Julia Gillard is expected to call an election in the next few days, probably for late August. UPDATE: Election has been called for 21st August. Being considered the expert on politics amongst my friends, I've written the following partly as a reference for myself, partly so I can answer their questions by simply quoting what I've written and partly to post here.
UPDATE: The elecotral roll has now closed,
Long post ahead, here's the summary: For those who don't know much about Australian politics, the two major parties are the Australian Labor Party, which is currently in Government, and the Liberal Party, with the Liberal Party in a permanent coalition arrangement with the National Party (which is very much in decline). These parties combined received 85% of the vote at the last election. The third biggest party is the Australian Greens, who received 8% of the vote last election, but polls suggest 10-15% this time. Current government is led by Julia Gillard, the first female Prime Minister of Australia. She is also an atheist and the first unmarried PM, but lives with her long-term partner. The Labor Party is ahead in the polls, approximately 52-48, which is similar to the margin of the last election. They are considered likely (about 75-80% chance) to win the election. They gained power after the last election in 2007 and it is very rare in Australia that governments are voted out after only a single term. Their stimulus program has been credited with keeping Australia out of recession, they have provided laptops to school children and are building a National Broadband Network. However, they have failed to pass legislation on climate change, they have been seen as weak and indecisive on issues such as asylum seekers and the mining tax and have been dogged by allegations of incompetence in regards to stimulus spending. Opposition is the centre-right Liberal Party, led by Tony Abbott, known for being a conservative Catholic. He has called virginity a 'gift', has called climate change 'crap' and as health minister opposed the legalisation of the abortion drug RU486. As with the republicans in the US, they have been criticised for being the party of 'no' and simply opposing whatever the government does.
How to vote:
In the House of Representatives, you must number all the candidates from 1 to however many candidates standing in the order of your preference. If your number 1 choice is eliminated (by being the candidate with the lowest number of votes at a stage in the count), your vote will go to your number 2 choice, and so on until it reaches one of the top two candidates in your electorate. (EDIT to make the funding issue clearer) Your first preference is important for other reasons though - if a party gains at least 4% of the vote, funding will be allocated to them in proportion to the amount of first preference votes they get.
In the Senate, you have a choice. You can either put a number 1 in a box above the line corresponding to a party and the preferences will be distributed according to their wishes as outlined on their submitted group voting ticket (which I will post here closer to the election when released), or you can number all the candidates below the line in the order of your preference yourself (sometimes up to about 80 candidates).
How the system works:
Australia has compulsory voting, meaning that everyone over the age of 18 is required to enrol and to vote at every federal, state and council election. A fine applies for anyone who is on the electoral roll but does not vote. Australia also uses preferential voting, known in the US as Instant Runoff Voting, where for a vote to be counted, a voter must number all candidates in their electorate in the order of their preference. If nobody gains more than 50% of the first preferences, the candidate placed last is eliminated and their vote is counted for their second preference. This process is repeated until someone has more than 50% of the votes. In reality, this means that your vote eventually goes to whichever of Labor or Liberal you place higher (except in Melbourne and anywhere else where the Greens are the second biggest party). Many people place the Greens first and Labor second to make a point that they are not entirely satisfied with the Labor Party, but still prefer the Labor Party to the Liberal Party (I belong in this category). In terms of making sure the Liberal Party doesn't get into government, this is as effective as putting Labor first. Also, distribution of public funding for elections is based on the percentage of first preference votes received at the previous election. The effects of compulsory and preferential voting generally push both major parties towards the centre - they want to appeal to the median voter.
As well as the House of Representatives, Australia has a Senate of 76 members (6 from each state and 2 from the Northern Territory and the ACT). The current composition of this is 37 Coalition (Liberal + National), 32 Labor, 5 Greens, 1 Family First and 1 Independent (Nick Xenophon). The Senate uses a system of proportional representation with preferential voting, leading to more non-Labor/Coalition senators (because you only need to get 1/7 of the total vote in a state to gain one of the six seats). In the House of Representatives, where election requires 50% after preferences within a division, every MP comes from Labor or the Coalition except for four independents. The Greens are considered about a 50/50 chance to win the seat of Melbourne in this election.
