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Factba.se: Australia DFAT Country Briefs - United States


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The United States is a liberal democracy with a federal political structure comprising 50 states and the District of Columbia. The federal government is characterised by a separation of the powers of the executive from the legislative and judicial functions. The constituent states have significant powers of self-government.

Heading the executive is a President elected every four years in a national contest by universal suffrage. A presidential election is held every fourth year, and though millions of Americans vote in the election, the President is not directly elected by the people. On the first Tuesday in November of every fourth year, the people elect the members of the Electoral College. Apportioned by population to the 50 states — one for each member of their congressional delegation (with the District of Columbia receiving three votes) — these Electors then cast the votes for the President. There are currently 538 electors in the Electoral College.

The legislature, known as the Congress, consists of the 100-member Senate (http://www.senate.gov) and the 435-member House of Representatives (http://www.house.gov). Senators are elected on a state basis and serve six year terms. Each state is represented by two Senators. Representatives are elected from single-member constituencies and serve two year terms. Congress has sole powers to make US federal legislation and appropriate financial outlays, and operates through a system of committees. Legislation must be approved by both chambers to become law. The President can veto legislation, but can be overridden by two-thirds majorities in both chambers.

The Supreme Court (http://www.supremecourt.gov) is the highest judiciary body in the United States and leads the judicial branch of the US federal government. It consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and a number of Associate Justices decided by Congress. There are currently eight Associate Justices on the Supreme Court. The Justices are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The Court is the highest tribunal in the nation for all matters arising under the Constitution and the laws of the United States. It has the authority to invalidate legislation or executive actions which it deems to conflict with the Constitution.

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The United States has two broad party coalitions, the Democratic Party (http://www.democrats.org/) and the Republican Party (http://www.gop.com). The Democratic Party evolved from the party of Thomas Jefferson in the late 1700s. The Republican Party was formed by a coalition opposed to slavery led by Abraham Lincoln in the 1850s. Both parties embrace a wide variety of views and have supporters across the community.

Barack Hussein Obama (http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/president-obama) is the forty-fourth and current President of the United States of America. President Obama was elected in the November 2008 Presidential election on a Democratic Party ticket and his term commenced with his inauguration on 20 January 2009. The next Presidential election will be held in 2012

Congressional and gubernatorial elections took place on 2 November 2010. All 435 United States House of Representatives seats (http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/cong.html) and 36 of the 100 United States Senate seats (http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/cong.html) were contested, as well as 37 state governorships. The 112th US Congress was sworn in on 5 January 2011. The Republican Party now holds the balance of power in the Congress, with John Boehner (Republican-Ohio) the current Speaker of the House of Representatives. The Democratic Party retained control of the Senate and Senator Harry Reid (Democrat-Nevada) continues to serve as Senate Majority Leader. The next Presidential, Congressional and gubernatorial elections will be held on 6 November 2012.

For further information on the US political process, follow links to the US House of Representatives (http://www.house.gov/) the US Senate (http://www.senate.gov/) and the White House (http://www.whitehouse.gov/).

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A strong and close relationship with the United States serves Australia's national interests and brings us significant benefits. As the world's largest economy and strategic player, the United States has a significant influence in international affairs. We engage with the United States closely and advocate our views across a very broad range of international issues. While Australian and American interests converge on a majority of international policy issues, we do not agree on all issues. Where this is the case, Australia pursues its interests separately from the United States.

Australia and the United States established bilateral diplomatic relations on 8 January 1940, and 2010 marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries. Following the establishment of Australian and United States Legations in March and July 1940 respectively, the White House announced the elevation of the Legations to embassy status on 9 July 1946. Australia's first Ambassador to the United States, Norman J. O. Makin, presented his credentials to the US Government on 11 September 1946. The first US Ambassador to Australia, Robert Butler, presented his credentials on 25 September 1946.

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A key pillar of relations between Australia and the United States is the Security Treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the United States, the 'ANZUS' Treaty (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/dfat/treaties/1952/2.html) .The ANZUS Treaty was signed by the parties in San Francisco in 1951 and entered into force in 1952. It binds Australia and the United States to consult on mutual threats, and, in accordance with our respective constitutional processes, to act to meet common dangers.

Australia was one of the first countries to join the United States in the coalition to fight terrorism following the attacks on 11 September 2001. Australia invoked the ANZUS Treaty for the first time on 14 September 2001 to make a major contribution to combating terrorism.

