Sep 14 2011
By: Corey Korinda
We were very lucky to have a complete federal government experience as part of our abroad program! Australia’s capital city is Canberra, which is about a three hour bus ride from Sydney. We were joined by two UTS professors for the trip. They graciously offered information and answered our questions about the socio-political climate of Australia. On the ride down, one of the professors even provided us a rendition of “Waltzing Matilda!”
After a brief lunch upon arrival, we attended a session of Parliament. Australia had a Westminster style of government, in which parliament composes both the legislative and executive branches of government. The political party the majority of the popular vote becomes the ruling party. This majority party then selects members to hold the cabinet positions of the executive branch. For our visit, it was a particularly contentious time for the Australian government as there are a number of divisive issues currently in the forefront, specifically the institution of a carbon tax. Moreover, we happened to be observing Parliament on the anniversary of the previous Prime Minister’s deposition with the controversial installation of Julia Gillard. Needless to say, the parliamentary debate was hot! The House Speaker repeated “ORDER” with varying inflections over and over again. At one point, the Speaker even asked a representative from the opposition party to leave the floor for one hour for disrespectful behavior! There is nothing like seeing a professional man, being essentially put on “time-out.”
Next, we took a special tour of the country’s High Court facility as we had been cordially invited by Australian Chief Justice, Robert French. What an honor! Like the United States, judges are appointed the High Court of Australia. However, appointments are not nearly as public contested; perhaps because the position is not for life, rather High Court Justices hold the position until they reach seventy years of age. A tour guide showed us the different federal court rooms. She explained courtroom procedures, and mentioned notable cases and Justices throughout Australian history. Afterwards we meet the Chief Justice. Sitting around a large boardroom table, we each had a chance to introduce ourselves to him. He then entertained our questions; a student asked how he came to fill the position of each Chief Justice. Before leaving he gave us all a copy of a speech he had recently given at Washington University Law School comparing the United States and Australian systems of governance. His kind time and consideration for our behalf, clearly demonstrates the strong relationship between our two nations as well as the Australian value for transparency in government.
Once back in Sydney, the professors and some students stopped at a pub to finish out the day. In addition to catching some more Sydney ambiance, it was lovely to collectively reflect on all we had learned that day.