Legislation must gain a majority in each house of parliament to pass. This means that the combination of the Coalition and Family First (a right wing party led by Steven Fielding, recently called 'stupider than an earthworm' by Richard Dawkins) have enough votes to frustrate Labor's attempts to pass legislation (and taking their lead from the Republican Party, have been doing so). It is expected that after the next election, either major party plus the Greens will make a majority, a situation known as the Greens having the 'balance of power' (although on previous evidence, Labor would prefer to negotiate with the Coalition than with the Greens for fear of appearing extremist). Only half the Senate is up for election each time, unless it's a double dissolution election, so this election undoes the effect of the 2004 election, which was disastrous for Labor under Mark Latham.
The election date is decided by the Prime Minister, with certain restrictions. Basically, the election must be called within 3 years of the first sitting of the parliament following the previous election and the election must be held within 33 days of being called. The earliest possible date without a double dissolution is 2.5 years after the first sitting of parliament. The exception is a double dissolution election, which can be called when a piece of legislation passed by the House of Representatives is rejected twice by the Senate, at least three months apart. This was the case for the Emissions Trading Scheme legislation, however Labor did not choose to call a double dissolution (likely fearing Abbott's 'Great Big Tax' line). The most likely dates for the election are considered to be the 21st and 28th August.
The parties and where they stand:
Australian Labor Party
The ALP is the governing party, led by Julia Gillard, the first female Prime Minister of Australia (and also the first unmarried PM, although she does have a long-term partner). Gillard took a secular affirmation, rather than a religious oath, and has declared that she does not believe in God. She took the position recently, as a result of Kevin Rudd's resignation on the 23rd June. Rudd's resignation followed a challenge from Gillard after a series of attacks from the media and lobby groups over a proposed tax on mining, the dumping of the ETS, perceived failures (although note this and this) in stimulus spending designed to help Australia avoiding a recession. Rudd considered his achievements to be these 23 items. The biggest are keeping Australia out of recession, the apology to the stolen generation, getting rid of work choices, giving laptops to school children, forming a national curriculum, beginning to build a National Broadband Network and signing the Kyoto Protocol. Their right-wing critics point to (among other things) the mining tax, failures in stimulus spending and the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat. Their left-wing critics point to such things as the failure to produce a credible climate change policy, the (now delayed indefinitely) policy of a mandatory internet filter, their poor treatment of asylum seekers, their failure to substantially roll back work choices and social issues such as their opposition to same-sex marriage.
The Labor Party is generally considered to be a centre-left party and contains two main factions, the Left, which is socially progressive and economically interventionist, and the Right, which is economically liberal and more socially conservative. The Right faction is dominant, and were behind Julia Gillard's ascension to the leadership despite her coming from the Left faction. Labor party policies are outlined here I may add to this list as policies are announced, but so far, they have announced:
- That they will attempt to build a community consensus on climate change.
- That they are in talks with the East Timor government to form a regional processing centre for asylum seekers.
- That they will provide subsidised school uniforms for poor families.
The ALP is the favourite to win the election, with bookmakers giving them a 76% chance of doing so. (as of 13/7/10)
Liberal Party and National Party (The Coalition)
The opposition is the coalition of the Liberal and National Parties led by Tony Abbott. (In Queensland, the two parties have merged to form the Liberal National Party (LNP)) The Coalition led from 1996-2007 under John Howard, who resigned as Liberal leader following his defeat in the 2007 election (also becoming only the second ever PM to lose in his own electorate and thus not be reelected as a member of parliament). Following the 2007 election, Brendan Nelson was elected as Liberal leader, but was challenged by Malcolm Turnbull when only 9% of voters preferred him as Prime Minister and polls suggested the 2PP margin to be 63-37 to Labor (compared to 53-47 at the last election). Malcolm Turnbull was deposed by Tony Abbott as a result of his support for the Emissions Trading Scheme. Abbott has variously said he believes in human-induced climate change, that it's 'crap' and that it was warmer when Jesus lived. He is known for his conservative Catholic views. Abott was the Health Minister in the previous government, opposing stem-cell research and the legalisation of the RU486 drug, which is used for abortions in the first two months of pregnancy. He has said that a woman's virginity is a 'gift' not to be given away lightly. Abbott is also known for his pro-monarchy views, being one of the leaders of the negative side of the failed 1999 referendum to make Australia a republic. He has said that he would 'turn the boats back' in reference to the asylum seekers issue.
