Australia is...

 Candidates' posters outside a polling place in Queensland on election day. ©Getty 

Candidates' posters outside a polling place in Queensland on election day. ©Getty 

Australia is a democracy, which means that its citizens vote at elections for the people who govern them. Australia is also a constitutional monarchy. A monarchy means that the Head of State is a monarch (king or queen) – in Australia’s case, the monarch of the United Kingdom.

A monarch is not elected, but inherits the position from either their father or mother. Although the monarch is the Head of State, their powers are limited by what is written in the Constitution.

What is the Constitution?

A constitution is a set of principles about how a nation or organisation will be governed. The Australian Constitution sets out rules of how Parliament acts, what law- making powers it has, and the responsibilities of Federal and State governments. It establishes how the Houses of Parliament—the Senate and House of Representatives—are formed, the length of terms of office of those elected, and how elections are called.
A change to the Constitution can only be made when it passes a referendum, which is a special election when all Australian citizens vote yes or no to a proposed change.

Read more about the Australian Constitution:

https://www.peo.gov.au/learning/closer-look/the-australian-constitution.html

There are three levels of government in Australia: Commonwealth, State and Local.

The Commonwealth Government

The Queen is the Head of State of Australia

 This is Queen Elizabeth 2nd with Sir William Deane, who was Governor-General of Australia when the photo was taken. He was Governor-General from 1996 to 2001.

This is Queen Elizabeth 2nd with Sir William Deane, who was Governor-General of Australia when the photo was taken. He was Governor-General from 1996 to 2001.

Queen Elizabeth II of England is also Queen of Australia. This is because Australia was once a collection of British colonies. Australians do not vote for her, because a monarch gets that position from the king or queen before them, usually their parents or another relative. The monarch is the Head of State of Australia.  The Queen lives in England, not Australia.

The Governor-General does the job for her when she is not here.

The Head of State does not run the country, but has other jobs to do, such as sign a law to make it official, signing the paper that begins an election and being Commander in Chief of the defence forces: the army, navy and air force.

In Australia, an elected government runs the country.

Every four years, Australians who are over 18 years old must vote in an election. They help choose the people who will be in Parliament. People who are elected go to Parliament in Canberra. Parliament House is a huge building where parliament meets several times a year to discuss and make laws for the country.

The House of Representatives and The Senate.

 Parliament House in Canberra

Parliament House in Canberra

In the Australian Parliament there are 2 sections, called Houses. The two houses are the House of Representatives and The Senate. 

In Australia, a Prime Minister is the Head of the Government.

 

Read about all the Prime Ministers of Australia since the first, in 1901:

 A painting by famous Australian artist Tom Roberts of the  first Australian Parliament being opened in 1901 by the Duke of York and Cornwall, who later became King George V. 

A painting by famous Australian artist Tom Roberts of the  first Australian Parliament being opened in 1901 by the Duke of York and Cornwall, who later became King George V. 

The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia

There are two parts, called Houses of Parliament: the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The House of Representatives

 The Prime Minister is a member of the House of Representatives © Getty Images

The Prime Minister is a member of the House of Representatives © Getty Images

Australia is divided up into areas called electorates. For each electorate there is one seat in the House of Representatives. Each electorate has about the same number of people living in it, and for each electorate there is a seat in the House of Representatives. At an election, the people who live in each electorate vote for a person to go to Parliament to speak for them. That elected person becomes the Member of the House of Representatives, or the Lower House, for that electorate. Most people who stand for election are members of different groups or parties. The party that has most members elected to the House of Representatives becomes the Government, and its leader becomes the Prime Minister of Australia. The party that wins the next highest number of seats in the House of Representatives is called the Opposition and its leader is called the Leader of the Opposition.

There is a big room called a chamber in Parliament House where the House of Representatives meets. The room is decorated in green. The Government Members sit on the left of the picture, and the Opposition face them. In the curved part the Members of small parties sit, as well as the Members who do not belong to a Party. They are called Independents.

In the seats around the top of the chamber, called the Gallery, people can sit to watch Parliament but they may not join in or speak. Some of the people in the Gallery are reporters for newspapers, radio or television. In the big wooden chair in the middle, the Speaker sits. The Speaker is in charge of the meeting and makes sure people get a turn to speak.

The Senate

 The Senate chamber is decorated in red. © Getty Images

The Senate chamber is decorated in red. © Getty Images

The other House of Parliament is called the Senate. It is the Upper House, or the house of review. People of each state and the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory elect 12 people to be their Senators. No matter how big or small a state or territory is, they have the same number of Senators.

The chamber in Parliament House where the Senate meets is decorated in red. Like the other chamber, the Government members sit in the seats at the left of the picture, and the Opposition sit opposite them. The seats in the curved part are for members of small parties and Independents. In the main chair in the middle, the President of the Senate sits. The President of the Senate is in charge of the meeting.

Read more about the Commonwealth government:

https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/House_of_Representatives/Powers_practice_and_procedure/00_-_Infosheets/Infosheet_20_-_The_Australian_system_of_government

Making Laws

A law is a rule that affects how we live.

The main business of parliament is to make laws. When a law is first suggested, it is called a Bill. Bills are usually suggested in the House of Representatives. First the Bill is explained, then all Members discuss it. Changes may be made. Then all Members vote for or against the Bill. If it passes the vote, it goes to the other House of Parliament (in most cases the Senate) and the same thing happens. Sometimes the Bill is sent back to be changed some more, and sometimes it passes another vote. Then the Bill is called an Act of Parliament. The Governor-General signs it and it becomes a law that Australians obey.

What happens when Australia becomes a Republic?

If Australia were to become a republic, it would be a democratic republic because the citizens would continue to elect the people who govern them. However, the Head of State would no longer be a monarch. The Head of State of an Australian Republic  would be called President and would be elected for a term of office.

When the time comes for Australia to become a republic, it will be decided in a referendum whether the election of the President would be by all the citizens at an election, or by a majority of Members of Parliament.  

 Proposed changes to the Australian Constitution are put to a referendum for Australians to vote 'yes' or 'no' ©Getty

Proposed changes to the Australian Constitution are put to a referendum for Australians to vote 'yes' or 'no' ©Getty

There would have to be changes made to the Constitution, mainly the removal of references to the Crown (the Monarch) as Head of State, and replacing them with 'President', defining the powers of the President, and outlining the way in which a President is elected to or removed from the position.

When changes to the Constitution are proposed, they must be approved by Parliament and then put to a referendum so that all Australians can have their say. If a majority of voters in at least four States, and an overall majority of Australians, agree, then the changes can become law.

Australia's State and Territory Governments

Each state, and the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory, has its own government and parliament. Most have two Houses of Parliament like the Commonwealth Government has. Both Queensland and the Northern Territory have just one house, the one most like the House of Representatives. The state and territory parliaments work in the same way as the Commonwealth Parliament does. They make laws for their state or territory, and the Commonwealth Parliament makes laws for the whole country. Each state and territory have elections for their parliament, and people in each electorate vote for someone to speak for them in Parliament. 

Read more about government in Australia:

https://www.peo.gov.au/learning/fact-sheets/government.html

Read about the three levels of government in Australia:

https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/about/Pages/The-Roles-and-Responsibilities-of-Federal-State-a.aspx

https://www.australia.gov.au/about-government/how-government-works