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Elections Part 1: Learn about why we have elections and what they achieve

Donna Coutts, March 21, 2022 7:50PM Kids News

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Australians are again off to the polls to elect their federal leaders and government for the next three years. Picture: AAP Image media_cameraAustralians are again off to the polls to elect their federal leaders and government for the next three years. Picture: AAP Image


Reading level: green

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a federal* election will take place on Saturday 21 May.

That’s big news and you’ll hear a lot about this on TV and radio and in adults’ conversations.

What is an election and why is it such big news?

An election is a way of choosing someone for a role by collecting votes. You may have voted to choose a captain of your sports team or school class.

In the upcoming federal election, Australians will vote to choose who represents them in the federal Parliament in Canberra, where many big decisions and laws about running the country are made.

This way of choosing Australia’s parliamentarians* is called a representative democracy* and is part of the Australian Constitution, the set of laws for governing* the country.

People usually say “election” singular when they talk about the federal election. Actually, there will be two types of elections on election day: for the upper and lower houses of federal parliament.

The upper house is called the Senate and the lower house is called the House of Representatives. Voters get two ballot* papers, one for the Senate and one of the House of Representatives.

A man puts his voting paper in the ballot box for the Australian Federal Election in Melbourne on July 2, 2016. Australia is voting in a general election which is expected to be a close race between the ruling Liberal-National coalition and the opposition Labor Party. / AFP PHOTO / Paul Crock media_cameraVoters will cast their votes for the House of Representatives and the Senate. Picture: AFP Photo

The House of Representatives is where big decisions are initially introduced, discussed and voted on by parliamentarians and it’s where the prime minister sits in parliament.

For a federal election, Australia is divided up into 151 sections or areas called federal electorates.

On election day, voters cast or submit their vote to choose, from a list of candidates, a representative from the electorate they live in.

The candidate who gets the most votes wins a “seat”, which means they become a member of parliament (MP) in the House of Representatives and yes, they literally get a seat in parliament. People call this MP their local member.

Canberra, Australia - October 14, 2017: A view inside House of Representative chamber in Parlianment House. media_cameraSuccessful candidates will take their seat in the House of Representative chamber in Parliament House, Canberra. Picture: iStock

The job of these people is to speak on behalf of the people in their electorate and on behalf of Australians collectively.

The Senate, or upper house, is where big decisions made by the House of Representatives are checked, discussed more and voted on again. The Senate also has the job of checking on the work of the Government.

There are 76 senators; 12 from each state and two from each of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

Canberra, Australia - October 14, 2017: A view inside Senate chamber in Parliament House media_cameraThere are 76 Senators in the Senate, or upper house. Picture: iStock

The last federal election was on May 18, 2019.

It is written in the Constitution* that federal members of parliament are elected for a three-year term, so there must be a House of Representatives election every three years.

All seats in the House of Representatives become vacant at each election.

Senators are elected for a six-year term but there is a Senate election every three years. Half of the 12 Senate seats in each state and both of the Senate seats in each of the two territories become vacant at each election.

Elections help decide which members of parliament will form Government.

Parliament works a bit like a team sport. Many of the candidates who are elected to parliament belong to teams called parties. The party that wins the most seats in the House of Representatives gets to be the government and the leader of that party in the House of Representatives gets to be prime minister.

At present, that’s the Liberal Party, which works together in a partnership – called a coalition – with the National Party.

QUESTION TIME media_cameraPrime Minister Scott Morrison (left) is from the Liberal Party, while Anthony Albanese (right) leads the Labor Party in opposition. Picture: Gary Ramage

The party with the second-most seats gets to be the opposition. At present, that’s Labor. The opposition’s job is to question and keep in check the work of the government.

There are also minor parties with parliamentarians in parliament, plus independents, who aren’t part of any party.



  • federal: relating to the whole country, rather than a single state or territory
  • parliamentarians: people who are elected to parliament
  • democracy: a system of government in which the people get a say in who their leaders are
  • governing: having the power to run or rule an organisation, state or country
  • ballot: a system of secret voting
  • Constitution: basic principles and laws of a nation, state, or social group that set the powers and duties of government and confirm citizen rights


Enrol, vote and eat a democracy sausage!

Step inside the houses of federal parliament

Australia’s system of government

Parties line up in the game of politics


  1. What date will the federal election happen?
  2. What are the two house of parliament called?
  3. How many federal electorates does Australia have?
  4. How often must a federal election be held?
  5. Which party is currently in government?


Refer to the accompanying Elections Education Kit classroom workbook with 20 activities. It’s FREE when teachers subscribe to the Kids News newsletter.

Extra Reading in elections