Australia, the Great Southern Land, has always been a bit of an enigma. As early as Aristotle, classical thinkers hypothesized that there existed a land South of what was then known by European sailors. One full of snakes and other unsavory creatures to balance the various politicians of the Northern Hemisphere.
Countless captains and their crew were drawn to a watery grave by the promise of bounty and backside offered by the land that renaissance explorers dubbed Terra Australis. The Spanish called it the land of the Holy Spirit, French sailors named the place La grande isle de Java. No one had the heart to tell the French that Java is an entirely different island.
Of course the best thing the British could do with a continent blessed of such uniqueness and mystery, after claiming it for the Crown, was dump a few prisoners on it to enact a remake of Shawshank Redemption with the local aboriginal population.
But the joke is on them.
Only Australia could create an electoral system that treats the population with such contempt it could bring a tear to the eye of even the fox-huntingest, expenses writing-offingest English Lord, cause the God-fearingest, gay-sex solicitingest southern Senator to blush and make the election-riggingest clearly-over-compensating for somethingest third world dictator roll around on the floor in the fetal position.
An Australian, an Australian and an Australian walk into a polling booth...
Here is a little thought exercise for you. Think, for example, that most countries have a leader who ultimately runs the place. A president. A king. A man with a hat. In Australia that person is called a Prime Minister.
Ok, now try and find even the slightest mention of a Prime Minister in the constitution.
No, there isn't.
Essentially the effective leader of Australia doesn't exist in law, so why exactly Julia Gillard hasn't just cut the shit and built a base under a tank full of robot sharks is beyond us. That isn't too ridiculous a hypothetical either, given that there is no guarantee of freedom of speech in the constitution. Nor is there a preamble, or for that matter, any mention of the Aboriginal population who have lived here since before woolly mammoths were stomping the hell out of ice age Europe.
It's just how the document rolls. You can create one hundred and fifty distinct indigenous languages to call the constitution a load of bullshit and still not receive a mention.
However, what the constitution does have is a lot of sections about forming government. We say forming government, because what it says about the powers of the Federal branch are limited to thirty-nine dot points in a single section. In terms of length that would probably lose to an average girlfriend's recount of 5 minutes spent looking for half a shoe. The writers basically passed over that whole what the government can legally do and gave us The Never-ending Story in the, at least, 40 sections dedicated explicitly to the constitution of parliament.
Proving that old habits die hard, the writers of the Australian constitution managed to basically steal the function of parliament from the Westminster system. We like to think chief writer of the constitution, Sir Samuel Griffith, borrowed Ned Kelly's suit to hold up the United States Congress and demand the senators hand over the bicameral structure of legislature. However it did happen, Australia was left with two houses to fill with the only people more willing to whore themselves out than Big Brother contestants.
To decide who will serve in the lower house, the electorate is divided into 150 constituencies that are put to vote. For the voter, this means a representative will be selected for each by the exhaustive process of deciding who has the name that sounds most like male anatomy.
This becomes ridiculous is when you realise the system does not guarantee that all votes have an equal value. An arbitrary boundary is drawn around an area and every eligible voter within must vote to choose a representative. You could have a survivalist and his meth lab in one electorate, the population of China standing on the shoulders of every Indian in a second, and they would both still have equal representation in parliament, simply because the constitution does not guarantee that one vote has one value.
This kind of thing continues in the upper house, as all states are allocated 12 senate seats. Apparently 6,000,000 people in Victoria are equal to 507,000 in Tasmania, although, we guess this makes sense with the maths typically seen in government spending predictions. Ostensibly the inequality exists to preserve the representation of rural areas, because Australians enjoy perpetuating the belief that at birth we are all held aloft on the top of Uluru like the opening scene from The Lion King. At least the three rural independents who currently control the balance of power enjoy perpetuating this image.
By equally distributing seats based on state boundaries, the Australian Senate apparently helps to protect the rights of all the states. We assume this makes more sense in the United States, since no one has yet found anything right about Tasmania to protect. Only half of the 76 senate seats will be put up for election at any one time, owing to the fact that if they were forced out of office too often, most leftist senators would likely turn to the only other Green movement guaranteed to get you paid copious amounts of money.
It may seem strange that a country that cannot fathom more than about two names before resorting to the ever trusty "mate" embraces a preferential voting system, though this extension of compulsory formal schooling allows us to demonstrate our ability to count to 10 every three or so years. Preferential voting was brought about by Billy Hughes, probably in some vain attempt to make every candidate feel as though they had achieved something beyond being able to charge $100,000 to read off their hand at a local convention.
The senate, not to be outdone, employs the single transferable vote system that, if we have learnt anything from our one school lesson on democracy, will always deliver pizza as a representative in any example involving favourite foods. Unfortunately, while this works in theory, placing all 600 million federal candidates in order of preference will instead usually result in fruit, vegetables and white bread religious dishes that are only really good for laughing at filling the senate. From 1984 onwards you could "vote above the line", allowing the party selected to distribute the preferences how they see fit, though if they are like any party we have been to all the good votes will be taken in the first five minutes and only the warm, reduced-alcohol votes will be left.
At this point it is probably wise to detail the role of the Governor-General, though you would need to be a fair amount wiser than us to figure out what the hell the monarch’s representative in Australia actually does aside from allowing BBC documentaries about the Royal family to be aired without a tea party or similar effeminate revolutionary action taking place in Sydney harbour.
The current Governor-General is Quentin Brice, the first woman to have held the post. Indeed, elsewhere you need to actually be elected to have a hope of occupying a token position and shooting a few thousand holes in the glass ceiling. That rather violent image is quite apt considering the unelected Governor-General is the commander in chief of the military.
Even without the whole army, the Governor-General can dismiss any member of the Executive Council, all ministers of state, officers of the executive government and any small animals that witness his/her true form. Again it seems like the founders of Australia were just begging for a dictatorial takeover, because the Governor-General can quite literally be anyone the Queen accepts, from a man who assisted in covering up child abuse, to the friendly gentleman who sells cleaning products on daytime television.
For situations where the corpse of Charlton Heston would take over the country if Australia were slightly more United and Stately, Section 57 allows a double dissolution election to be called, because, like everything, dissolutions are just better in pairs. When there is a serious deadlock between the two houses the Governor-General will call a joint sitting of parliament where the members will talk it through, do a few trust fall exercises and a bit of role-play. If no compromise on the bill can be reached, both houses will be dissolved and an election will be called (You call that an election? This is an election).
As of 2011 six double dissolution elections have been held, however only one in 1974 was pursuant to the constitution, so it is safe to assume the other five instead involved a brutal Mortal Kombat style tournament behind the parliament and outside any commonwealth jurisdiction. Oh and lasers. Lots of lasers.
As much as we respect the forefathers of Australia and their constitution that stops at almost nothing to allow a lawless, Mad Max style society to flourish on the continent, the honest truth is that we ended up like everywhere else that matters. Labour and Liberal, a pair of political parties that dominate national politics and still manage to be about the same as the DNA in an Alabama trailer park.