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Australia

Yearbook 2004

Australia. In February, Australia and the United States entered into a free trade agreement, which means that customs duties are abolished on most goods traded between the countries. The US has virtually free access to the Australian market, while exceptions have been made for important Australian agricultural products. Australia's sugar export, which was the major dispute in the negotiations, was left out of the agreement. US tariffs on Australian meat will be phased out for 18 years. Many of Australia's farmers condemned the agreement, which they say favors their American counterparts.

2004 AustraliaBy 2007, Australia's defense budget will more than double, Defense Secretary Robert Hill announced in February. He pointed out that Australia was given greater responsibility through its alliance with the United States in Iraq and in the fight against terrorism. In July, Australia also joined the controversial nuclear defense system the United States is developing.

To prevent terrorist attacks on the country's ships, ports and oil rigs, the Australian Government planned to create a security zone that extends far beyond the territorial waters of the country from March 2005 to the south of New Zealand to the north of Indonesia. The purpose is to monitor and be able to stop foreign vessels located within the zone.

2004 Australia

According to CountryAAH, legal experts warned that the measures could be in violation of international maritime law. As another measure against feared terrorist attacks, security at regional airports was increased. In addition, the government planned to increase security at the country's embassies abroad. That decision was made following a bomb attack at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in September, when nine people were killed and at least 180 injured.

Two different reports on the government's actions during the Iraq war came during the year. The investigation had been preceded by harsh criticism of Prime Minister John Howard, first for his support of the US-led war and then for exaggerating the threat from Iraq.

In March, the report was published by a parliamentary committee, which largely freed the government from accusations of exaggerating the details of weapons of mass destruction to justify the war. The Committee noted that although the government expressed sharper on the issue than the country's intelligence service, it was more cautious than the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom.

In July, independent investigator Philip Flood came to the same conclusion, but added that the decision to join the war coalition was based on "thin, ambiguous and incomplete" information.

Australia had about 900 soldiers in Iraq during the year and according to Howard, the force would remain at least until July 2005. Mark Latham, who took over as Labor leader in December 2003 and who criticized the Iraq war, promised to take the soldiers home earlier if Labor won the parliamentary election on October 9. But Howard and his Conservative government took home the electoral victory and could begin their fourth term. In the election campaign, the incumbent government focused on the country's growing economy and downplayed the criticized support for the United States.

The government coalition retained its majority in the House of Representatives and also gained control of the Senate, where the opposition parties previously held a majority. It was the first time in several decades that a government received the majority in both chambers of parliament.

A group of Aborigines formed the first national political party for the indigenous people in May. According to the founders, the party, Your Voice, was created because of dissatisfaction with the government's policy towards Aborigines. A few weeks earlier, the government had closed down the Aboriginal autonomous commission ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission), on the grounds that its operations were ineffective and unsuccessful. ATSIC was replaced in November by an Aboriginal advisory body, the National Indigenous Council (NIC).

During the year, two serious riots occurred among Aborigines, in protest of what they considered to be racist police violence. In February, 40 police in riots in Sydney were injured after an Aboriginal boy died in connection with a police intervention. In November, a few hundred Aborigines burned down the police station and City Hall on Palm Island in protest of the death of a man in a drunken cell at the police station.

The federal and state governments agreed in June on a ten-year plan to conserve the country's water resources following the severe drought that hit Australia in recent years. The plan includes: a strategy to preserve the country's longest river system and a reduction in irrigation.

A softening of the government's tough refugee policy came in July. Migration Minister Amanda Vanstone then announced that the approximately 9,500 asylum seekers who have had temporary so-called protection visas since 1999 would be entitled to apply for a permanent residence permit. One reason for the change is that the workforce of the refugees is needed. However, not everyone was expected to have their applications granted.

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