Role of the Australian Party System in Australia's Parliamentary Democracy

The Australian parliament representation democracy is considered one of the few great representation models globally that have shown resilience, flexibility, and stability which are key requirements for a prosperity of the democratic values. The country’s system has been influential in the promotion of transformation of both the constitutional and political structures (Sawer, 2018). To enable the correct establishment of the parliamentary democracy system, party systems are critical. The research paper investigates the role of the Australian party system in enabling Australia's parliamentary system which is one of the cornerstones of democracy in the country. The Australian party system holds the foundation in which the parliament undertakes its roles. The representation of the country’s diversity commences at the party formation level and caters for the country’s diversity, ethnicity, race, and even gender. The constitution provides for the roles of the majority and minor party representation in the country (Moore, 2015).

The role of the Australian party system

            Gauja (2016) says that the party system in Australia has immensely contributed to the establishment of the democracy in the parliament system. The Australian party system similar to many Westminster parliamentary democracies has a structure which requires people to form parties based on shared and similar political ideologies and philosophies. People are brought together with broadly analogous ideas, though they cannot agree on every tiny issue. The party system provides for an avenue for exercising of political powers and the country’s federal, State and Territory structures and governments have people with distinct party roots (Bruns and Highfield, 2015). The nation has established frameworks whereby people vote for parties, as opposed to voting for individual candidates. The parties have established frameworks for selecting candidates to compete for public offices. The process used by parties in selecting its candidates is called pre-selection.

             The party offers its candidates to the people as opposed to a candidate presenting himself or herself to the voters. In the similar manner which party produces candidates, it equally avails Australia’s political leaders. Similar to other parliamentary systems, political parties have the responsibilities of forming both the government and opposition Werner (2016, p.440). For instance, in Australia, the party or coalition of parties which wins many of the seats in the lower house have the privilege of forming the government. The party which comes second assumes the role of the opposition party and in many cases, the majority of debates tabled in the parliament are argued in terms of government versus opposition wings.

             For both the government and opposition, political parties avail the desirable organizational support whereby parties have machinery structure which is an extra-parliamentary segment (Clune, 2016). The party machine has the responsibility of the organization and financing election campaigns process, originating of party policies and recruitment of members who are key to the system. The provided organizational support is crucial in enabling party stability and viability. The Australian parliamentary system provides for a way under which parties express philosophies and advance policies. Every party has established means of debating matters and formulating strategies which are to be availed to the electorates in the election campaigns. The Australian party system empowers both the government and opposition’s parties to employ their policy-making skills to assess and determine their regards and attitude on various legislations and emergent issues (Bennie, 2017).

            Dowding (2017, p.165) found that in the Australian parliamentary democracy system, parties form the basis on which community groups have a role in conducting or influencing the decision-making process for the future of their country. Such circumstances push parties to have a close working relationship with many pressure groups. For instance, several trade unions work closely with ALP while multiple business groups have established close intact working systems with the Liberal Party. The National Party has been working with several farming organizations. Parties are essential and are both contact and access avenues for people to contribute to the development of the nation.

            Since parties form one of the primary avenues for conducting political debates and discussion at the community level, people contribute to leadership at the grassroots level Werner (2016, p.436). Owing to the essence that a good number of party members have representation in the parliament, they are able to debate, question, scrutinize, and contribute to best interests of the party especially based on the party’s interests and preferences. Parties are responsible for the eventual structural machinery of government, furthermore, the structural organization of both the Public Service and the statutory authorities falls on the government in power. Government party has a role in appointments in the public sector. The party is free to appoint from their various ranks members and party supporters (Clune, 2016).

            A notable trend in Australian politics from back in the 1990s is that the popularity of major parties principal political parties has been falling with the formation of new parties like Family First, the Palmer United Party, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and several other parties. For instance, Federal Elections conducted in 1983, around 93.05% of people voted for were either ALP or the Liberal-Nationals Coalition members. Only 15 years later in 1998 Federal Elections, around 20.3% voters chose to vote in candidates who are not affiliated to Labor, National Party or even Liberal (Moore, 2015).

            The fluctuations at the party support resemble the ease with which people choose particular leadership based on party systems. In the 2013 Federal Election, around 18.07% people rejected candidates from ALP and the Coalition and at the Senate level, the statistics clicked record high of 32.18%. Regardless of changes in the party choices of people, roles of the parties remain robust and unchanged. The voters communicate their expectations through a voting process which reflects the volatile voting behavior and concentrates the essential role of the political parties in enabling the Australian democracy system (Jackson, 2016).

Changes in party representation

            Australian Parliament system has seen expansive changes with variations in party systems. Over a period, ideas of representation been shifting and developing in the country within a timeline of a century and the parliament has been receptive and adaptive to the changes. Key push factor to the party variations is Australia's growing diversity and the country’s democracy has remained resilient and stable. The nation advanced a stable bipolar party structure which acted in enabling the representation of primary economic needs of Australians. The country has seen the emergence of multiple diverse parties founded to supplement the economic interests embodied by the main parties (Bruns and Highfield, 2015). Some of the issues presented by the new parties include factors relating to the environment, women and society, aboriginal peoples, and open governance. Such changes have seen the growth in the women representation in the parliament and presentation of the wider range of opinions.

