Australia has had five Prime Ministers in the last eight years. How does that even happen?
The Australian government is a federal one, much like the US, with six individual states united under a single constitution. What’s unique about it is that in doing so, they never fully separated from England, and Elizabeth II is still their queen. However, she is represented in Australia by a governor-general, and the real force of the executive branch comes in the highly sought-after position of prime minister.
The position of prime minister holds much more power than the United States’ position of president. The prime minister is a member of the House of Representatives and is the leader of whichever party has a majority in the house. Their powers include the ability to hand out ministerial and cabinet positions, decide when to hold elections and have an effective say in commerce and legislation.
In contrast, the US president is limited to the power to appoint cabinet and judicial positions.
There are several ways to become prime minister or get ousted from the position: through a general election, a defeat in Parliament, party-room coups, vice-regal intervention, death and voluntary departure.
Without delving into the politics behind these changes, the transition of leaders in the last eight years began with the defeat of John Howard, who had been Prime Minister for 11 years, in a general election. He was replaced by Kevin Rudd, who served for two years and six months before he was deposed as the leader of his party. Julia Gillard replaced Rudd as both party leader and Prime Minister for exactly three years and three days before Rudd was renamed party leader and reinstated as Prime Minister.
During Rudd’s second term of office he only served for two months and twenty-two days before he was defeated in a general election. Anthony Abbott was elected in his place and served for one year, eleven months and twenty-eight days before he was replaced as party leader on September 15 of this year by Malcolm Turnbull.
In direct contrast, the last eight years have seen two U.S. presidents: one who concluded his second term of office, and one with one year left of his second term.
As much as pointing to the US as a good example of anything makes my whole body cringe, the provisions we created in our political system to prevent the chaotic power struggle of both individuals and parties that Australia is facing have worked.
For starters, having four year terms of office means, in theory, that no one will be attempting to take the position for the next three and a half years. In addition, the framers of our constitution made it incredibly difficult to remove a president from power by making the impeachment process intentionally complicated. Then in 1951, the US ratified the twenty-second amendment which officially created presidential term limits.
If Australia employed these same practices certain things wouldn’t happen, like the eight day term of Prime Minister Francis Forde in 1945 or the sixteen year term of Prime Minister Robert Menzies that ended in 1966. Also, the parties that currently dominate Australia in a way that makes the US party system look weak would have less direct control over the federal government.
A question arises, is mirroring US stability even something that Australian citizens want?
Tess Connellan, an Australian film studies major studying at the University of New South Wales, said she has no faith in the stability of her government, and when asked how her government functions she said, “Fuck up. And repeat.”
“My daily life is affected by politics being controlled by men who think they know better than women about their [women’s] lives… The ignorance is exhausting,” Connellan continued.
She is not the only one who feels this way. Students who have spent their whole lives surrounded by a government more concerned with who has power than what they do with it have lost faith in Australia’s ability to care for its citizens.
However, Courtney Gray, another student of film studies at the University of New South Wales, shared some confidence in the government “because we vote in a party rather than a person and then when our prime ministers change it is still the party that we voted in at the time of the election in power.”
“I think that the government is very backward in their stances and needs to come into the 21st century. I also wish that the government figures for both sides of parliament weren’t so embarrassing on a global scale,” Gray said. “I think it could be changed now though that Malcolm Turnbull is in.”
Australia is a great country, and the United States could probably learn a few things from them about finance, considering their national debt is only in the billions instead of the trillions. However, many Australians are desperate for some stability in government.