Our Political System

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  • Our Political System

    I’ve decided to transfer this thread from another place to this place because I sincerely believe that without a well-informed shooting fraternity the chances of us making any headway are zero.

    The purpose is to give interested shooters a fundamental understanding of how Australia’s political system works. The idea is to keep matters as straightforward as possible. There’s no prior knowledge required and things will be presented in easy steps that should only take a few minutes to read each time.

    Feel free to raise questions.

    Australia started as a series of independent colonies. Each colony had its own particular interests and by the time anyone got around to seriously talking about forming a new country (the late 1800’s) each colony had its own elected parliamentarians and basically functioned as a little 'proto-state' answerable only to the British Crown.

    Towards the end of the 1800’s a few outspoken individuals started saying that all the colonies shared a common economic interest (at the time it was wool, wheat etc.) and a common heritage (I'm not sure the Aborigines would have agreed with that) and that they’d all be better off if they joined together under a ‘Commonwealth’ with an overarching Federal government.

    At the time the only model for a new country they could think of was based on the British ‘Westminster’ system where the whole place would be divided up into sections (electorates) with roughly the same number of people in each section – each electorate voting for one person to represent them.

    It didn’t take the smaller colonies long to work out that most of the people lived in New South Wales and Victoria. So if they went with a purely Westminster system most of the voting power would end up being in Sydney and Melbourne and the folks there were likely to vote for things in their best interests, which meant the little (population wise) colonies might end up getting shafted.

    The answer was to look for a system that would give the smaller colonies an equal say without throwing the whole Westminster idea out the window. The best compromise they could come up with was the United States’ senatorial arrangement. So they began thinking about a House of Representatives based on a series of electorates with roughly equal numbers of voters (the Westminster system) and another chamber with (almost) equal powers where all the colonies could have an identical say – a Senate.

    To be continued . . . .

  • #2
    . . . . continued:

    So, the original colonies eventually agreed on a Westminster system wherein the population was to be divided into roughly uniform segments with each electorate having the power to vote for one representative apiece. But the arrangement was to be coupled with a 'Senate' where each colony would have an equal number of representatives whose job it was to look after the interests of their jurisdictions (or what would become known as states). The overriding document which set out exactly who was responsible for what in the new setup was called 'The Australian Constitution’.

    This is where it starts to get a little bit more complicated . . . .

    So, all the colonies eventually agreed on the notion of a new country to be known as ‘Australia’. There was to be a House of Representatives, a Senate and a Constitution. Each colony put the concept to their people (in some cases several times) and the majority voted in favour of the idea.

    The new Constitution was to be ‘residual’. Which meant that whatever powers weren’t expressly given over to the new ‘Federal’ government were to remain with the colonies (things like gun laws for example) and each colony was free to run its own affairs (including the makeup of its government – the point will become more important later) as it saw fit.

    On the 1st of January 1901, with the agreement of all the colonies and the approval of the British Parliament, Australia came into being as a Commonwealth. It had a House of Representatives (which is where the Federal government is formed), a Senate (which gives each of the states an equal say) and a Constitution which sets out what the Federal government is responsible for.

    99% of the Constitution’s 128 sections deal with questions like the relationship between the Federal government, the states and the Crown; foreign affairs (which some clever buggers would later work out how to exploit), national defense, communications (which at the time amounted to the telegraph, the telephone and the postal service); the court system, along with tariffs and import duties. It also sets down the mechanism for altering the arrangements and how new states can be formed.

    Unlike the United States, Australia’s Constitution says nothing about people’s rights (with a few exceptions), nor does it say anything about political parties (which at the time it was drafted were a relatively new phenomenon). The exceptions where ‘rights’ are concerned are contained in sections 41, 80 and 116. The second guarantees the right to a trial by jury on a Commonwealth offence and the third forbids the imposition of a State religion – i.e. the Federal government can’t decide to make Catholicism or Islam or any other belief system the country’s official creed and people can’t be denied a Commonwealth job because of their beliefs.

    To be continued . . . .


    • thelastword
      thelastword commented
      Editing a comment
      . . . . continued:

      At this point it’s probably worth exploring the question of political parties in a little more depth, given that they play a very important role in our system of government, but don’t even get a mention in the Constitution.

      Since ancient times wherever political systems have existed (most of them not very democratic) there’s always been ‘factions’. They were usually loose alliances of individuals who shared common concerns - often financial, but sometimes philosophical - and they would act together to advance what was in their collective best interests. The idea of card-carrying, political parties where people sign up and agree to support a set of aims and objectives didn’t really emerge until the late 1800’s.

      By the time the Australian colonies were giving serious thought to becoming a Commonwealth the Australian Labor Party (which grew out of the union movement) had been formed and opposing it were two less well organized factions – the free traders and the protectionists.

      The free traders largely represented the agricultural sector. They were opposed to government interference in their ability to raise and export their products, while the protectionists mainly represented the industrial sector which supported things like taxes on imported goods. This often put them at odds. A simple example might be to consider a farmer who wants a new piece of equipment. He might be able to purchase something made overseas for a lot less than it would cost to buy one made in Melbourne, so he’s more likely to favour a free trade approach – no import tariffs. On the other hand, the guy who makes farming equipment in Melbourne might not be able to produce it for the same price as one made elsewhere, so he’s more likely to favour import duties, meaning the farmer ends up with no choice but to buy the product made in Melbourne.

      The one thing both groups had in common was their distrust of the Australian Labor Party. So by 1909 they’d put their differences aside and formed the first (it was to undergo several changes over the coming years) ‘Liberal Party’ – thereby establishing the pattern of two-party competition that's been the basis of the Australian political system ever since.

      To be continued . . . .