The Alliance is the foundation of defence and security cooperation between Australia and the United States. This cooperation increases Australia's ability to protect itself and its interests by providing access to US intelligence resources, military technology, preferred status in military equipment purchasing, access to training courses and invaluable combined exercises.

Australia and the United States continue to cooperate globally to combat terrorism and proliferation, both bilaterally and in partnership with other countries and institutions. Australia believes the sustained engagement of the United States in the Asia Pacific provides support for regional stability and prosperity. Australia and the United States will continue to work with regional partners to maintain a stable and secure Asia Pacific region. They are also committed to working together to help shape international norms to advance vital shared interests in the domains of sea, airspace and outer space as well as to advance important matters related to cybersecurity.

Further information about the defence relationship is available on the Department of Defence website (http://www.defence.gov.au) .

The Australian-United States Ministerial (AUSMIN) Consultations (http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/us/ausmin/index.html) are held between foreign and defence ministers on a regular basis and are hosted alternately by Australia and the United States. AUSMIN was last held in Melbourne on 8 November 2010 and was hosted by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Kevin Rudd and Minister for Defence Stephen Smith, and attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The 2010 AUSMIN confirmed the enduring value of the Australia-US Alliance and its adaptability in meeting contemporary and evolving strategic challenges. Key issues of discussion and outcomes from AUSMIN 2010 are outlined in the Joint Communiqué (http://foreignminister.gov.au/releases/2010/kr_mr_101108.html). The next AUSMIN will be held in the United States in 2011.

Other consultations among senior officials include the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue (with Japan), policy planning talks, political-military meetings and military-military talks.

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The United States is by far the world's largest economy. US GDP was over US$14.3 trillion (2009) and represented around one quarter of global GDP. The United States is a major driver of the global economy and a world leader in terms of international trade and investment, research and development expenditure, stock market capitalisation and its share of large global corporations. Information about the US economy and economic outlook is widely available and constantly updated. The latest official economic indicators are available at the US Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/briefroom/BriefRm) and the US Bureau of Labour Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/) .

The US market comprises 50 states and one federal district. It is the fourth largest country in terms of geographic area and covers four time zones — six including Alaska and Hawaii. The United States should be treated as a series of regional markets with varying characteristics. Although the United States operates foreign investment restrictions in some sectors of the economy (airline ownership, telecommunications, and radio services) foreign investors are generally treated on an equal footing with domestic business. There are no restrictions on moving capital in or out of the United States (or between States) or on the repatriation of profits. A protocol amending the double taxation convention for Australia and the United States (http://www.treasurer.gov.au/tsr/content/pressreleases/2003/028.asp) entered into force from July 2003.

The United States is Australia's most important economic partner country (when goods, services and investment are combined). In 2009-10, it was our third largest two-way trading partner in goods and services with two-way goods and services trade worth $48.9 billion. The United States is also our most important two-way investment partner, accounting for around a quarter ($514 billion) of total foreign investment stock in Australia at end of December 2009. The United States is by far Australia's most important destination country for foreign investment abroad, with stock valued at $404 billion the end December 2009.

The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) (http://www.dfat.gov.au/fta/ausfta/index.html) entered into force on 1 January 2005. Upon AUSFTA's entry into force, more than 97 per cent of Australia's non-agricultural exports to the United States (excluding textiles and clothing) became duty free and two-thirds of agricultural tariff lines went to zero. Under AUSFTA, for the first time, Australian companies have access to the federal government procurement market in the United States and the government procurement markets of 31 US states. Over time, AUSFTA will increase bilateral investment and trade and provide more jobs and improved living standards for both countries.

Australia and the United States have a shared record of working together closely to promote global trade liberalisation for over 50 years. Australia has a vital interest in US policies on the international economy, trade and investment. We work effectively with the United States in the World Trade Organization (WTO) (http://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/negotiations) and pursue issues of common interest such as strategies to advance the Doha Round trade liberalisation agenda, especially in agriculture. Australia and the United States worked closely in establishing the G20 (http://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/g20/index.html) , and are partners in regional trade and economic fora, including Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) (http://www.dfat.gov.au/apec/index.html) .

Australia's strong economic links with the United States do not mean we agree on all trade issues. Indeed, Australia has a number of concerns about US trade barriers. For example, the size of US farm assistance packages in recent years has caused much concern. The Australian Government pursues our interests at every opportunity. Many of our trade priorities have been addressed in the AUSFTA and others we will continue to pursue bilaterally and in the WTO.

