The first place you will want to see when visiting the Australian capitol of Canberra is the home of the Australian government at the new Parliament House. The new Parliament House was officially opened in 1988 to replace the Old Parliament House that housed the government since earlier in the century. The new Parliament House is constructed inside of a hill in the very center of Canberra overlooking the Old Parliament House, Lake Burley-Griffin, and the numerous monuments located in the national capitol:
To visit the Parliament House you might want to take a cab because it is quite a walk from local hotels and crossing the highway that circles the Parliament House can be quite treacherous. However, touring the Parliament House is quite easy once there. Just walk up to the front of the building, get your bag checked by security, and walk through a metal detector and you are in. Compared to security at the US capitol building it is quite amazing how easy it is to get into the Australian Parliament House:
Once in the Parliament House you will enter a huge foyer made of marble. Look closely at the marble stones that make up the foyer and you will see fossils in the marble that was imported from Belgium. Some of the other marble was donated from Portugal and Italy. About 90% of the Parliament House is made of native Australian materials, but the imported marble was included in the construction because they were gifts to Australia from the respective governments:
Also in the foyer you can sign up for a guided tour of the building which I highly recommend, or you can just walk around by yourself on your own self guided tour of the building. Yes self guided, that is hard to believe from someone coming from America. You can pretty much walk where ever you want in the building without no one harrassing you. I probably could have walked to the Prime Minister’s office and had coffee with him without anybody stopping me. One of the areas you will want to check out is the Great Hall where state banquets are held at. The ballroom is quite large and features a huge tapestry painted to look like an Australian eucalyptus forest. The artwork in the tapestry is quite impressive and there are some hidden things in the tapestry that the guide will point out such as a cockatoo:
Past the Great Hall are displays depicting important moments in Australian history such as the documents signed by the Queen of England declaring Australia an independent country. I just found it amazing that documents equivalent to our American Declaration of Independence or Constitution were sitting right in front of me behind of piece of glass with no security hovering over me:
Walking around the exhibits on the second floor if you look down you will see a fountain. The sounds of the water from the fountain echo through the chamber and is quite a calming sound and is supposed to represent the many waterfalls in Australia. However, the fountain has a different purpose other than soothing a parliament person’s nerves after a long day of politics. The noise of the water was in fact put into place to cover the hushed voices of the politicians as they talk to each other so they cannot be overheard because the massive corridors of the Parliament House do reflect echoes quite well:
Finally the big thing you want to check out are the actual parliament chambers themselves. The Australian government has two chambers of government much like the US, but a big difference between the two governments is that the Australian head of government is elected through the parliament and not a direct vote. That is why the head of government is called a Prime Minister instead of a President. Here are pictures of each parliament chambers:
Something else that is quite unusual about the Australian government is that a seat is reserved for the Queen’s representative. As little as 20 years ago the Queen’s representative reserved the right to veto legislation of the Parliament and to remove the Prime Minister. The Queen’s representative currently still maintains a seat in the parliament chambers even though the representative’s powers have been greatly reduced today.
Here is more about the Australian government from Wikipedia:
Under Section 1 of the Constitution, the Queen of Australiais one of the components of Parliament. The constitutional functions of the Crown are delegated to the Governor-General, whom the Queen appoints on the advice of the Prime Minister. Various other functions are assigned to the Governor-General by the Constitution and by legislation. However, by constitutional convention, the Governor-General does not normally exercise these powers, except upon the advice of the Prime Minister or other ministers.
The upper house of the Australian Parliament is the Senate, which consists of 76 members. Like the United States Senate, on which it was modelled, the Australian Senate includes an equal number of Senators from each state, regardless of population. The Constitution allows Parliament to determine the number of Senators by legislation, provided that the six original states are equally represented. Furthermore, the Constitution provides that each original state is entitled to at least six senators. However, neither of these provisions applies to any newly admitted states, or to territories. Pursuant to an Act of Parliament passed in 1973, senators are elected to represent the territories (excluding Norfolk Island). Currently, the two Northern TerritorySenators represent the residents of the Northern Territory and the Indian Ocean Territories (Christmas Islandand the Cocos (Keeling) Islands). The two Australian Capital TerritorySenators represent the Australian Capital Territory and the Jervis Bay Territory.
Finally the last thing you want to do when visiting the Parliament House is to take the elevator to the top of the building and enjoy the view. From the top you can sit on the grass and enjoy the view of the surrounding hills, mountains, and sites of Canberra:
The above picture shows Canberra tower in the background with Lake Burley-Griffin in the foreground.
The obelisk you see in the distance in the above picture is the Australian-American Memorial. Here is a look at the major downtown area of Canberra known as Civic:
All in all a half a day exploring the Parliament House in Canberra was a great way to learn more about the Australian government, history, and get oriented to the surrounding city. Also if you visit the Parliament House when parliament is in session you can actually sit in and listen to the proceedings. On some days the Australian politicians will actually take questions from the people sitting in the audience. For people really into politics this might be an interesting opportunity for you.
I’m more into learning about Australian history and taking pictures, which the Parliament House provided plenty of for me. Once again I highly recommend you take the guided tour where you can learn some interesting tid bits about Australian history and the Parliament House in general.
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