Australia Geopolitics

The moves that Australia adopts on the international chessboard are directly influenced by its peculiar geographical position. Located in the heart of the OCE; ano Pacific, in the center between Southeast Asia and the American continent, Australia has learned to reap the benefits of its proximity to the two main world powers, the United States and China, and is orienting its his foreign policy choices in the regional and world scenario. Canberra therefore undertakes to maintain strong its important strategic-military link with the United States, its main ally since the end of the Second World War, while strengthening its economic relations with China. The latter, in 2009, became Australia’s largest trading partner and its imports allowed Canberra to avoid recession. A first clear sign of an approach to Chinese power had already taken place in 2007, when Kevin Rudd, then prime minister, established the withdrawal of Australia from the quadrilateral initiative shared with Japan, India and the United States, and strongly opposed by Beijing. This initiative, launched a few months earlier, aimed to re-establish the alliance system in the region, focusing a wider network of implicitly anti-Chinese alliances on bilateral ties between the member states of the Initiative. The former prime minister, Julia Gillard, also signed a historic agreement with the Beijing government in April 2013, under which the two countries undertake to hold an annual meeting of high-level ministers, thus guaranteeing the Australia valuable access to the new Chinese leadership. Furthermore, in 2015 Australia joined as a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, headed by Beijing and became its sixth shareholder, and signed a trade treaty with China.

However, the opening up to China has not translated into a cooling of relations with the United States, major investors in the country and main military suppliers: since the mid-2000s, these have supplied almost two-thirds of the weapons purchased by Canberra.

At the regional level, the state that historically is of crucial importance for Australia is Indonesia. Relations between the two countries are now characterized by ups and downs. On the one hand, in fact, despite some recent diplomatic incidents, Jakarta and Canberra continue to cooperate closely under the 2006 Lombok Treaty as regards defense, intelligence and anti-terrorism. From a purely geopolitical point of view, Indonesia constitutes a natural defensive barrier for Australia, in the airspace and, above all, in the maritime one, where many migrants transitseeking refuge in the country. On the other hand, the relationship with Indonesia can only be conditioned by Australia’s restrictive policy of refoulement of asylum seekers to the Indonesian coasts, which has recently caused tensions in relations between the two countries, already previously destabilized by accusations of espionage to the Indonesian damage by Indonesian politicians targeting Australia. In any case, the political-strategic agreement will also be consolidated by the increasingly intense commercial relations, especially in view of the forthcoming launch of the Indonesia-Australia Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (Cepa), whose negotiations are still ongoing. For Australia political system, please check

There are several free trade agreements formulated by Australia in recent years: in 2013 and 2014 they were signed respectively with South Korea and Japan, and new negotiations are also underway with India. In June 2015 Canberra and Beijing signed an important economic agreement for which Australia undertook to open the national market of services to Chinese investments indefinitely in exchange for the total reduction of customs tariffs on exports of 95% of Australian products to China . Furthermore, in order to remain faithful to its traditional US ally, in October 2015 the Canberra government was also one of the signatory countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (Tpp), the historic free trade agreement promoted by Washington with an anti-Chinese function. The close relationship with New Zealand appears stable in every sector and also relations with Japan – in the past undermined by various tensions – are expanding to areas other than purely economic ones, also concerning culture, tourism, defense and scientific cooperation.

Institutional organization and internal politics

Australia is a federal constitutional monarchy: alongside the central government, Australian institutions flank a federal element that originates from the pact stipulated between the six British Australian colonies at the time of the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia, in 1901, which became independent in the legislative field with the Statute of Westminster of 1931 (adopted by Canberra in 1942). Today the Empire’s six Australian colonies have become as many federal states, each headed by a governor. At the top of the executive is the Crown of England: Queen Elizabeth II is also Queen of Australia and is formally the head of state. The Constitution provides that the queen appoints a governor general who, acting as vicar representative of the royal house, is at the head of the armed forces, appoints ambassadors, ministers, judges and exercises an attenuated veto power. In the conduct of ordinary political life, however, the governor plays a substantially ceremonial role, similar to that exercised by the Crown in the English parliamentary monarchy. Subordinated to the governor and de facto holders of executive power, the prime minister and the government rely on the confidence of Parliament. The latter is divided into two branches: a chamber made up of 150 deputies lasting three years and a Senate of 76 members, in office for six years. The party system has evolved, since 1949, according to a predominantly bipolar model.

In 2007 the Australian Labor Party gained the parliamentary majority and managed to keep it for two terms, but underwent a serious downsizing in the 2010 elections. The last federal elections were held on 7 September 2013 and the next are scheduled for 2016. After two legislatures in which Labor government forces had repeatedly faced premiership crises and lack of support within the same party – involving the alternation of leaders Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard as prime minister -, the coalition of National and the Liberal Party had the upper hand again, winning a secure majority 90 seats in the House of Representatives. Despite the advantageous electoral result, the government led by Tony Abbott had to face a decline in popular approval, mainly due to the austere public spending policy undertaken. Also because of this, in September 2015 Malcolm Turnbull, former communications minister, managed to win an internal dispute in the Liberal party with 54 votes in favor and 44 against, thus deposing Abbott from the position of leader and, immediately after, from that of Prime Minister.

Australia Geopolitics