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Students get behind the wheels of government

Australian and Japanese students got hands on experience working within each country's political system in 2016 thanks to the National Parliamentary Fellowships Program (NPFP).

Under the NPFP, Australian students were placed in the offices of members of Japan's National Diet between February and May 2016 and completed research projects regarding important topics of public policy relevant to both countries.

The program is delivered in partnership with the Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE), an independent non-governmental institute that focuses on international relations and exchange, and is targeted at recent graduates or graduate students currently enrolled in Japanese and Australian universities with a strong interest in public policy and international relations.

In 2016, the two Australian NPFP Fellows were Mr Ben Ascione, a PhD candidate in international relations at the ANU, and Mr David (Sami) Murakami, of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Perth.

They were placed in the offices of the Hon Keizo Takemi (LDP) and the Hon Hideki Makihara (LDP) respectively for six weeks. Ben and David were also both placed in the office of the Hon Motohisa Furukawa (DPJ) for six weeks. David's research focused on Japan's monetary policy and Ben's on the influence of domestic politics on Japan's foreign policy.According to the Australian Fellows, this degree of access to the operations of Japanese politics was invaluable.

'By participating in the NPFP I was able to deeply immerse myself in the Japanese political world to deepen my understanding and gain a newfound appreciation, as well as consider and discover areas of politics not accessible from the literature,' says Ben.

'Taking part in the day-to-day life of politicians I could directly observe the influences that bear on their decision making including their office environment and support staff structure, supporter networks, party organisational structure and the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats.'

For David Murakami, the highlights of the NPFP included attending confidential, high level policy working group meetings as well as daily policy briefings from the various Japanese Government Ministries.

'I enjoyed liaising and networking directly with other LDP Diet Members' offices, gaining an 'insider's perspective' of key policy making mechanisms and 'learning by doing' the conduct of business and professional networking in Japan, and gaining first-hand experience as to the daily activities and responsibilities of a Japanese Diet Member,' says David.

Five people standing in a row.
Japanese Fellows Yuma Osaki (second from left) and Mana Takahashi (far right) meet with Australia-Japan Foundation and Japan Section staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra. Credit: Mana Takahashi, National Parliamentary Fellowships Program 2016.

The two Japanese fellows were Mr Yuma Osaki, a Masters student at Doshisha University in Tokyo, and Ms Mana Takahashi, a PhD candidate at Nagoya University.

Takahashi's research focused on Australia's law and justice development assistance model, in particular the case study of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

Yuma's research focused on Free Trade Agreement (FTA) strategies in the Asia-Pacific, using Australia's experience of negotiating and concluding bilateral free trade agreements with the Republic of Korea, China and Japan as a case study.

Both Mana and Yuma gained direct insight into the machinery of Australian democracy, attending Question Time and meetings with David Fawcett, (Liberal) of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade.

They also interviewed a range of key authorities on their respective fields of research, including Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials engaged in trade negotiations and government officials and academics instrumental to the design of Australian overseas law and justice assistance and the RAMSI project.

'Thanks to the support of the NPFP, I had many opportunities to interview Australian government officers, specialists of Solomon Island legislation, legal practitioners and other significant specialists to better understand the Australian law and justice assistance project in the Solomon Islands,' says Mana.

Regarding his experience, Yuma noted: 'The opportunity to be in contact with people, from enthusiastic students to leading researchers from around the world was an amazing chance to see issues from different perspectives.'

This pilot exchange program was supported by the Australia-Japan Foundation.

Last Updated: 14 March 2017
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