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C hris Baker (2005) reviews Australia as a democratic constitutional monarchy and the great Victorian age of democratic reform. The federal system in which conservative and labour politics are vigorously pursued is the major issues of the day. Australia is a democratic constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth 11 as its current monarch. It is also a federation of the six states which joined together in 1901 as a result of a series of plebiscites. Each of the states has its own constitution and political structure which are broadly similar to that of the national (federal) government. Australians are famously unresponsive about the Constitution – it is tolerated, despised or mildly supported. The Constitution is not an icon of the nation, nor is it part of popular culture. In comparison with the United States the constitution is neither recited nor revered. It is not well known nor apparently well understood. Despite this, Australian democracy has one of the world’s longest continuous histories and has a tough quality which is striking to many visitors. There are two important tasks fulfilled in the Constitution. First, it creates institutions such as the Parliament which is the Queen or the Governor General, the Senate and the House of Representatives and the High Court (which is now the highest court of appeal and the interpreter of the meaning of the Constitution). The Constitution vests powers in those institutions and describes their functions and structures. Importantly, however, the institutions of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are not mentioned in the Constitution, but are assumed in the conventions and practices of government. So while much of the organization of Australian government is written down some crucial institutions are not described, but rather just assumed. The Constitution contains another important feature in that the Commonwealth government is vested with certain defined powers with the remaining or residual powers resting with the six states. Some powers are shared between the states and the federal governments. Another significant feature of the Constitution is to do with the nature of the Australian federation. Thus the Australian Parliament consists of two houses: the House of Representatives, or people’s house, which is elected on nearly equal electorates and the state’s house or Senate, which consists of twelve elected senators from each of the six states plus two senators from each of the two federal territories. Each house plays a significant role in national politics. There are two major parties – the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal party of Australia as well as a number of minor parties including the National party, the Australian Democrats and the Greens. These parties function at local state and federal levels. Currently the Liberal party, together with its coalition partner the Nationals, hold power at the federal or national level. The fact that the ALP governs in each of the 6 states and 2 territories illustrates an interesting feature of Australian political life: that Australians tend to elect different political groups into power at state and federal levels. Minor parties and independents have played a growing role in Australian politics although the Australian scene is still dominated by the two major parties. Australian participation in the political processes is underscored by the fact that they go to the polls frequently due to the three levels of elected government (local, state and federal) and the relatively short terms of government (3-4 years at State and Federal levels). The complex nature of the Australian political system is one of its features, with continuous presence of political issues and obligations in the national media. Australia’s policy strategies based on a speech of Ashton Calvert (2003), Secretary Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is seeking to advance and protect Australia’s interests in the context of environment. The Government is making the most of the unprecedently close relations with the United States to build the basis for an even stronger and more vibrant partnership in the future. Also attach high priority to strengthening the inter-operability of defence forces with those of the United States, to enhancing ADF capabilities through exercises and training with US forces, and to ensuring Australian access to highly sophisticated US military technology. At the same time, Australia and the United States are engaged in the negotiation of a free trade agreement, which is one of the most significant policy initiatives. The FTA will provide improved access and greater certainty in the US market to Australian exporters, including agricultural producers. The Government is also active in looking for ways to further strengthen relations with Japan, China and the Republic of Korea. Japan remains Australia’s largest export market, and is a key interlocutor in diplomacy. July 2003, in Tokyo, Prime Ministers Howard and Koizumi signed a Trade and Economic Framework which charts a course for the future development of trade and economic ties with Japan. Australia has major security, economic and diplomatic interests in South-East Asia. This considerable stake in South-East Asia’s future stability and prosperity to defeat the scourge of terrorism. Since February 2002 Australia have put in place a network of bilateral counter-terrorism arrangements that have strengthened practical cooperation with regional partners including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Cambodia.. Recognising the increasing importance of the European Union in terms of its total political and economic weight and its ability to influence the multilateral agenda, Australia strengthening its policy dialogue with Brussels and the major national capitals on a range of international security, foreign policy, trade and economic, and regulatory issues. The Government is also making a major effort with Papua New Guinea to improve its law and order situation, governance and financial management. And more broadly in the South Pacific, Australia are actively supporting efforts to strengthen regional institutions including, where appropriate, promoting the pooling of resources, to ensure services are both deliverable and sustainable.
References: Baker, Chris. 2005. “Australia Politics” dalam Contemporary Australia. Monash University: National Centre for Australian Studies. Calvert, Ashton. 2003. The Evolving International Environment and Australia’s National Interest. Canbera: Lowy Institute (http://www.dfat.gov.au/media/speeches/department/031126_lowy_institute.html)