Australia’s Liberal Democratic System


Nowadays it becomes clear that the modernization of public life, which began in Europe a few centuries ago and subsequently covered the other countries that do not lose their national identity. Human activity in any era is included in the socio-cultural basis of ethnic group, nation, and civilization. Even if socio-economic and political circumstances were the same for different communities, people would react to this in different ways. This paper studies how Australia’s Liberal Democratic system that is a keystone of social policy in the country enhances and or limits the well-being of its citizens.

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Liberal Democracy

Liberal Democracy is a form of a social and political system when a legal state based on “representative democracy, in which the will of the majority and the ability of elected representatives to exercise limited in order to protect minority rights and freedom of individuals”, state Wolterstorff & Cuneo (2012, p. 11). The term “Liberal” in this case means the same as in the era of the bourgeois revolutions of the XVIII century: to provide everyone with protection against the arbitrariness of authorities and law enforcement agencies.

Liberal Democracy is aimed at ensuring equal rights every citizen, private property, privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, prohibition of discrimination, and freedom of religion according to law. These liberal rights are enshrined in the supreme law (the Constitution of Australia and Acts), which, in turn, “gives various state and public bodies authority to ensure these rights” (Ward & Stewart, 2010, p. 86). In other words, Liberal Democracy is a socio-political doctrine and social movement, the main idea of which is a self-sufficient value of freedom of the individual in the economic, political and other spheres of society.

A typical element of Liberal Democracy is a so-called “open society” characterized by pluralism, tolerance, coexistence, and competition of a wide range of socio-political views (Heywood, 2007, p. 81). Through periodic elections, each of the groups that hold different views has a chance to gain power. The existence of two major political parties such as Labor (supports the interests of employees) and Liberal, and several minor parties (supports the interests of employers and others) also proves the fact that Australia has a Liberal Democratic system.

Australian political system

According to the Australian Constitution, the country is a federal state with a constitutional-monarchical form of government. Politics in the country is carried out in the framework of parliamentary democracy. Australian parliament is the sixth-oldest continuous democratic legislature in the world and consists of three parts: the Monarch, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. A British Monarch is a Monarch of Australia as well; his power is represented by Governor-General (currently, General Sir Peter John Cosgrove).

According to Singleton, Aitkin, Jinks, & Warhurst (2009), the House of Representatives comprises “150 members, each of which elected for a flexible period of performance not exceeding three years” and represents one constituency, commonly referred to as the electorate (p. 147). Voting within each electorate happens according to the rating system of preferential voting, which is the first time occurred in Australia. In the Australian Senate, there are 76 deputies (Parkin, 2002, p. 24). Six states sent twelve senators each, and two territories – two senators elected by a unified system of intransitive voice for a flexible period not exceeding six years (Singleton et al., 2009, p. 147).

One of the main features of Liberal Democracy is universal suffrage that gives every adult citizen of the country an equal right to vote, regardless of race, gender, wealth or education. This right is usually associated with a certain procedure of registration of residence. Solely those citizens who are actually participating in the vote determine the election results, but often turnout must exceed a certain threshold so that vote is considered valid. Therefore, Australia has “a system of representative democracy, where citizens elect a member of parliament (MP) to represent their interests” (Singleton et al., 2009, p. 136). Free elections dominated by two major parties whose philosophies, particularly thinking about social policy matters has some clear differences. It means that the government has to take at least the perceived wishes of the electorate into account.

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Attempts to enhance the well-being of its citizens

As mentioned above, the Australian operates as a two-party, due to the constant coalition between the Liberal Party and the National Party and Labor Party. Unlike some other countries, for instance, the United States political system Australian bipartisanship was historically strong. However, the policy of the Australian Coalition (Liberal and National Parties) is considered “center-right” and the Labour Party is regarded as “center-left “(Maddox, 2005, p. 260). Along with the Australian liberalism, Australian conservatism is mainly represented by the Coalition, by which an economic free market of “neo-liberal doctrine and emphasis on markets” is meant while in both the United States and Britain they consider it as a center-left social liberalism (Ward & Stewart, 2010, p. 85).

Providing its policy the Coalition believes that free-market should be permitted to lead because it would enhance wealth, efficiency and hence benefit all citizens. So, the idea of free competition advocated by liberals, and its implementation has led to the concentration and centralization of capital. Besides, Labour Party classifies itself as a social-democratic one and supposes the “democratic socialization of industry, production, distribution, and exchange”, but without nationalization and socialist transformation (Maddox, 2005, p. 260).

To sum things up, discussed political Parties have plenty of similar features. Based on official documents (Constitution, Acts, programs of the Parties) and activities of the government, one can conclude that primarily it is a social sphere that unites them procuring equality, the policy of multiculturalism, the fight against discrimination in education, health, national, and social areas, as well as in the production and social welfare.

