United States of America country brief
System of government
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 and the 435-member House of Representatives. 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 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.
The United States has two broad party coalitions, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. 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 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.
Congressional and gubernatorial elections took place on 2 November 2010. All 435 United States House of Representatives seats and 36 of the 100 United States Senate seats 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.
Bilateral relations overview
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.
Defence and security overview
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. 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.
The Australia-United States Ministerial (AUSMIN) Consultations 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 San Francisco on 15 September 2011 and was hosted by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and attended by then Minister for Foreign Affairs Kevin Rudd and the Minister for Defence Stephen Smith. The 2011 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 2011 are outlined in the Joint Communiqué. Australia will host the next AUSMIN during the second half of 2012.
Other consultations among senior officials include the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue (with Japan), policy planning talks, political-military meetings and military-military talks.
Trade, investment and economic overview
The United States is by far the world's largest economy. US GDP was estimated at over US$15 trillion in 2011 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 and the US Bureau of Labour Statistics.
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 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 2011, it was our third largest two-way trading partner in goods and services with two-way goods and services trade worth $54 billion. The United States is also our largest two-way investment partner, with two-way investment stock reaching almost A$1 trillion in December 2011.
The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) 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. Since AUSFTA entered into force, bilateral trade has grown by over 30 per cent.
Australia and the United States have a shared record of working together closely to promote global trade liberalisation for over 50 years. Australia and the United States worked closely in establishing the G20, and work together in global and regional trade and economic fora, including the World Trade Organization and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Australia and the United States are also negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (a regional free trade arrangement between Asia-Pacific countries).
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 TPP and WTO negotiations.
Tourism, culture and education overview
Australia is a popular destination with American visitors — 460,000 Americans visited Australia in 2011. The United States is a major destination for Australian visitors with 1,246,091 Australians visiting the United States in 2011.
Australian culture, from Indigenous art to Australian films, continues to stimulate the interest of Americans. The annual G'Day USA program showcases all things Australian from trade and investment, food and wine, film, arts, fashion, lifestyle, to Indigenous culture and tourism. In 2012, the 19-day G'Day USA program involved over 30 events across eight cities and generated extensive media coverage. 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..
People-to-people links overview
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 to live and work in the United States. Australia also has a Work and Holiday visa arrangement 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 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 was co-founded by the University of Sydney and the Australian American Association and supported with a federal government grant of A$25 million in 2006. The USSC 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. The Australian-American Fulbright Commission 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 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.
High level visits
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, Senator Bob Carr, made his first official visit to Washington DC from 20 to 26 April 2012. Senator Carr met senior figures in the US Administration including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and also senior members of Congress. The visit underlined the high priority that the Australian Government places on its relations with the United States, Australia's key strategic partner. Senator Carr visited New York from 1 to 5 July 2012 to participate in the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, the Economic and Social Council, and the Development Cooperation Forum. Senator Carr also engaged with senior United Nations officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,
The Minister for Trade and Competitiveness, Dr Craig Emerson, visited Washington DC and New York from 14 to 19 July 2012 for bilateral meetings including with senior members of Congress, and to participate in the 20th Anniversary of the American Australian Leadership Dialogue.
Visits to Australia
President Barack Obama made his first official visit to Australia from 16 to 17 November 2011 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the ANZUS alliance. The visit resulted in a number of significant outcomes, including on defence cooperation and cooperation to increase global growth, trade and jobs.
US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano visited Australia from 3 to 5 May 2012 for the Coral Sea anniversary.
Updated July 2012