The conduct of Commonwealth elections is determined by the Constitution and by various Acts of the Parliament, in particular the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) administers the legislation governing elections and referendums and conducts Commonwealth parliamentary elections and referendums. Other functions of the AEC include:
The AEC site can be found at: www.aec.gov.au
Voting in national elections is open to Australian citizens (and British subjects on the electoral roll prior to 25 January 1984) who are aged 18 or over. Registration of eligible voters and voting are both compulsory (Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, ss. 101, 245).
The Alternative Vote (known as Preferential Voting in Australia) is used for House of Representatives elections. The Single Transferable Vote variant of proportional representation is used for Senate elections. For an AEC description of these voting methods, see: www.aec.gov.au/_content/What/voting/voting-hor.htm (House) and www.aec.gov.au/_content/What/voting/voting-senate.htm (Senate).
House of Representatives electorates
The number of electorates in each State and Territory is determined by population. The parliamentary entitlement of a State or Territory is established by the Electoral Commissioner dividing the number of the people of the Commonwealth (that is, of the six States) by twice the number of State Senators. The population of each State and Territory is then divided by this quota to determine the number of members to which each State and Territory is entitled. All original States are guaranteed at least five members, and the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory are both guaranteed at least one member.
House of Representatives redistributions
To ensure equality of representation within each State and Territory, the boundaries of these electorates must be redrawn periodically. A redistribution for a State or Territory is necessary when:
The drawing of new boundaries for a State or Territory is undertaken by a Redistribution Committee after the striking of an enrolment quota for the State or Territory. Boundaries are drawn so that, as far as practicable, three and a half years after the redistribution, the enrolment in each electoral division does not vary from the State average by more than 3.5 per cent. There were 150 electorates contested in the 2004 election, with the entitlement for each State and Territory as follows:
Since 1984 the number of electorates in each of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia has fallen, while the number of electorates in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory has risen.
Qualifications for election to Parliament
Section 163 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 specifies the qualifications for election to the Commonwealth Parliament. It requires candidates to be Australian citizens, aged at least 18 years, and to be an elector entitled to vote, or qualified to become an elector. However, sitting members of either House may not be chosen or sit as a member of the other House. Sitting members of State or Territory parliaments must resign from their respective parliaments if they wish to stand for the Commonwealth Parliament.
Disqualifications for membership of Parliament
Section 44 of the Constitution disqualifies certain people from being chosen or from sitting as a Member or a Senator. These include persons who:
In recent years there have been a number of challenges to election results on the basis of section 44 (Sykes v. Cleary 1992, Free v. Kelly 1996, Sue v. Hill 1999). To be eligible for nomination as a candidate for the Commonwealth Parliament, a naturalised Australian must not hold dual citizenship, or, if dual citizenship does exist, such a person must renounce the foreign citizenship.
Deposits on nominations
At the time of nomination candidates must pay a deposit of $700 for Senate elections and $350 for House of Representatives elections. These deposits are refunded if a candidate gains 4 per cent or more of the total first preference vote, or is in a group of Senate candidates which polls 4 per cent or more.
There is a three-day ban on electronic advertising prior to the election day.
Public funding and disclosure
If in a Commonwealth election a candidate or group has secured at least 4 per cent of the first preference vote in the division or State or Territory they contested, they become eligible for public funding. Political parties and candidates wishing to participate in public funding must register with the AEC. The amount to be paid is calculated by multiplying the number of primary votes received by a candidate or group by the current election funding rate.
The funding rate for the 2004 Commonwealth election was 194.397 cents per House of Representatives and Senate vote. This rate is revised every six months to keep it in line with the Consumer Price Index. The AEC is required to calculate candidates' and groups' funding entitlements on the twentieth day after polling day. The total election funding paid after the 2004 Commonwealth election was $41 926 158.91.
For a candidate or Senate group endorsed by registered parties, such payments are made directly to the party involved. All registered political parties must submit annual returns to the AEC showing amounts received and expenditure incurred during each financial year and all debts outstanding as at 30 June. Broadcasters and publishers are also required to make returns disclosing election expenditure. For more details see: www.aec.gov.au/_content/how/funding_payments/index.htm
Parliamentary scrutiny of elections
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters holds inquiries into the conduct of each election, as well as conducting inquiries into specific electoral questions from time to time. The reports of this committee, as well as the publications of the AEC, provide extensive information about the Commonwealth electoral system, elections and referendums. Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters reports can be read at: www.aec.gov.au/_content/why/committee/jscem/
The timetable for the election was:
House of Representatives
The Liberal–Nationals Coalition led by the Hon. John Howard retained office with an increased majority:
The Liberal–Nationals Government gained control of the Senate from 1 July 2005, the first time a government had achieved this since 30 June 1981. Seats won were:
The first meeting of the 41st Parliament was on 16 November 2004.
The 41st Parliament expires on 15 November 2007. The next House of Representatives election must be held on a Saturday, not more than 68 days after the expiry, that is by 19 January 2008.
Although the election of Senators whose terms expire on 30 June 2008 must be held between 1 July 2007 and 30 June 2008, the requirements of counting mean that realistically the last possible date for a half-Senate election is 24 May 2008.
A simultaneous election of the Houses can be held no later than 19 January 2008.
For details, see R Lundie, Timetable for the next Australian elections, DPL Research Note 4, 2005–06 at: www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/rn/2005-06/06rn04.htm
For more information about the compliancy standards applied within the Parliamentary Handbook please see the Accessibility page.