Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor-general
Prime minister: Julia Gillard
Julia Gillard became Australia's first woman prime minister in June 2010 after ousting Kevin Rudd, whose political mishandling of energy-saving measures had slashed the Labor government's once-healthy popularity rating. She saw off another challenge from Mr Rudd, who resigned as her foreign minister, in February 2012.
Ms Gillard called a snap election in August to try restore the Labor Party's fortunes, but the closely fought contest left her heading the first minority government since 1940, dependent on a few independent and Green MPs.
Aged 48 on taking office, Ms Gillard was born in Barry, Wales, and emigrated to Australia with her parents in the 1960s. Australia's only other foreign-born prime minister, William Hughes, was also Welsh.
A lawyer by training, Ms Gillard made her name in student and state politics, with a record in promoting women's rights. She was elected to the federal parliament in 1998, and made her mark as a skilled debater.
She joined the Rudd government in 2007 as deputy prime minister with special responsibility for employment and education, but attracted as many headlines for her striking appearance and cohabiting status as for her performance in those difficult portfolios.
As prime minister she continues the Labor focus on healthcare and education provision and passing legislation to cut emissions.
She also faces the same problems as Mr Rudd did over asylum seekers, with plans to transfer some to Malaysia ruled illegal by the High Court in August 2011. The government is now having their applications processed on Nauru, with plans to do the same in Papua New Guinea.
In January 2013 she called parliamentary elections for the forthcoming September, hoping to use period to recoup support in the face of a stronger poll performance by the centre-right opposition.
But the departure of the Greens from her coalition, and a chaotic and abortive leadership challenge in March bounced Ms Gillard into a major cabinet reshuffle that did little for her government's reputation.