Saturday, October 25, 2008

Old Parliament House in Canberra

The thing that excites me most about visiting the Old Parliament House in Canberra is the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, but I figure I should also know some stuff about the building itself.

Well, here we go.  I've learned something already. I thought Old Parliament House was the one and only Parliament House in Canberra.  I figured the old was a kind of term of affection. You Old Yeller.  But it seems there's also a NEW Parliament House.  

I guess I'll look at the history of both.

Maybe Old Yeller is a bad example.  I can't think of any good ones.  Sorry.

Before Old Parliament House was overshadowed by NEW parliament house it was called Provisional Parliament House.

According to Lord Wiki, OPH was always seen as temporary--until something better comes along.   It's like the Meantime Girl.

There's no need to feel to sorry for OPH, though. He had a long time to suck up all the glory. The building opened in 1927 and the new one wasn't completed until 1988. Sixty-one years.   Wow.

The Parliament in Australia originally did their thing in Melbourne before moving on over to Canberra.

Now Lord Wiki is teaching me about Parliament itself.  He has his work cut out for him.  I'm horrible at government stuff.


I don't know.   Hopefully this will be one of those cases where I grow a better understanding by reading and writing this stuff down.

Parliament is the legislative branch of government.  It's made up of three things.

1. The Queen
2. The Senate
3.  House of Representatives

The queen herself doesn't really participate. She appoints a governor general to do the job.

Oh, this is nice.  The current Governor-General is female.  I had no idea about that. Her name is Quentin Alice Louise Bryce.

Tim and I talked about the issue of politicians' gender and race the other day.  Does race and gender matter?   Would I vote for someone just because they were of a certain race or gender?

No.  I wouldn't vote for someone I didn't like simply because they were black or because they were female.   But if there were two candidates I liked and one was male and one was female, I'd probably go for the female. I think it's high time we get a female in the White House. I think it's high time we get someone who isn't fully white and Protestant.  Do I want Sarah Palin in the White House. No! Definitely not.  But I do want Obama in and I voted for him.  I like him a lot--for many reasons.  But his race IS a factor.   I would still like him if he was a Caucasian.  Maybe.   If he was a Caucasian, he would be a different person with different experiences. He wouldn't be exactly himself.    Okay, but pretending there was an exact same guy with the  same opinions, experiences, and abilities who was white.....I'd like him, but I'd probably be a little less excited about him than I am about Obama.

Back to Canberra and it's first female Governor General.  Lord Wiki says MOST people were supportive of her appointment--including Kevin Rudd, Brendan Nelson (leader of the opposition) and the leader of the Australian Greens.

Bryce seems like a pretty okay person, but I do think Australia should get rid of the Governor-General thing and become a Republic. Just my opinion.

As for the other two pieces of Parliament:

The Senate has seventy-six members--twelve for each state and two for the mainland territories.

Two?  Is that fair?

What IS fair is that the seats are split evenly between the Labor and Liberal party.  It might not have been that fair for people who are in other political parties, but that balance of power is kept with something called the crossbench. This consists of representatives from the less popular political groups.

The House of Representatives currently has a hundred-fifty members, but this changes. Why? I'm not even going to try to figure it out. All this stuff goes way over my head.

I'm going to go back to the Old Parliament House building.   Lord Wiki says it was designed by John Smith Murdoch.  Is he related to the other Murdoch?   Lord Wiki doesn't say, but he does say that this Murdoch designed a lot of the buildings in Canberra.

I'm going to take a break from Lord Wiki because he's getting a bit too wordy.  Is that like the pot calling the kettle black?

I'm now looking at the official website of the Old Parliament House.   It seems now it's a sort of museum.

Oh!  It's cheap!!  Only two dollars for adults.  Okay, sorry but if you didn't know already....the economy of my country has kind of tanked.  We need all the help we can get.

This website says the Prime Minister is a member of the House of Representatives. I didn't know that.  I really am slow when it comes to politics.

There's a a guy named Frank Forde who was Prime Minster for only eight days.  Wow.  I definitely have to look him up.  

Okay, Forde took over when Curtin died after World War II.   I guess he didn't do such a great job.  Another Labor leader replaced him--Ben Chifley.

Time to move on to the new Parliament House.   Lord Wiki says it cost over one billion dollars.
I had the impression that they had started working on the new building early on and something went wrong--budget issues, a strike, etc.   But the original idea was that the provisional Parliament House would be in service for about fifty years.  I guess that would make sense.   If it was going to more temporary, why build such a pretty building?  They could have just built a shack and put the Parliament in there.

It wasn't until 1978 that they decided to go and ahead and start making a new building. So, that's only ten years.  Not too bad.

Those in charge held a contest to see who should design the building.  Australia seems to do this a lot. Is it my imagination?   Who knows.  America might do it too--hold contests to decide who will design a building. I know about as much about architecture as I do politics.

Anyway, the winner was an Italian-American--Romaldo Giurgola.

The building was supposed to be done and opened on the Bicentennial of Australia Day. It was about three months late. Queen Elizabeth herself opened the building.

I'm now looking at the New Parliament House's website.  You can actually sit in and watch the government people do their thing.  I'd love to do that, but I don't think I'd want to stay for the whole time.  I wonder if you can go in for a brief viewing and then leave.  

Well, here we go. If I don't want to sit through the whole thing,  I can watch it on my computer!   How cool is that. Although I'm trying to watch it now and I'm just hearing this inspiring music. I'm not learning much about Australian politics, but I have this sudden urge to change the world. Actually, it reminds me of the type of music you hear at Epcot.   I now have an urge to ride on Spaceship Earth.