            Australia’s Senate has been particularly distinct with the expansion of elected diverse members. The introduction of the stable bipolar party system encouraged myriads of Australians to connect with and even vote for various parties. To further accentuate the role of parties, regulations guiding on the party discipline has pushed for the existence of stable responsible government. The Australian parliamentary system has been supported massively by the country’s party discipline from the year 1910 excluding the periods in which there were party splits (Halligan, 2015). Party discipline has been the key basis for running of stable Governments as it enables proper control and voting by the majority in the Lower House. For instance, party discipline acted in overcoming the Federation Fathers' trial to establish an Upper House which symbolized the wants of the States.

Role of Parties in Representative Democracy

            According to Godbout and Smaz (2016, p.478), the strongest mark in a democratic system is a consistent, regular, and unavoidable election whereby people seeking elective posts engage in a genuine contest for the people's vote. The role of major parties was outlined and distinct from as long as the late 1960s when such parties were viewed to convey dominant political and economic expectations of the country. The mass representation in a process of highly contested and combative political parties complemented by interest group deliberations appeared as the best approach of conducting representative democracy. In past days, a party that gathered most seats in the House of Representatives became recognized as the legitimate in the democratic space since it resembled and reflected, the desires of the majority of voters. Following the change of politics or the emergence of the 'new politics,' there has been a shift in the responsibilities of major parties (Bennie, 2017).

            New politics focuses on including the rights of the underprivileged or minority groups like the women, students, gay, blacks, environmentalists whose ideas or desires are rarely considered in the majority-based voting structure. The push to include the needs of the new politics while executing government policies exerts pressure on the representation of major parties Curtin (2016, p.14). New politics affects all the people in different economic class levels and the parties. The approach taken by the customary interest groups appeared to have less impact, insufficient results in handling democracy inadequacies and required immediately needed supplementation with additional arrangements of representation. Other changes which happened to the Australian party system democracy was the perceived and criticized party authoritarianism and was closely of oligarchic forms. While in the late 1960s, robust party government was perceived as positive due to the need for a democratic system to have a stable government and implement policies coherently as required by the people, the perception later shifted Kitschelt and Rehm (2015, p.181).

            The advancement of 'new politics' emanated from the articulation of the optimistic post-war generation who received significant influence from American ideas and triggered new perspectives in the management of party politics. Following the changes, earlier majority parties were viewed as inflexible while adversalism amongst parties appeared to be subverting good governance. There was a perceived notion that public interest often came secondary to what parties fought and people dropped membership form the major parties and reduced absolute loyalty Dowding (2017, p.168).

Democratic Representation

            According to Woldendorp (2016, p.217), Party systems have been significant in widening and changing democratic representation in the country. The voting age was decreased to a minimum of 18 years in 1974. The changes included allowing the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory to present two representatives each in the country’s senate. The ACT had been earlier (1948) allocated a seat in the House of Representatives. There were significant changes like to lessen the permissible alteration from the quota of voters in every electorate ranging from 20 to 10 percent. Further variations emanated in 1983 including commencement of party designations on ballot papers and availing of public funding. Within the same period, Australia unveiled unbiased Electoral Commission whose significant roles included making final electoral decisions and even defining of electoral boundaries O'Brien (2015, p.1022).

Representing Diversity

            Alterations at party level were relevant especially following the intense criticism regarding the Parliament representativeness, for instance, in the period between 1910 and 1967 key economic interests which were represented by the major parties. The parties were however found to have inflexibility and dominance from certain influential quarters. The alterations brought in by 'new politics' created new awareness showing that the members of Parliament, irrespective of party variations, were hugely homogeneous. The parliament was initially consistent of White people, dominantly male genders, and the Anglo-Australians which was perceived not to reflect the true diversity of Australians (Bruns and Highfield, 2015). Earlier, there was a long-accepted idea that the Anglo-Australians especially the dominant white males were able to represent the entire Australians views, ideals, and welfares but later it was rejected. The party level is considered one of the critical points to effectively constitute an effective representation in the parliament which extensively reflects the broad population of the population based on ethnicity, race, and gender orientation of the country.

Ethnicity and Race representation

            Kitschelt and Rehm (2015, p.179) argued that while the country has extensively tried to inject parliamentary democracy through critical reforms in the party system, much is yet to be achieved in the multicultural representation. Australian structures have a poor reputation for extending the country’s multiculturalism into the parliament. Historically, the country’s politics have been led predominantly by people of English speaking origin. The absence of diversity is notable amongst candidates which parties present to voters. Consistent with the data gathered in 2014 from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library there were only five MPs having Asian origin which was nearly 2 percent of the entire parliament membership and there were four Indigenous MPs. The country’s democracy and representation appears to be growing with the inclusion of people from diverse cultures. Owing to Australia’s history of racial divisions, for instance, the Aboriginals were only legally recognized and counted as citizens in 1967. The country established a White Australia Policy which prohibited migrants originating from non-European regions from coming into the country until later in 1973 (Bennie, 2017).


            The study finds that Australia’s parliamentary system attends to democracy and is notable especially considering close analysis at country’s party system. The paper found the parliamentary system outlines critical roles of the Australian party system which are essential for steering the country forward. Parties are the lowest level where people contribute to the kind of leadership they want democratically. Parties compete on ideologies and continuously provide needed leadership in the country’s politics. The research equally noted inflexibility in some parties which necessitated the urge to have smaller parties fighting for neglected interests of the people. The country’s party representation is immensely contributing to the growth of representative democracy, diversity representation, ethnicity, and race representation.


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