The ‘Know Your Region’ series is designed to to support unit and individual professional military education on the Indo-Pacific region. It’s important for all serving members of our military to have a foundational knowledge of the countries and issues in our region.

On this page:

  • Summary
  • Politics
  • Syariah Penal Code
  • Brunei and Australia
  • Brunei and its Neighbours


Brunei is an absolute monarchy whereby the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah ibni Omar Ali Saifuddien III, is the Head of State as well as the Head of Government. He also holds several ministerial positions such as finance minister and defence minister.

The current sultan has ruled Brunei since 05 October 1967 following the abdication of his father. He assumed the position of Prime Minister of Brunei on the declaration of independence from the United Kingdom on 01 January 1984. The Sultan of Brunei is one of the world’s wealthiest individuals and leads a luxurious lifestyle that includes a vast property portfolio, a gold-plated private jet, and the world’s biggest collection of luxury cars.


Brunei is the only ruling monarchy in Southeast Asia and one of the few absolute monarchies in the world. In 1959 Brunei became a self-governing state and adopted a constitution that included the provision to form an elected government. In 1962, a partially elected legislative council with limited authority was installed; however, the conversion to a representative government was interrupted later that year by a revolt, which was suppressed with the help of British forces. As a result, the sultan called a state of emergency and suspended most of the constitution. In 1970 the legislative council – which had become an appointed body by decree of the sultan – was suspended and a ministerial form of government was introduced. The sultan became prime minister and assumed several other ministerial posts. He then appointed members of his family to most of the remaining positions.

Due to high oil revenue, Brunei has been able to provide extensive social services to its population, including free education and health care. Welfare and religion have been strong methods for the Bruneian regime to exercise nonviolent political control as the population is reliant on the state for employment and social services.

In 1990, the sultan declared the government to be a Malay Islamic Monarchy, which celebrates traditional Bruneian values and calls for more rigid adherence to traditional Islamic principles. In 2004 he reconvened the legislative council, which had not met in 20 years, to discuss constitutional amendments. However, membership to the council would be through appointment only. Meanwhile, in 2007, two of three political parties were deregistered, leaving the National Development Party as the sole legal party in Brunei.

Syariah Penal Code

Brunei maintains a dual legal system. One system is based on British common law while the other is based on Sharia law. The latter was introduced in 2014 and came into full effect in 2019. The international response was damning, with high profile celebrities calling for a boycott of Brunei business interests. While the law remains in Brunei, there is currently a moratorium on severe punishments for adultery and homosexuality offences.

Brunei and Australia

Brunei’s diplomatic relations with Australia date back to the liberation of Borneo in 1945. This involved a series of amphibious landings by Australian forces on various points on the mainland around Brunei Bay and upon islands situated around the bay to dispel Imperial Japanese forces.

In June 2005, Brunei's then Foreign Minister, His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, agreed to an Australian proposal to erect a permanent memorial to mark the 1945 landings. The relationship remains strong to this day, and it is recognised that both countries continue to co-operate regarding security in the region.

In June 2023, Leaders agreed to elevate the relationship to a comprehensive partnership. The CP is underpinned by three pillars of cooperation: Economic, Climate Change, and Food Security; Defence, Security, and Maritime; and Social-Cultural. The DFAT – Australia – Brunei Darussalam Joint Declaration Comprehensive Partnership can be found at the link below.

Brunei and its Neighbours

Brunei sits on a section of the north coast of the island of Borneo, with the South China Sea along its northern coast and Malaysia on its southern borders. Brunei’s land mass is split between two enclaves encapsulated by Malaysia, Malaysia itself exists on the northern side of the Borneo Island with Indonesia on its southern border.

Brunei shares strong diplomatic relations with both Malaysia and Indonesia; however, there have been historic tensions over border and territorial disputes with Malaysia, particularly over the Limbang region of Sarawak and resource rich areas of the South China Sea. In 2009, both countries reached an agreement, whereby all territorial claims on both sides were dropped.

Brunei was one of the original members of the P-4 Agreement – along with Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore – that paved the way for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now known as CPTPP or TPP-11. Security-wise, it is a claimant in the South China Sea disputes and a hub for several countries on issues such as counterterrorism and maritime security, including neighbouring Singapore and former colonial power Britain.

Brunei plays an active role in key international organisations including ASEAN, the United Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and the Commonwealth.

For further information on Brunei – Australia diplomatic relations, see the resource below:


  1. DFAT – Brunei Darussalam country brief
  2. DFAT – Australia – Brunei Darussalam Joint Declaration Comprehensive Partnership
  3. The Lowy Institute – Three reasons Brunei is introducing Sharia Law
  4. The Diplomat – Brunei