May 24

Today we spent our day in Canberra exploring Australian political and military history. To start the day, we all woke up early to dress our best for our visit to Parliament. After a quick breakfast Helen drove us to The Museum of Australian Democracy at the Old Parliament House. While there we read and learned about the history of Australian democracy as well as the general meaning of democracy. Using the interactive virtual time-line we were able to visually see how far Australia has come toward creating a democracy based on equality, freedom, justice, representation and security. One of the most interesting differences we noticed about Australian democracy is their emphasis on responsibility as opposed to rights, like in the U.S. The Australian people don’t even have a bill of rights. Responsibility is reflected in all parts of Australian government including the compulsory voting at 18. To the Australians, voting is not a right it is a responsibility of the individual to the country as a whole. Australians emphasis on responsibility is a testament to their group mentality instead of focus on the individual. Apart from learning about the foundations of democracy, we were able to view the old House of Representatives, Sentate, and Prime Ministers Suite, all of which were in use until the current Parliament House opened in 1988.

Our new understanding of Australian democracy did not escape us for the rest of the day. After a lunch break in Canberra’s city center, the group ventured to Question Time at the current Parliament House. We arrived a bit early and were able to go up onto the grass roof, a symbol of the peoples power over the government and not vice verse, and took pictures of the meticulously planned city. By 1:30 it was time to go wait for question time to start. The Australian Parliament debates current issues and events every sitting day at 2pm in an attempt to keep the government accountable and responsible to the people they govern. During question time “The Government,” or party in power (including the prime minister), are questioned by the “Shadow Government,” or opposing party. The opposition asks the government questions to try to make the Government look bad while the government defends itself and proves their suitability to govern their people through their stances on public issues. Given the current state of the economy much of the lively discussion we witnessed concerned taxes and the Australian economy. The rhetoric back and forth was at times playful, critical, serious, sarcastic, and passionate. Both the government and the opposition engaged in intense debate that was interesting and engaging to watch. The ideas behind question time are much like those we learned about at the Democracy Museum. The government had a group mentality inviting criticism and questioning in order to ensure that the government is responsible to its people.

To end the busy day in Australia’s capital city, we visited the Australian War Memorial. The memorial is as much a museum as it is a traditional memorial. We first walked through the museum looking at military memorabilia from WWI through present day. The most uniquely Australian part of military history we learned about was the Anzac, which stands for Australian New Zealand Army Corps. The Anzacs were a group of Australian and New Zealand soldiers fighting in Turkey during WWI. While fighting in Turkey in 1915, 8709 Anzacs died. Today Australians celebrate Anzac Day on April 25 to commemorate all soldiers who died especially those who died overseas during WWI. The Anzac in modern culture represents comradeship and loyalty, friendship, valor, bravery, and duty to country. All of these values reflect the group mentality emphasized in all areas of Australian political history we learned about today. After learning about the Anzac in the museum, we watched the closing ceremonies that take place every day around 5:00. We watched a lone bag piper play a lament to the soldiers who perished in war on the steps of the memorial. It was a very moving experience and gave me a better understanding of the patriotic spirit in Australia.

It was an important day for us here in Australia. We gained an understanding of political history and democracy in the context of sustainability. Without the support of the people and their government there is no way to ensure and promote sustainability in a democratic country. Sustainability involves protecting our earth and resources for current and future generations. Like Australian democracy, this concept operates under the pretense of group before individual, a mentality we have difficulty grasping in the U.S. and a possible reason for our lack of sustainable practices in comparison to Australia. We have been having a great time in Canberra, it is a beautiful city and we can’t wait to visit the school tomorrow.

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Responses

  1. Question time is definitely insane! What was the most outlandish thing that they said?!

    What do you guys think of the role that government policy plays in creating a sustainable future? Where does responsibility lie, in government or individual action?

    What policies or regulations have you seen in Australia that contribute or hinder environmental protection or indigenous rights?

    • Question time was outstanding! I never thought politics could be interesting! The one comment that stuck most in my head is a member of the opposing party yelling “Poppycock!” at the Prime Minister. I thought it was really cool the idea of Prime Minister and the President seem so different. I was amazed at how close we could get to the Prime Minister. We could have throw a pen at him if we wanted to. Even to be in the same room as our President is a big deal. But here, he is just another person who has to be responible for his actions and for his job. To see everyone yelling remarks and inturrupting the person that basically runs the country was truly weird to see.

      It’s hard to make an obvious connection between government and sustainability but really, they are the ones to set an example. Their responsibility is to create laws to not only protect the people of this country, but also the environment. It is important for encourage people to be sustainable and also show them how they can do it by setting laws in place.

      An example of encouragement by government is that they are now providing fencing and seeds to farmers to plant to help restore native species back into the environment to control soil erioson and salidity problems.

    • It was also a completely different perspective to see a government work in this way. The people within government were able to voice their opinions openly right in front of the Prime Minister and were only reprimanded when they became completely out of control. I think this gave the Prime Minister a better sense of reality in terms of whether or not the people really agreed or disagreed with certain legislation. However, I wasn’t so sure that this would be the most productive, respectful way to deal with such important affairs. It was a good way to express opinions, but it was hard to really see every side of the issue when most people were just yelling out of turn. Overall, Parliament gave me a pretty different idea of how government might be run and it gave me a lot to think about in terms of the U.S. government.

  2. In the US, I feel that the role the government has on creating a sustainable future lies all in the laws and regulations they create. It is really had to enforce people and businesses to be environmental conscious. However here in Australia, I feel that the responsibility of becoming sustainable is with the people. There have been so many people that we have talked to that have said that they choose this practice because it is the right thing to do. It all come down to their ideal with government that it is their responsibility not their right. As for policies or regulations that hinder environmental protection or indigenous rights, I haven’t seen anything in particular. I know that as for indigenous rights, that even after the public apology to members of the Stolen Generation in 2008, the indigenous people still do not feel they have equal rights. Though, even this is a small step forward.

  3. Kevin- In my opinion I think that the government has control over making Australia completely sustainable but Paul had a good quote that I think summed up the people’s role in changing the way their society works, by “Voting with your dollar”. Its all about putting your hard earned money where you want and choosing more sustainable places over other less sustainable companies.


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