Australian Politics From an American Perspective

As an American I often come across the stereotype that as an American I am ignorant about things that happen outside of the states. Most of the time this isn’t seen as a terrible thing because it isn’t my fault that U.S. news is saturated with domestic issues, in fact most countries are proportionally over-saturated with U.S. news. in order to fight this stereotype I have done what any American would do and learned about how the government I am living under operates in comparison with the United States. After making just the right amount of “kangaroo court” jokes to myself while learning about it turns out that put simply the Australian government is actually very similar to the American political system.

With the amount of press Tony Abbott gets it wouldn’t surprise me if Americans that don’t have any real interest in Australia might still want to figure out how this guy seems to be allowed to be in charge of a country. You may also hear about the country’s honestly pretty bad history of not caring about climate change, although Americans are only now getting on the climate change bandwagon, and think how is a desert nation so backwards?

Tony AbbottIf you meet an Australian you can both blame them for Tony Abbott and at the same time commiserate with them because unlike the United States voting is mandatory in Australia, but the prime minister is not actually directly elected. Aside from some of the kind of outdated ceremonial Monarchy business those are probably two of the three big differences between the United States’ political system and Australia’s. In order to get that big looming Queen business out of the way for any Americans we’ll take a quick look at what powers the Queen has in Australia. Australia is technically a constitutional monarchy, meaning if she wanted lizzie could come down disband parliament and appoint her own prime minister. Because the queen is technically the “head of state” of a number of countries she obviously doesn’t have time to deal with all of them herself and so appoints a Governor-General who is chosen at the request of the prime minister. The Governor- General is a pretty ceremonial role and essentially does anything the PM advises them to do, but on behalf of the crown as well as the PM.

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Aside from the ceremonial business having to do with the Queen, which we Americans gave up on a few hundred years ago, the political system in Australia is all business and not just thongs and roos. The system is based on the Westminster system meaning they have a bicameral legislative system headed by a prime minister, consisting of a senate and house of parliament. These work pretty much in the same way as the American system aside from the fact that voting for Australian citizens is mandatory. The other real differences are that there are more than just two viable political parties and that the number of seats in the senate and parliament change more often. 

Earlier I mentioned that while everyone needs to vote in Australia they didn’t necessarily vote for Tony Abbot. Instead voting is tied to which political party you choose and then whichever party gains a majority or is able to form a coalition with another party is then able to appoint the head of their party as the prime minister who in turn picks out his cabinet. From there the executive body performs all the duties it does in America aside from vetoing power. Because the Australian system is based on the idea of political parties party lines are even more divided than in America and voting with the party line is not only expected but nearly mandatory.

So if Australian political parties seem to be so important lets take a look at what they are. There are of course two main parties that could essentially be likened to the Republican party and Democratic party as well as a few other parties that still garner some support. The current party in power is the Liberal party, of which Tony Abbott is the leader, if you have been paying attention that should make perfect sense to you. The Liberal party however isn’t liberal in the sense that we Americans know the word and is actually a lot closer to our Republican party in their views. The Liberal party is based on many Christian values, greater economic freedom, lower taxes, etc. The Labor party on the other hand is the major opposition party at the moment and is much closer to the Democrats of America, more socially progressive, greater economic regulation, big government, environmentalism, etc. Then of course there are the other smaller parties like the Greens (pretty much identical to our own Green Party but with more delegates), and the National party which caters to rural Australians and farmers.

That about sums things up on how to understand the Australian political system if you are fairly familiar with the American system. Things are pretty similar and I am sure if you talked to a traveling Aussie about the current Lib/Nat coalition government and how long they reckon it’ll last they will be astounded that you know about it and will quickly spill their similar ignorance about the American system. Feel free to ask any questions about the government or its policies below and I will pass them right along to Tony Abbott as soon as I next see him.

Net Neutrality, Australia and Netflix

Even with all the traveling you might do and the lovely parts of the world you might like to visit there is little else more comforting than a night in to watch something on Netflix with a drink or two before drifting off to sleep. We’re living in an era where our almost insatiable thirst for media is close to being quenched with all of the on demand offerings we have for tv shows and movies. With Netflix becoming wildly successful and taking customers away from the cable companies it was only a matter of time before the cable companies started to use their power to try and get a piece of the action. If you are some one who stays relatively informed and watch Netflix you probably know a bit about the battle that’s been going on between Netflix and ISPs which started in the states but is now spreading to many countries. From things like charging Netflix more than other websites or slowing down their customers’ speeds for using Netflix instead of the cable companies’ alternative the fight has been going on a while and is starting to concern the government more and more.

With the expansion of Netflix and the success of their business it finally came to Australia where expectations ranged all over the place for the now media giant. A country plagued with the message “the owner of this video has not made it available in your country”, the worst internet piracy out of any nation and internet speeds that would make you think it was a third world country Australians were mixed in how excited they allowed themselves to get about Netflix. Before moving to Australia I was excited to know that shortly after my arrival Netflix would be available, but when I started to talk to Australians about it my excitement was slightly tampered. Netflix uses a large amount of data and nearly all Australian internet providers charge you more the more data you use. Australians were also told that many of the shows available to other Netflix viewers wouldn’t be available to Australian subscribers even including some Netflix original shows. So needless to say I woke up on the 24th when it launched in Australia and opened my computer with a bit of trepidation.

Netflix was pretty damn great, more British than I’d watched in the states and a lot of relatively recent movies and a few Australian tv shows to boot. My internet certainly got a workout those first few days until we started to worry about how much data we were using of our monthly allotment and what we’d be paying on top of the reasonable Netflix subscription. We later learned that Netflix had parlayed with a lot of the internet providers in Australia in order to have the usage of their service be unmetered and so not count toward your data usage. This obviously was a great way to secure the market early when Australian alternatives had already popped up, but also goes against Netflix’s outspoken support for Net Neutrality. They have recently announced that they regret the decision to secure unmetered access to their service in a breach of their company’s beliefs which lets them save face while also gaining market share in Australia. It will be very interesting to see how this affects the future of Netflix, after metering goes into effect, and Net Neutrality in Australia, which has taken a number of hits recently from the Australian government.