Australia Public Policy


Current policy

Australia is a country located in the region of Australasia.  A Conservative government with the Liberal Party and the National Party has ruled Australia since 2013. During the period, the Prime Minister has been replaced twice in internal partisans – something that has become increasingly common in recent years. Scott Morrison is the latest in the line of prime ministers. He surprisingly managed to lead the government coalition to yet another electoral victory in the spring of 2019.

Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott took office in September 2013 as the new prime minister for a coalition between his own party and the National Party, after the parties won a clear victory over Labor in the parliamentary elections held earlier that month (see Modern History). Only one woman was a member of the government, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who was also the deputy leader of the Liberals.

Abbott immediately began to fulfill his election promises. First out was to stop the boat refugees. Boats with refugees were taken off by the Australian fleet and escorted back to Indonesian ports. In addition, agreements were made with Nauru, Papua New Guinea with several countries to receive refugees who wanted to seek asylum in Australia (see also Population and Languages).

Prime Minister Abbott also began work on repealing the carbon tax introduced by Labor, which he believed went beyond the jobs and meant higher energy prices for everyone. Instead, farmers and entrepreneurs would receive direct grants to voluntarily reduce their emissions. The climate skeptic Abbott also had the job of abolishing the post of Minister of Science, raising loan funds for green technology and putting down two state commissions researching climate change – all with a view to cutting state spending.


Confidence in Abbott gradually dropped, even within his own party. He was criticized for being poorly judged on various issues, not least when it came to the decision to award British Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip a noble title in the fall of 2015, a designation that was ridiculed, among other things, in the media. It was questioned what the Prince did for Australia and why a royal person in another country would receive this old fashioned award.

Turnbull takes over

Abbott’s support in polls declined and after two years at the Prime Minister’s post he was forced to resign in September 2015. By then he had lost a Liberal Party party vote against his former Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who took office a day later as new Prime Minister.

After just over six months, Turnbull announced parliamentary elections until July 2, 2016. That was several months earlier than planned, but Turnbull hoped to win a stable majority in the new parliament. Since on two occasions the Senate had blocked a bill, Turnbull, according to the constitution, had the right to announce elections early. According to the constitutional provision, which came into use for the first time since 1987, both chambers in Parliament would be dissolved and replaced with newly elected members. In addition, Parliament had approved a change in the electoral system to the Senate, which meant that voters gained greater control over their voting by, among other things, second and third hand elections being more clearly specified. The change was expected to mean that fewer small and single-issue parties would enter the Senate.

During the election campaign, the Liberal Party and Turnbull promised continued economic growth, new jobs and tax cuts for companies, while Labor and its leader Bill Shorten wanted to give more money to education and the health sector.

The government is losing support

The parliamentary elections became very even between the two blocks and a disappointment for Turnbull. The Liberals / National Party backed from 90 to 76 seats in the House of Representatives, giving the government coalition a majority with only one mandate. Labor received 69 seats and 1 seat went to the Greens. Turnbull failed to take control of the Senate: the government parties got 30 seats, three fewer than before, against 26 for Labor, while right-wing populist One Nation again managed to be represented with four seats.

The fragile support in Parliament was reflected in the new government’s policy and Turnbull was also careful to bump into his party rival, Tony Abbott and his right wing.

This was evident, among other things, with regard to the issue of same-sex marriage. Turnbull advocated that this would be legal in Australia – one of the few Western countries that have not yet introduced such legislation – and wanted Parliament to vote on new legislation. But he was pressured instead to go on Abbott’s line that a referendum would be held. Because of opposition to this in the Senate, from Labor, among others, the government ultimately chose to allow the statistical authority to conduct a non-binding postal vote among Australians in the fall of 2017. If the majority were positive that gays would be allowed to marry, the government promised to make sure that Parliament was allowed to vote on the issue. After the yes side won the vote, in December 2017 Parliament approved a proposal to allow same-sex marriage.

Turnbull is forced to back down

Even when it comes to the climate issue, Turnbull has met the Conservatives. From being one of the most active proponents of renewable energy and for a greenhouse gas emissions trading system, he went on to advocate for the country to build new, modern coal-fired power plants. Abbott’s pressure and threat to vote against the government also contributed to the Turnbull government not following the recommendation of its own expert to force electricity companies to use a certain proportion of environmentally friendly energy in their production. Instead, the companies would ensure that energy production was as efficient as possible so that the country could meet the climate goals (see also Natural Resources and Energy).

In the summer of 2017, Turnbull’s government also faced other problems. It was then discovered that not only several members of Parliament had dual citizenship, but also Turnbull’s own Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, leader of the National Party. The Constitution does not allow MPs to have anything other than Australian citizenship. In October, the Supreme Court ruled that seven politicians, who came from different parties, were not allowed to sit in Parliament because they had dual citizenship. One of them was Joyce who was allowed to leave both the government and parliament. Shortly thereafter, another member of the Liberal Party was allowed to leave his seat in the House of Representatives. As a result of the decision, the government coalition lost its meager majority in the House of Representatives and must now seek support from independent MPs. There was a risk that the opposition would try to topple the government. At the same time, support for Turnbull was low among Australians.

