitious new cultural policies, urban renewal projects for Australia's impoverished communities, and free tertiary education. Faced several scandals in government and severe inflation, owing largely to the fact that his ministers (none of whom had ever held government before) wanted to accomplish all their projects as quickly as possible and damn the consequences—in his own words, "Crash or crash through". In 1975, a hostile senate refused to pass the government supply bill (i.e. the budget) unless an early election was held. Governor-General John Kerr broke the face-off by firing Whitlam, appointing Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser as caretaker PM. Though Whitlam advised supporters to "maintain the rage", Fraiser won the election by a landslide a month later. The left adores Whitlam for his reforms (and despises John Kerr), while the right hates him with a passion. He's still alive, and as of January 2009 is also officially the longest-lived Prime Minister of Australia to date.
  • Malcolm Fraser (Liberal Party), Prime Minister from 1975 to 1983. Won the 1975 election against Whitlam after getting media support from Rupert Murdoch's papers, the numerous scandals by Whitlam government ministers, and giving the reassurance that, unlike Gough, you could trust him not to change too much too quickly. His time as PM isn't approved of by the left or right—the left revile his government because of his role in "The Dismissal", while the right regard his government as a wasted opportunity because he wasn't enough like Margaret Thatcher. Since being voted out of office has become more left-wing in his views (or maybe he was always just a repressed small-l liberal) and has patched things up with Gough. These days, the Liberal Party consider him a dirty hippie, while the left still hate him. Malcolm needs a hug.
    • No.
    • He gets respect from liberals (not Liberal party Liberals that is, the other (not mutually exclusive) kind) who respect his humanitarianism, particularly his embrace of (following Vietnam) what is likely the largest single intake of Asian refugees the country has ever seen (similar refugees in the modern day are locked up, often for years, while security goes through paperwork).
  • Bob Hawke (Labor Party), Prime Minister 1983 to 1991, elected with a landslide majority less than a month after becoming Labor leader. Famous for his blokeiness: he held the world record for drinking an entire yard glass of beer (eleven seconds, during his days at Oxford), and after Australia's win in the 1983 America's Cup he proclaimed "Any boss who sacks a bloke because he doesn't turn up for work today is a bum!" After decades of almost unbroken defeats, Hawke developed an innovative new strategy for the Labor Party: be the Liberal Party instead. Hawke actually presided over the most extensive and thorough regime of deregulation and privatization the Australian economy has ever seen, before or since. Even centrist and leftist academic economists accept the benefits brought by his reforms. Defeated in a leadership challenge by Keating in 1991.
  • Paul Keating (Labor Party), Prime Minister 1991 to 1996. Is remembered for being PM during the "recession we had to have", in his words, and for making the Redfern speech. Despite low popularity he won the "unwinnable" 1993 election often attributed to his small-l liberal Liberal (told you it was confusing) opponent Dr John Hewson being unable to explain the GST in layman's terms on national television, but lost the 1996 election due to John Howard taking out the lower-middle-class support base — "Howard's battlers". Has the honour of being the only Australian Prime Minister to have a musical dedicated to him: Keating! The Musical.
  • John Howard (Liberal Party), Prime Minister 1996 to 2007. Famed for his huge eyebrows and ridiculous voice, loved by political cartoonists everywhere. A friend of George W Bush, Howard instituted policies for dealing with asylum seekers which were rather controversial. Won a narrow victory (losing the popular vote) in 1998, exploited voters' fears of illegal brown people coming to Australia to win the 2001 election, and cruised to a victory in 2004 over the loudmouthed and slightly unhinged Mark Latham. Actually had two ministers named Abbott and Costello (who often give off the vibe of absolutely hating one another). The last straw was the introduction of his WorkChoices program in 2007, which gave huge amounts of power to employers in bargaining & contracting while massively undercutting workers' ability to collectively bargain—lost the election that year, and became the second ever sitting PM of Australia to lose his seat. Depicted in a negative light in Keating! The Musical, and generally despised by the Australian left for (what they perceived to be) his philistinism, his delight in offending the sensibilities of minority groups, his dog-whistle politics on race, his regressive economic policies, his toadying to the Americans, his opposition to the Kyoto protocol. A whole lot of (anti) political music has been written about him (see Like A Dog by Powderfinger and The King is Dead by The Herd for some examples.)