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Australia is a popular destination with American visitors — 480,000 Americans visited Australia in 2009. The United States is a major destination for Australian visitors; 724,000 Australians visited the United States during the same period.

Australian culture, from Indigenous art to Australian films, continues to stimulate the interest of Americans. The annual G'Day USA (http://www.australia-week.com/) program showcases all things Australian from trade and investment, food and wine, film, arts, fashion, lifestyle, to Indigenous culture and tourism. In 2011, the 14-day G'Day USA program involved over 40 events across eleven cities. In 2010, 12,000 people attended G'Day USA events and the program reached an estimated100 million people through the media. This exposure helps to promote Australia as a trade and investment partner, encourages and facilitates cooperation between Australia and the United States and presents a positive image of contemporary Australia to US audiences.

A growing number of Australian actors are taking on starring and award-winning roles on American movie and television screens. Australian creativity and expertise is being harnessed behind the scenes in areas such as cinematography and special effects. The cultural scene across the United States is enriched by Australian dancers, musicians, authors and artists.

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Australia and the United States enjoy strong people-to-people links based on common values and our historical and cultural bonds. Australians can apply for E-3 visas (http://canberra.usembassy.gov/e3visa.html) to live and work in the United States. Australia also has a Work and Holiday visa arrangement (http://www.immi.gov.au/visitors/working-holiday/australians-overseas/#e) with the United States, further strengthening our strong relationship and people-to-people links. The working holiday visa allows eligible Australians to stay and work for 12 months in the United States. In October 2002, the Australian and US Governments signed a bilateral social security agreement (http://www.ato.gov.au/businesses/content.asp?doc=/content/22164.htm) to provide improved social security protection to people who have lived and/or worked in both Australia and the United States. The social security agreement also exempts Australian employers from the need to provide American social security support for Australian employees sent temporarily to work in the United States.

The United States Studies Centre (http://ussc.edu.au) at the University of Sydney which was co-founded with the Australian American Association (http://www.americanaustralian.org.au/) and supported with a federal government grant of A$25 million in 2006, helps deepen Australian knowledge and understanding of the United States, and strengthen the underlying links between people and institutions in the two countries.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade sponsors a Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Australia–US Alliance Studies (http://www.fulbright.com.au/scholarships/australian/professional/DFAT.html). The Australian-American Fulbright Commission (http://www.fulbright.com.au/index.html) administers the scholarship, which aims to further develop our bilateral ties through the study of contemporary issues of interest to both alliance partners.

The Australian American Leadership Dialogue (http://www.aald.org/) is a bipartisan annual private initiative between Australia and the United States. The Dialogue brings together leaders from business, government, media and the community from both countries to exchange views on the bilateral relationship.

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Visits to the United States

Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited Washington DC and New York from 5 to 11 March 2011. Ms Gillard was afforded the rare honour of addressing a Joint Session of Congress in honour of the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the ANZUS Treaty. During her visit, the Prime Minister met President Barack Obama, as well as House Speaker John Boehner, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Federal Reserve Chairman Dr Ben Bernanke. Ms Gillard also held meetings with a range of leading figures in industry, finance and media sectors. Ms Gillard also met United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the UN headquarters in New York.

Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd, visited Washington DC and New York from 17 to 25 September 2010. In Washington DC, Mr Rudd met a range of senior figures in the US Administration including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (http://www.foreignminister.gov.au/transcripts/2010/100917_joint_press_conference.html) and US National Security Adviser General Jim Jones. The visit underlined the high priority that the Australian Government places on its relations with the United States, Australia's key strategic partner. Mr Rudd also visited the United Nations in New York to represent the Prime Minister at the UN General Assembly and deliver the General Debate statement on behalf of Australia.

Trade Minister, Dr Craig Emerson, visited Washington DC and New York from 20 to 22 September 2010 to promote global services trade reform, the Doha Round and Australian trade interests with the United States. Dr Emerson participated in a panel discussion at the Global Services Summit, and met with senior officials in the Obama Administration, including US Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk and Dr Michael Froman, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs and Development, and Congressional leaders.

Visits to Australia

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Australia in November 2010 to attend AUSMIN (http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/us/ausmin/index.html). President George W. Bush visited Australia in September 2007 to attend the APEC Summit in Sydney. The visit resulted in a number of significant bilateral agreements and outcomes, including a Treaty on Defence Trade Cooperation and a Memorandum of Understanding on work and holiday visas.

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Last Updated: April 2011

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