Australia is a Federal Democracy which recognises the Queen as sovereign although she has little real power. The executive power is vested in the Governor General and a cabinet which is presided over by a prime minister. The Federal Government and the six State and two Territory governments share administration and there are often different laws and regulations depending on which state you are in.
When Federation was formed in 1901 the Australian Constitution established a federal system of government based on the British Westminster system. There is a National Government and the states and territories are also self-governing on certain matters as outlined by the constitution. The main political parties in Australia are as follows:
The Australian Labour Party or ALP is Australia's oldest political party and was formed in 1890. It has governed for around one third of the time since Federation.
The Liberal Party was formed from a merger of the Protectionist and Free Trade parties in 1910. Robert Menzies, who governed for 16 years from 1949 and is Australia's longest-serving prime minister, was fundamental in shaping the modern Liberal Party. The Liberal Party has governed in coalition with the National Party for 36 of the last 52 years.
The Nationals were originally known as the Country Party, and have been represented in the federal parliament since 1919. Changing its name to the National Country Party in the 1970s, then to National Party in the 1980s, and finally to The Nationals in 2003, it is a rural-based party.
The Australian Democrats were formed in 1977 by Don Chipp and has elected five different women as leader.
The Greens were founded as a result of a number of environmental battles of that time in the 1980s such as the fight to save the Franklin Dam in Tasmania.
The Labor government is currently in power under the leadership of Julia Gillard who is the 27th Prime Minister of Australia and the first female to hold the title.