The Government Coalition got back one of the two terms it lost in the House of Representatives in early December 2017, when Barnaby Joyce won in a filling election. He could thus also return as Deputy Prime Minister. Later that month, MP John Alexander was also re-elected in a general election after resigning from his British citizenship. Thus, the government had regained its scarce majority in Parliament. Just a few months later, Joyce resigned as Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the National Party following a scandal surrounding a love affair with a co-worker and suspected sexual harassment. However, Joyce retained her place in the House of Representatives.

Turnbull is kicked

The government’s weak parliamentary majority and tensions within its own party continued to put Turnbull in the wheel. In July 2018, the government parties failed to seize the opportunity to secure more seats in the House of Representatives when filling elections were held to five seats, four of which belonged to Labor members who were forced to resign, among other things, after discovering that they had dual citizenship. That the opposition retained the seats was a tough blow for Turnbull and his government. Combined with low turnout figures for Turnbull, the chances for the government parties to do well in the upcoming elections, which must be held by May 2019, looked dark.

In August 2018, Turnbull suffered yet another defeat against party colleague Abbott and his conservative Falang, when he was forced to give up attempts to enforce a law on emissions reductions. The contradictions sparked a leadership battle within the Liberal Party during a chaotic week. At first, it looked like Turnbull would ride out the storm after winning a first internal vote against Interior Minister Peter Dutton on the party leader and prime minister posts. Dutton chose to resign as Minister of the Interior, but the crisis for Turnbull was not over.

A few days later, three more influential ministers announced that they would leave the government. Shortly thereafter, it turned out that a majority of the party’s MPs were critical of Turnbull and supported Dutton’s initiative for a new vote. But it was not Dutton who won the vote, but Treasury Secretary Scott Morrison. The third candidate, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, was voted off in the first round. Morrison, who is an evangelical Christian, has more social conservative views than the moderate Turnbull. He is also the architect behind the country’s criticized immigration policy, which was introduced during his years as Minister of Migration 2013–2014.

In a filling election in October of that year, the government lost its majority on a mandate in the House of Representatives. The election was held to fill the seat after Turnbull, who chose to leave the House of Representatives after losing the Prime Minister’s post. In the election, the Liberal candidate, Dave Sharma, lost to popular independent candidate Kerryn Phelps. Morrison’s government would now be dependent on the support of independent MPs to pass the vote in the House of Representatives.

The 2019 parliamentary elections

In April 2019, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced parliamentary elections on May 18. The Labor opposition had for several months had a head start in opinion polls before the election and it looked like it could be a change of power for the first time in six years. However, the Liberals and Prime Minister Morrison did everything to try to win back voters’ confidence, not least by highlighting the country’s strong economy. Labor, in turn, sought to win votes through pledges to remove existing loopholes for the rich to escape tax and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

During the election movement, there was also a continuing lively discussion on other major issues that have dominated the political debate in recent times. It was about the constant shifts in the Prime Minister’s post and whether the rights and status of indigenous peoples would be confirmed in an official agreement. Also the position of women in politics and how women members are addressed in Parliament were debated issues.

Against all odds, it was not Labor who won the elections to the House of Representatives in May 2019 but the government parties. After it became clear that Labor had failed to take over the government, party leader Bill Shorten announced that he would step down. When the votes were largely finished, it was clear that the Liberals and the National Party had succeeded in gaining their own majority. Scott Morrison could thus continue as prime minister and that the government parties had now controlled a majority of the mandate in the House of Representatives would make it much easier for him to push through government policy.

Forest fires and corona crisis

From September to December 2019 in particular, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia were devastated by the worst forest fires of many decades. At least 24 people were killed, hundreds of homes were destroyed and the consequences for wildlife were devastating. Prime Minister Morrison was criticized for failing to stop the severe forest fires and support for him declined. He was also criticized by environmentalists for turning a blind eye to the impact of climate change on the extent of forest fires.

But in the spring of 2020, the situation changed completely as the corona pandemic began to erupt seriously in the outside world and also in Australia. Australians’ confidence in Morrison and his government grew as a result of the successful management of the crisis. Since the Labor Party led opinion polls in January, the Morrison government had instead taken over in April.

Australia suffered relatively mildly compared to many other countries in the world. With the help of major efforts to test residents to see if they were carrying the covid-19 virus-caused disease and by means of infection detection, the authorities managed to limit the spread of corona. Already in early May, the spread of infection was under control and the country then began to ease the various restrictions that were introduced. Restaurants and shops reopened and it was allowed to travel within the states. In June, only 100 people had died, while the number of reported cases of the infection was just over 7,000. Although hundreds of thousands of Australians became unemployed as a result of the crisis, nearly two-thirds of voters had confidence in the government’s economic policies, which included several support measures.


Official name

Commonwealth of Australia / Australian Commonwealth


monarchy, federal state

Head of State

Queen Elizabeth II

Head of government

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (2018−)

Most important parties with mandates in the last election

The coalition between the Liberal Party (LP) and the National Party (NP) 77, the Labor Party (Labor) 68, The Green 1, the other 5 (2019) 1

Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections

Coalition between Liberal Party (LP) and National Party (NP) 76, Labor Party (Labor) 69, Green 1 (2016) 2


about 92% in the 2019 parliamentary elections

Upcoming elections

parliamentary elections by 2022

  1. Distribution of seats in the House of Representatives.
    2nd mandate in the House of Representatives