The Coalition is a centre-right party, being socially conservative and economically liberal. (Liberal means economically liberal, not liberal in the US sense). Policies here. I may add their election policies here as they are announced.
The Australian Greens
The Australian Greens are a left wing party and are the third biggest party, with polls suggesting they will win 10-15% of the vote. They may win the seat of Melbourne and are likely to hold the balance of power in the Senate. They are led by Bob Brown, an environmental activist from Tasmania. There is debate over what proportion of their voters actually hold their views and how many just vote for them because they don't like either of the major parties. The Greens voted against Labor's Emissions Trading Scheme, claiming that it was in fact worse than no scheme at all. Labor refused to negotiate with the Greens, preferring to instead negotiate with the Liberals. Their policies are here, in general they are environmentalist and socially progressive (support same-sex marriage, abortion, stress the importance of human-rights, oppose internet filter).
There are several smaller parties, the websites of the main ones are linked to here:
Family First - socially conservative, traditional 'family values'
Australian Democrats - aim to 'keep the bastards honest', once had balance of power in Senate.
Group Voting Tickets: These say how your preferences will go if you vote above the line in the Senate and can be found here
Looking at the preference tickets - if you're not happy with the preferences of the parties, you should vote below the line and number every box.
Assuming only the three major parties have a chance of getting elected, this is the way your preferences will end up.
Socialist Alliance - Greens, Labor, Liberal
Group B - Labor, Liberal, Greens
Group C - Greens, Liberal, Labor (if it comes down to whether the third liberal/national senator is elected, else Greens, Labor, Liberal)
Group D - Liberal, Labor, Greens
Building Australia - Labor, Liberal, Greens
Senator Online - Greens, Liberal, Labor
Communist - Greens, Labor, Liberal
Group H - Labor, Liberal, Greens
Citizens Electoral Council of Australia - Liberal, Labor, Greens
Australian Democrats - Greens, Labor, Liberal (ticket 1)/Greens, Liberal, Labor (ticket 2) (in practice this means that half their preferences go to Labor over Liberal, other half to Liberal over Labor)
Group K - Liberal, Greens, Labor (ticket 1)/Greens, Liberal, Labor (ticket 2)/Labor, Greens, Liberal (ticket 3) (this means 1/3 of their preferences goes each way)
Group L - Labor, Liberal, Greens (not completely sure about this one - perhaps someone who knows the process better can enlighten me on this - but I believe because they've put Lee Rhiannon last, this is what will happen in practice unless the Greens' second candidate performs unusually well)
The Climate Sceptics - Liberal, Labor, Greens
Secular Party - Greens, Labor, Liberal
Shooters and Fishers - Liberal, Labor, Greens
Democratic Labor Party - Liberal, Labor, Greens
Australian Sex Party - Greens, Labor, Liberal
Group R - Liberal, Labor, Greens
Socialist Equality Party - Labor, Liberal, Greens (ticket 1)/Liberal, Greens, Labor (ticket 2)/Greens, Labor, Liberal (ticket 3)
Group T - Greens, Liberal, Labor (ticket 1)/Greens, Labor, Liberal (ticket 2)
Non-Custodial Parents Party - Liberal, Labor, Greens
Family First - Liberal, Labor, Greens
Labor - Labor, Greens, Liberal
Group X - Labor, Greens, Liberal
Carers Alliance - Labor, Liberal, Greens (ticket 1)/Liberal, Labor, Greens (ticket 2)
Christian Democratic Party - Liberal, Labor, Greens
Liberal/National - Liberal, Greens, Labor
Group AB - Greens, Labor, Liberal
One Nation - Liberal, Labor, Greens
The Greens - Greens, Labor, Liberal
Group AE - Greens, Liberal, Labor (ticket 1)/Greens, Labor, Liberal (ticket 2)
Liberal Democrats - Labor, Liberal, Greens (if it comes down to whether the third Liberal/National senator is elected, else Liberal, Labor, Greens)
Note that this could be different in your state.
Any questions/comments/additions? Any citation neededs?