I'm not quite having any luck listening to anything in the parliament, unfortunately. But I did find this. You can see all the bills that are currently being....well, whatever bills do or have done to them. I guess they're the ones currently being considered.

Speaking of bills, does Australia have something like School House Rock?   If it does, I should totally watch it. I bet it would help me understand all this. While I'm at it, I should probably watch the American version as well.


  1. I'd so love to go see PH in Canberra. We went to the one in the NT recently - kinda funny because we've lived up here 4 years now, my husband works right near it, but we never thought to have a tour.

    If it's possible to sit in on Question Time, I highly recommend it. It's... an experience, for sure. LOL.

    The Senate has seventy-six members--twelve for each state and two for the mainland territories. Two? Is that fair?

    You have to remember that the 2 mainland territories (ACT and NT) each have about the same size population as a single Sydney suburb.

    I found it easier to compare a Prime Minister to the Speaker of the House in the US - it works much the same way, except combined with the executive role.

    Australia did in fact have a referendum on becoming a republic. Maybe 1998? (sure someone will correct me!) My husband says it didn't pass mainly because no one could agree on who/what was going to replace the current system. But Big Kev and his gang are pro-republic and have said so, so...we shall see!

  2. Tors,

    It's funny how we don't see things in our own city. We haven't gone to any government buildings here--well, except the places you go to vote, get a passport, etc.

    We did go to Austin and walked through the capital.

    I'm guessing one day Australia might be a Republic--might take awhile.

    That is a good question though. What would replace the current system? I'm sure they could figure something out.

  3. Australia is like the US in that it has a federal government (very few countries are federations). The former british colonies took what they were already using - the Westminster system and crossed it with the US system by incorporating a senate. Australian Political scientists refer to it as the "Washminster System". The Australian PM is drawn from the house of reps from the party that wins a majority there. The US president is directly elected by the people in a vote separate from the lower house. Therefore the president could be from a party that does not hold a lower house majority, the Aussie PM cannot. The US president is both head of executive government and the head of state, the Aussie PM is only the head of the executive. The Governor General is head of state but she is selected solely by the elected PM and not the Queen. The Queen appoints the GG on the advice of the PM.

    On Barrack Obama - he will be elected on the content of his character - not the colour of his skin. MLK will be smilling at last.

    Incidently, Quentin Bryce was the former Queensland Governor. Queenslanders now occupy four of the five most important jobs in the country. The PM, the Treasuer, The Governor General and the Captain of the Kangaroos ARL side (The other job is the Test Cricket Captain - currently held by Tasmanian, Ricky Ponting

  4. Paul,

    Thanks for the explanations!

    Could the queen veto who the PM choses for GG? And has that ever happened? Or does she usually stay out of Australia's affairs?

    I know that Whitlam was kicked out of his office as PM, but don't know that many details yet. How involved was Britian in that?

    How much interest does Britian currently seem to have in Australia?

    Wow. Queensland really is popping out those powerful people ; )

  5. Hi Dina, the Queen can put who ever she likes there, but always follows the PM's suggestion because it would be seen as if the Monarchy is meddling in Australian affairs and is a sure fire way of making Australia a Republic.

    The reason the House of Reps changes is because we have one member of parliment for every 150,000 (i think) and in the Senate half are elected every three years so members are there for 6 years.

    I would definately recommend Old Parliment House as it is a museum and covers Australia's political history up until 1988 and has a lot of information on the Whitlam sacking.

  6. Matt,

    Thanks for the info! That makes perfect sense about the queen. It would probably cause a stink if people thought she was meddling in Australia's affairs.

    How does the UK feel about Australia becoming a Republic--I mean the Monarchy itself. I'm sure within the general public there's a great variety of opinions.

    Yeah, I would really love to see the Old Parliament House.

  7. Well the Queen has always said that the Republic is a decision for Australia to make, but im sure that they don't want it to happen as i think if we become a republic you will see a few other countries follow (a bit like dominio's falling) and it really would be the end of the british empire.

    We did have a referendum on becoming a Republic in 1999, but the problem was the PM at the time was John Howard who is a Monarchist, so he changed the wording of the question where the President was elected by parliment and not the people so it was defeated, but i think now it is only a matter of time because it is one of the Labour Parties policies and the opposion leader Malcolm Turnbul was the leader of the republican movement in 1999.

  8. Matt,

    I didn't realize that there were so many countries that are part of the British Commonwealth. I had to look it up.

    It seems Australia does have a good chance of becoming a Republic. I guess we shall see....

  9. I visited the new PH in 1988, shortly after it was opened.

    They'd spent AUS$1000 million on it - and that was back in the days when a thousand million dollars was considered to be a lot of money! I was very disappointed by it. It seemed a soulless and boring place which was characterised by utter confusion in its style and misfired attempts at grandeur. The worst of all is the "biggest flag pole" in the world. I think that towards the end of construction it became obvious that the place looked like a cross between a railway culvert and a military bunker. In desperation to give some kind of distinction to it the project managers fell back on the Australian fondness for "big" landmarks (The Big Pineapple, Banana, Crayfish, etc.) and whacked The Big Flagpole on top. The cost of maintaining it and regularly replacing the giant flag that flies from it is a shocker.

    Put simply; I hate the bloody place. I think they should have built something dignified by extending the old House to provide new office space and so on and just left the crest of the hill bare.

  10. Retarius,

    You know what your comment reminds me of.....When the Coca-Cola company did that whole New Coke thing and then had the Classic Coke.

    Change is hard. Not just because we humans take time to adjust, but because often the new thing is worse than what we were used to.

    I'm still upset that Disney World got rid of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and replaced it with a bland Winnie-the-Pooh-Ride.

    Disney World is one of the worst when it comes to changes. They keep getting rid of stuff that I loved.