Australians vote for government representatives at national, state and local levels in a 3 to 4 year cycle. National elections are run by the Australian Electoral Commission.

Key online resource

Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)

  • independent statutory body
  • created by a 1984 amendment to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918
  • responsible for the registration of political parties

Key AEC website pages:

  • a brief history of the evolution of universal suffrage, secret ballots and compulsory voting in Australia.
  • current Acts and Amendments governing the role of state and federal electoral commission
  • a complete list of registered, deregistered and renamed parties since 1984

States and Territories are responsible for elections within their jurisdictions.

What you can find in the Library

To find information about Australian elections, select the ‘Browse subjects’ option and enter subject keywords, including the year of the election if known. Some examples are:

To find information on Australian political parties, use Browse subjects options such as:

Selected resources:

The Australian electoral system : origins, variations and consequences by David M. Farrell and Ian McAllister (2005). Overview of the development of the electoral system in Australia

The Australian voter : 50 years of change by Ian McAllister (2011). Discussion of Australian attitudes to voting

Voting and elections written by Associate Professor Rodney Smith and Dr. Anika Gauja (2013), from the Hot Topics series published by the Legal Information Access Centre, State Library of NSW. A condensed version is available online

After the election : what happens? prepared by Leo Hardiman, Damian Page, Leah Edwards (2013). General information and background from the Australian Government Solicitor

Compulsory voting in Australian national elections by Scott Bennett (2005). History and possible future of compulsory voting, looking at argument for and against. Available online through PANDORA

Case Study

A question from overseas: I have heard about an Australian law that forces people to vote or they get a fine. Can you supply more details?

Voting at federal elections is compulsory for all citizens on the Australian Federal electoral roll. The introduction of compulsory voting varied from state to state; you can read about the background and history on the Australian Electoral Commission website.  

Anyone who is unable to provide a valid and sufficient reason to the Divisional Returning Officer for failure to vote at a federal election, and who does not wish to have the matter dealt with by a Magistrates Court may pay a penalty of $20.

If the person refuses to pay the $20 then the matter may be referred to a Magistrates Court, where a fine of $50 plus costs may be ordered on conviction.

You can find out more about electoral offences here.

On average about 5 per cent of enrolled voters fail to vote. In recent federal elections, with a voter turnout of approximately 95 per cent, informal voting (blank or not properly completed ballots) has accounted for about 5 per cent of all the votes cast (from Our electoral system at DFAT).