Turning Over to Australian Politics

Every four years, in the United States, we get wrapped up about who will become the president: a nine-month sporting match from the first primaries in February until election day. Many of us become joyful as a result, many upset. But with rare exception, we are stuck with the same president chosen as the result of our ballots for a predictable four years, with the midterm election sometimes serving as a referendum on the approval of the current government. I lived in Australia for two years and continue to follow Australian politics closely. Australia’s government follows a variant of the British Westminster system, wherein federal election rules are a bit more complicated. In simplest terms, members of the House of Representatives, from where the Prime Minister and head of government is chosen, serve a maximum term of three years, with the next term ending as late as November 2019. The timing of the elections, however, may vary as the prime minister may call for an election earlier—wouldn’t Donald Trump love to have that power!

But with that power also comes great risk. The prime minster of Australia must meet the confidence of their own party in parliament or risk being voted out—which I suspect Donald Trump wouldn’t care for. Despite there being no Australian federal election this year (so far), then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership was challenged by his party in August, resulting in the succession of Scott Morrison as prime minister and the resignation of Mr. Turnbull from parliament. This leadership challenge, however, proved to be unpopular among many Australians, especially those in Mr. Turnbull’s electorate of Wentworth. Mr. Turnbull hails from the Liberal Party, which has won EVERY federal election in Wentworth since the federation of Australia in 1901. But Mr. Turnbull’s ousting proved so unpopular that the Liberal Party’s 20 percent lead as the Wentworth electorate’s preferred party saw an incredible evaporation over the next two months, resulting in the election of Independent Kerryn Phelps in the October by- election.

Now why should the whole of Australia care all that much about the by-election of a single representative? Because the Liberal government had a one seat majority in parliament prior to the Wentworth by-election and is now significantly constrained as a minority government.

Since 2012, the United States has had three federal elections and two presidents. Australia has had two federal elections and five… FIVE prime minsters! Australia will likely have a sixth before 2019 is out.

Who needs a federal election to oust a head of government or change control of the legislature? Not Australia!

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