  • Kevin Rudd (Labor Party), a.k.a. "Kevin07", "Kevin24/7", "Kevvie" or "K-Rudd",[19] Prime Minister 2007 to 2010. Looks a lot like an overgrown schoolboy, speaks Mandarin, and sometimes uses unnecessarily complex language (eg "detailed programmatic specificity"). Presented himself as a moderate fiscal conservative. He started to implement a 40% profit tax on mining companies. Perhaps his worst failure is the home roof insulation debacle, where companies trying to take advantage of the insulation scheme cut corners which, combined with the foil-based insulation material and a lack of following proper procedures, resulted in 4 people actually dying from electrocution. His Prime Ministership was a mixed bag of huge advancements,[20] programs of questionable value,[21] and lack of change.[22] He's in about as many rap songs as John Howard, usually in reference to replacing him.

Rudd was ousted in a leadership challenge on 23–24 June 2010 (when his own party pulled a Praetorian Guard on him), being replaced by then-Deputy PM Julia Gillard. After the following election, he was appointed to Gillard's Cabinet as the Foreign Minister, but abruptly quit the role in February 2012 under some incredibly silly circumstances. He subsequently mounted a failed campaign to regain the Prime Ministership. Despite this, polls show he remains more popular with the general Australian public than Julia Gillard.

  • Julia Gillard (Labor Party), Prime Minister from 2010. Australia's first female Prime Minister, she replaced Kevin Rudd after a leadership challenge and called an early election. The election on 21 August 2010 resulted in a hung parliament, with both major parties ending up four seats short of the necessary 76-seat majority, after which Gillard negotiated to remain in government with the support of one Greens MP and three independents. Has generally been portrayed by satirists, comedians, and the press in general as a backstabber for ousting Rudd (cartoonists also tend to drastically exaggerate her nose). Her political platform consists of a lot of social conservatism (i.e. reduction in overall immigration, and attempts to follow Howard's offshore processing of asylum seekers to avoid 'European-style social unrest') but with less economic statism than Rudd tended to advocate. While she herself does not support same-sex marriage, like her predessors, she did allow the party to hold a conscience vote on the matter in late 2011, and as a result supporting marriage equality is now part of the Labor platform. Whether or not her opposition offers a viable alternative is a matter this wiki shall not discuss.
  1. New South Wales
  2. Western Australia
  3. Formerly the highest court of appeal, in fact
  4. Fun fact - some Australians suggested literally replicating the British system and having a House of Lords rather than a Senate. This was scornfully lambasted as the 'bunyip aristocracy', and would have consisted of randomly choosing families to have noble blood thereafter.
  5. Well, to include them in the census: they were already Australian citizens, and had gained the right to vote in all elections five years previously. The same constitutional change also took away the right of states to make discriminatory laws.
  6. The Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory
  7. there's been at least one other (John Gorton) plus three agnostics (John Curtin, Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke)
  8. James Scullin
  9. although if the opposition were to form government now, the position of Deputy PM would not go to her but to Warren Truss, leader of the Nationals Party, which is part of the Coalition comprising the current opposition
  10. Incidentally, said Premier was outspoken about being opposed to Federation
  11. Who, incidentally, had spent two terms at Geelong Grammar School in Victoria
  12. also known pre-Federation as the Prime Minister, but obviously this had to be changed later
  13. hence the title "Governor-General" for their federal equivalent
  14. Many people believe they're for legalizing illegal drugs. They're not.
  15. Interestingly, on the major issue of Carbon Tax/Emission Trading Scheme, Labor stands firm on market-based mechanisms, whereas Liberal wants a direct government intervention
  16. The Irish vote the same way, with one key difference: Aussie divisions for the House of Representatives are single-member, while constituencies for the Dáil in Ireland are multi-member (3-5 TDs per constituency), technically making it a different system called Single Transferable Vote. For reasons of complicated electoral math, this has the effect that the Dáil has a lot more parties than the House of Representatives. Even more confusingly, the Australian Senate uses the same system as the Irish Dáil, but still call it preferential voting. This (the system, not the name) is why you see all kinds of minor parties in the Senate that never or barely ever manage to win a seat in the House.
  17. Relatively
  18. the coalition still lasts to this day, now as the Liberal/National Coalition
  19. the first was his own campaign slogan; the rest are nicknames
  20. a personal apology to Indigenous Australians, avoiding a complete nosedive into the current recession, abolishing the detention centres for asylum seekers (whilst still continuing to detain them by other means)
  21. attempting to set up a mandatory internet filter, handing out free money
  22. refusing to legalise gay marriage despite overwhelming public support, not rolling back many of Howard's Industrial Relations reforms