I'm a classic car nut and know very little about anything made since steel bumpers and carburettors went out of fashion. However, my partner who is quite an inexperienced driver needs to start commuting in Sydney and needs something relatively modern and automatic. She would like something "cute" like a VW Beetle or a Citroen C3, whereas I'd be inclined to recommend something more mainstream, but with good safety features and driver appeal e.g. BMW E90, Volvo C30 or Subaru Impreza G3. Our budget is $15,000.
With your budget you would be looking at a 2010/2011 VW Beetle, which had a regular automatic transmission and not the troublesome DSG that was fitted in later models. That’s a big tick for the Beetle. The Citroen C3 is a decent car, but an orphan in the sense that there weren’t many sold and you won’t find a dealer on every corner. As for the BMW, they’re too expensive to service and repair if you use a dealer, and they have too many niggling issues that spoil the great driving experience. The Subaru Impreza is well worth looking at, but my pick of that bunch would be the Volvo C30.