Due to the fact that a minority can influence the decision-making process, Liberal Democracy provides people with protection for private property. This issue is about individual responsibility versus society’s responsibility to the individual. “The best possibility for bringing individuals to a realization of their involvement in the collective aspects of the political system is through activity within political parties, claims Maddox (2005, p. 259). According to some scholars such as Singleton, Hirst, or Maddox, Liberal Democracy manages existing resources in the case of their limitations more effectively than authoritarian regimes. As per this view, Australian Liberal Democracy has a longer life duration, lower infant and maternal mortality regardless of the level of GDP, income inequality, or the size of the public sector.

One more benefit of Australian Liberal Democracy is a multicultural citizenship. The essence of the concept of “multicultural citizenship” is that the membership in the policy is not determined by a certain well-defined cultural loyalty. A citizen of a State may have a cultural identity different from the officially encouraged one, and yet “belong to the national political community”, be a member of a society he or she lives in (Stokes, Boreham, & Hall, 2004, p. 10). For example, one can be a Muslim and at the same time Algerian or African. Moreover, several television channels operate in Australia, making programs for minorities in their languages (Chinese, Vietnamese, Malay, and others).

Influence of Australian politics upon the design and implementation of social policy

A social policy affects all spheres of human life. Liberal Democracy proclaims freedom of conscience, of individualism, of, love, of non-interference of the state in the person’s life. Among the last year’s achievements of The Abbott Government during 2013 – 2015 one can note more choice for working parents, reducing red tape, tackling union corruption, etc.

However, in some cases liberalism might provoke unpredictable consequences: “liberal response to the drug problem, which essentially advocates the decriminalization of the industry (softer drugs like marijuana) and its re-regulation in ways more akin to a normal industry” (Parkin, 2002, p. 313). This response illustrates both the negative and positive sides of Liberal Democracy.

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In the positive side, “it reaffirms the rights of citizens to engage in activities without state interference at least before any harm done to others” while the negative side states that must combat the drug trade (Parkin, 2002, p. 313). Besides, changes in the public sector might include the following elements: “commercialization and privatization of policy delivery, a reduction in staff and budget allocation, contrast-based oversight of policy delivery, and results-focused (or output-focused) approach to policy management” (Hirst, 2002, p. 131).

Comparison of Australia with other countries with Liberal Democracy

In order to compare Australia with other Liberal Democracies among which the United States, New Zealand, Japan, and others could be found it is necessary to mention some similarities as well as differences between them. So, likewise the United States, for instance, the Australian political system is also federal and has a parliament (called a Congress in the US) consisted of two houses – a House of Representatives and a Senate. Additionally, both have written constitutions that delineate the powers of the Federal Government.

While the United States is a Republic, Australia is a constitutional monarchy. People directly elect the president the United States who becomes both head of state and head of government whereas the British monarch is Australia’s head of state and is represented by a Governor-General chosen by the Prime Minister. Party discipline is not as tight in the United States as it is in Australia, “leading to a situation where members of both parties will often form changing voting alliances on legislation” (Wolterstorff, & Cuneo, 2012, p. 12).


In conclusion, it should be stressed that the properly organized political system of Australia is relatively young by historical standards and at the moment does not seem well-established taking into account the existence of two parties with a completely different vision of the well-being of citizens. This combination of archaic (for instance, the presence of an emissary of the British Queen in Parliament) and reaction to the processes happening due to the globalization makes Australia one of the most interesting countries for people around the world.


Heywood, A. (2007). Democracy. In Politics (3rd ed.) (pp. 71-88). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hirst, J. B. (2002). Policy delivery. In Australia’s democracy: a short history (pp. 119-147). Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin.

Maddox, G. (2005). Australian parties and the party system. In Australian democracy in theory and practice (5th ed.) (pp. 246-325). Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education Australia.

Parkin, A. (2002). Liberal democracy. In J. Summers, D. Woodward & A. Parkin (Eds.), Government, politics, power and policy in Australia (7th ed.) (pp. 297-321). Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education Australia.

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Singleton, G., Aitkin, D., Jinks, B., & Warhurst, J. (2009). The Australian parliament. In Australian political institutions (9th ed.) (pp. 135-178). Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education Australia.

Stokes, G., Boreham, P., & Hall, R. (2004). Political ideas, institutions and policies : a critical overview. In G. Stokes, P. Boreham & R. Hall (Eds.), The politics of Australian society: political issues for the new century (2nd ed.) (pp. 1-15). Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education Australia.

Ward, I., & Stewart, R. G. (2010). The Constitution and the rules governing governments. In Politics one (4th ed.) (pp. 85-104). South Yarra, Vic.: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wolterstorff, N., & Cuneo, T. (2012). Understanding Liberal Democracy: Essays in Political Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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