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Government & voting

political-partiesThe Australian political system is known as a parliamentary democracy.

There are three ‘tiers’, or levels, of government: federal, state/territory, and local. Australians vote to elect officials at each level.


Federal government

The Federal Government manages the affairs of the entire country, at home and overseas. The head of the Federal Government is the Prime Minister. The powers of the government are defined by the Australian Constitution. Broadly speaking, these responsibilities cover immigration, trade, currency, foreign affairs, defence, and taxation.

State and territory governments

There are eight state and territory governments in Australia of various sizes. They represent the states of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania, and the territories of the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The leaders of state governments are know as Premiers, and the heads of territory governments are called Chief Ministers.

Responsibilities of state and territory governments include education, roads, justice, hospitals, and public transport.

What is the difference between a state and a territory?

The six states in Australia were originally separate British colonies that eventually united in 1901 to form the Commonwealth of Australia. The Northern Territory was unclaimed by any of the colonies – it has been a part of both NSW and South Australia in the past. It came under the control of the Federal Government in 1911. The ACT came into being in 1909, when NSW handed over land for the construction of Australia’s capital city, Canberra. Originally the two Australian territories were unable to make their own laws, as the states were. This is no longer the case.

Local government

Local governments in Australia are represented by city or shire councils. The head of a council is called the Mayor or the Shire President.

Councils have administrative responsibility for local communities in both cities and rural areas. This includes garbage collection, road repair, processing development applications, parks, and local swimming pools.

Voting in Australia

Only Australian citizens can vote or stand for election. Refer to Becoming an Australian Citizen ( for more information.

vote-electionCompulsory voting & Poll Tax

Australia has compulsory enrolling and voting for state and national elections for qualified adults 18 and over. Before compulsory voting began in 1924, voter turn-out was always really low. Since then, there is a 94% – 96% voting rate. The rule makes Australians more interested in politics, as they know their vote counts. Only 23 countries have compulsory voting, and Australia is one of the 10 that enforce it – done through a financial penalty. For example, not voting in a local election carries a fine of $55.

For more information on voting, visit the Australian Electoral Commission website.