The Australian Political System is no different to any other country's. It is COMPLICATED. However, with the limited space available I have tried to summarise its various levels and the nature of how these tiers work and interact.
Please excuse my Australian English. It results in spelling summarise with an 's' and centre with the last two letters the "wrong" way around.
Australia has three tiers of Government: local, State and Federal. Local Government consists of local councils that have jurisdiction over shires that exist in all of Australia's six states. Local Council occupies a building in each shire. A mayor presides over the council which can vary in size. Some councils have political parties form within them, others do not. The Australian Labor Party (ALP), has a strong presence in all levels of Australian politics.
Local councils have the responsibilty of maintaining certain roads, waste disposal, public area maintainence et cetera.
The next level, State Government, has far more responsibilities. They are set out by the Constitution of The Commonwealth of Australia. Since Australian Federation in 1901, powers have gradually passed from the states to the Federal Government level, without being constitutionally unsound of course.
The actual nature of state parliament varies from state to state. Some states are bicameral and others have only one chamber. Some politicians are elected into one member seats via a preferential voting system, and others may be elected into multi member electorates through a proportional representation system.
State Government has responsibility over hi-ways that are not federally funded, hospitals, police forces, correction centres et cetera.
The Federal Government in Australia retains all the powers that are not resting with the states or local government.
The Federal Parliament is situated in Canberra, in The Australian Capital Territory. (Similar to America's District Colombia).
Like the United States, Australia has a Bi-cameral Federal System with an executive: The House of Representatives where the Government is defined, and the Senate (House of Review). Notice the similarity in names. Instead of a President, there is a Governor General, who incidentally represents Australia'a true head of state, Queen Elizabeth II.
The House of Representatives currently contains 148 seats and the Senate, 76 seats (12 from each state and 2 from each territory). Each seat in the House refers to an area of land called an electorate. Each electorate countains approximately 80000 eligable voters (voting is compulsory in Australia). Because of the population determining the electorate, Western Australia contains an electorate that is more than 90% of its size called Kalgoorlie. It is the largest single member electorate in the world.
When Australians vote for 'their local member' in the House, they use a preferential ballot. Say there are 8 candidates, voters must mark next to the candidates names the numbers 1 through 8. 1 indicates highest preference. When the votes are counted, the 1st preference votes are counted first. If no one candidate has more than 50% of the 1st preference votes, then counting must go on.
The candiate with the least votes in the first round is eliminated and then 2nd preference votes are counted. The votes go to remaining candidates with full value. Another candidate is elimated if noone reaches 50%+ and the process continues until someone has an absolute majority. He or she is elected to the seat. This process is replicated throughout the 148 seats. To form Government, candiates from one party, or a coalition of parties, must gain more than 50% of seats ie 75+. Once a Government is elected, the leader becomes Prime Minister and he chooses, or the party elects ministers who undertake portfolios (eg defence, treasury, health et cetera).
The Senate has no influence on the formation of Government. However, a Government must pass any bill (proposed law) through the Senate and House for it to go to the executive and become law. Hence, the Senate election is very important. Half of the state Senate seats and all of the territory Senate seats are contested every election. This means each Senator has a six year term that is fixed (unlike House members). (Federal Elections are held after a max of 3 yrs at Prime Ministerial discretion).
In one state, six seats are contested. To gain a seat, a party must obtain at least one seventh plus 1 of the vote. This is called a quota. Some parties may reach 3 or 4 quotae in one state and hence have 3 or 4 Senators elected. The proportional voting system, as it is known, is complex, however, it can be said that it favours minor parties because of the difficulty that major parties have in gaining multiple quotae.
Ministers may be chosen from the Government party Senators, but the Prime Minister must be a member of the House.
The main difference between the two systems is that Australia's head of state has very few actual powers. He is appointed by the Prime Minister (the head of government) and although he MAY dissolve parliament, refuse to sign bills and put temporary Governments in place, he rarely does. In fact, a Governor General has used such powers only once.
The Dismissal, as it is known, occurred in 1975 when the ALP government of the day, lead by Gough Whitlam was sacked because Bills of supply would not pass through the upper house (The Senate). The Governor General, Sir John Kerr, installed a temporary Government headed by Malcolm Fraser of The Liberal Party of Australia. In the election that followed, the Liberals were handed a convincing victory despite the uproar at the time of the dismissal.
Australian Government revolves around the idea that the three levels of Government work harmoniously to provide for the electorate by which they have derived their power.