The Commonwealth of Australia held an early federal election on Saturday, August 21, 2010. Members of both houses of Australia's Parliament - the Senate and the House of Representatives - are chosen by preferential voting systems, which are described here.
In addition, federal- and state-level results are available here (and also in CSV format) for the following Senate and House elections:
Unless otherwise indicated, Senate elections are for one-half of the state Senators, as well as all territory Senators.
The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act passed by the United Kingdom Parliament in 1900 united the self-governing British colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and (subsequently) Western Australia as a federal dominion within the British Commonwealth, with a government structure similar to that of the United States and Canada, under which legislative and executive authority is divided between Australia and its states - the former colonies. As in the U.S. (but unlike Canada), the powers not given to the federal government in the Constitution are left to the states.
The Act established a parliamentary form of government along the lines of the Westminster model, composed of a lower chamber, the House of Representatives, and an upper chamber, the Senate, both directly elected by universal adult suffrage. Members of the House are elected for a maximum term of three years, while state Senators are elected for a term of up to six years, with half the Senate elected every three years. The total number of House seats must be twice the number of Senate seats. As in the United States, the states have equal representation in the Senate, whereas House seats are apportioned among the states in proportion to their populations. Nonetheless, each of the original states is entitled to a minimum of five House seats. In addition, both of Australia's internal territories - the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory - are represented in the House with full voting rights since 1968, and in the Senate since 1975. However, territory Senators are elected for a term of up to three years.
Preferential voting (placing the candidates in order of preference on the ballot paper) is used for all federal legislative elections since 1918. The Alternative Vote (AV) system is used in elections for the House of Representatives, while Senators are elected by the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system of proportional representation since 1949. Compulsory voting at federal elections was introduced in 1924. As a result, voter turnout increased from 59.4% in 1922 to 91.3% in 1925 and has remained consistently above that level since then.
Originally a self-governing British colony, Australia gradually became a sovereign nation, attaining full legal independence from the United Kingdom under the Australia Act of 1986. Nevertheless, Australia still retains Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. In a 1999 referendum, Australian voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a Republic, with 6,410,787 votes (54.9%) against the proposal, and 5,273,024 (45.1%) in favor, on a 95.1% turnout.
Since 1949, a coalition of the Liberal Party of Australia (a conservative party despite its name) and the right-wing, rural-oriented National Party of Australia (previously the National Country Party and originally the Country Party) has alternated in power with the left-of-center Australian Labor Party (ALP). There are also a number of smaller parties with significant popular support, among them the Australian Greens, who have been represented in the Senate since 1990 and in the House from 2002 to 2004, when they won a by-election for a vacant seat (subsequently lost in the 2004 federal election); and the Family First Party, which is closely linked to some Protestant churches and won a Senate seat in 2004 (subsequently lost in 2010). Both the middle-of-the-road Australian Democrats (who held the balance of power in the Senate from 1981 to 2005 but have never won a House seat) and One Nation (an extreme right-wing party that polled a substantial number of votes in 1998 but only won a single Senate seat) suffered devastating losses in the 2004 and 2007 federal elections, and these two parties are now spent forces.
In the 2010 federal election, neither ALP nor the Coalition secured an overall majority in the House of Representatives, leaving four independent parliamentarians and a member of the Australian Greens - the first to win a House seat in a general election - holding the balance of power. Nevertheless, incumbent Prime Minister Julia Gillard of the Australian Labor Party - the country's first-ever female head of government - formed a minority cabinet with the support of three independents and the sole Green parliamentarian in the House of Representatives.
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