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Australia

Capital Canberra
Continent Australia/Oceania
Code +61
Currency Australian dollar ($)
Languages English , English

Description

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. With an area of 7,617,930 square kilometers (2,941,300 sq mi), Australia is the largest country by area in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country. Australia is the oldest, flattest, and driest inhabited continent, with the least fertile soils. It is a megadiverse country, and its size gives it a wide variety of landscapes and climates, with deserts in the center, tropical rainforests in the northeast, and mountain ranges in the southeast.

Politically, Australia is a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy, comprising six states and ten territories. Australia's population of nearly 26 million is highly urbanized and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Canberra is the nation's capital, while the largest cities are Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide. Australia's demographics have been shaped by centuries of immigration, with immigrants accounting for 30% of the country's population, the highest proportion among major Western nations. Australia's abundant natural resources and well-developed international trade relations are crucial to the country's economy, which generates its income from various sources including services, mining exports, banking, manufacturing, agriculture, and international education.

Indigenous Australians have inhabited the continent for approximately 65,000 years. The European maritime exploration of Australia commenced in the early 17th century with the arrival of Dutch explorers. In 1770, Australia's eastern half was claimed by Great Britain and initially settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales from 26 January 1788, a date which became Australia's national day. The European population grew steadily in subsequent decades, and by the time of an 1850s gold rush, most of the continent had been explored by European settlers, and an additional five self-governing crown colonies were established. On 1 January 1901, the six colonies federated, forming the Commonwealth of Australia. Australia has since maintained a stable liberal democratic political system and wealthy market economy.

Australia is a highly developed country with a high-income economy; it has the world's twelfth-largest economy, tenth-highest per capita income, and eighth-highest Human Development Index. Australia is a regional power and has the world's thirteenth-highest military expenditure. Australia ranks highly in quality of life, democracy, health, education, economic freedom, civil liberties, and political rights, with all its major cities faring exceptionally in global comparative livability surveys. It is a member of international groupings including the United Nations, the G20, the OECD, the WTO, ANZUS, AUKUS, Five Eyes, the Quad, APEC, the Pacific Islands Forum, the Pacific Community, and the Commonwealth of Nations.

History

Aboriginal Australians first arrived on the Australian mainland by sea from Maritime Southeast Asia between 50,000 and 65,000 years ago, and penetrated to all parts of the continent, from the rainforests in the north, the deserts of the center, and the sub-Antarctic islands of Tasmania and the Bass Strait. The artistic, musical, and spiritual traditions they established are among the longest surviving such traditions in human history.

The first Torres Strait Islanders - ethnically and culturally distinct from Aboriginal Australians - arrived from what is now Papua New Guinea around 2,500 years ago, and settled in the islands of the Torres Strait and the Cape York Peninsula forming the northern tip of the Australian landmass.

The first known landing in Australia by Europeans was in 1606 by Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon. Later that year, Spanish explorer Luís Vaz de Torres sailed through, and navigated, what is now called Torres Strait and associated islands. Twenty-nine other Dutch navigators explored the western and southern coasts in the 17th century and named the continent New Holland. Macassan trappings visited Australia's northern coasts after 1720, possibly earlier. Other European explorers followed until, in 1770, Lieutenant James Cook charted the east coast of Australia for Great Britain. He returned to London with accounts favoring colonization at Botany Bay (now in Sydney).

The First Fleet of British ships arrived at Botany Bay in January 1788 to establish a penal colony, the first colony on the Australian mainland. In the century that followed, the British established other colonies on the continent, and European explorers ventured into its interior. Indigenous Australians were greatly weakened and their numbers diminished by introducing diseases and conflict with the colonists during this period.

Gold rushes and agricultural industries brought prosperity. Autonomous parliamentary democracies began to be established throughout the six British colonies from the mid-19th century. The colonies voted by referendum to unite in a federation in 1901, and modern Australia came into being. Australia fought on the side of Britain in the two world wars and became a long-standing ally of the United States when threatened by Imperial Japan during World War II. Trade with Asia increased and a post-war immigration program received more than 6.5 million migrants from every continent. Supported by the immigration of people from almost every country in the world since the end of World War II, the population increased to more than 25.5 million by 2020, with 30 percent of the population born overseas.

Government and politics

Australia is a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy. The country has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system under its constitution, which is one of the world's oldest, since Federation in 1901. It is also one of the world's oldest federations, in which power is divided between the federal and state, and territorial governments. The Australian system of government combines elements derived from the political systems of the United Kingdom (a fused executive, constitutional monarchy, and strong party discipline) and the United States (federalism, a written constitution, and strong bicameralism with an elected upper house), along with distinctive indigenous features.

The federal government is separated into three branches:

  • Legislature: the bicameral Parliament, comprising the monarch (represented by the governor-general), the Senate, and the House of Representatives.
  • Executive: the Federal Executive Council, which in practice gives legal effect to the decisions of the cabinet, comprising the prime minister and other ministers of state-appointed by the governor-general on the advice of Parliament.
  • Judiciary: the High Court of Australia and other federal courts, whose judges are appointed by the governor-general on the advice of Parliament.

Elizabeth II reigns as Queen of Australia and is represented in Australia by the governor-general at the federal level and by the governors at the state level, who by convention act on the advice of her ministers. Thus, in practice, the governor-general acts as a legal figurehead for the actions of the prime minister and the Federal Executive Council. The governor-general does have extraordinary reserve powers which may be exercised outside the prime minister's request in rare and limited circumstances, the most notable exercise of which was the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in the constitutional crisis of 1975.

In the Senate (the upper house), there are 76 senators: twelve each of the states and two each of the mainland territories (the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory). The House of Representatives (the lower house) has 151 members elected from single-member electoral divisions, commonly known as "electorates" or "seats", allocated to states based on population, with each original state guaranteed a minimum of five seats. Elections for both chambers are normally held every three years simultaneously; senators have overlapping six-year terms, except for those of the territories, whose terms are not fixed but are tied to the electoral cycle for the lower house; Thus, only 40 of the 76 places in the Senate are put to each election unless the cycle is interrupted by a double dissolution.

Australia's electoral system uses preferential voting for all lower house elections except Tasmania and the ACT which, along with the Senate and most state upper houses, combine it with proportional representation in a system known as the single transferable vote. Voting is compulsory for all enrolled citizens 18 years and over in every jurisdiction,  as is enrollment. The party with majority support in the House of Representatives forms the government and its leader becomes Prime Minister. In cases where no party has majority support, the Governor-General has the constitutional power to appoint the Prime Minister and, if necessary, dismiss one that has lost the confidence of Parliament. Due to the relatively unique position of Australia operating as a Westminster Parliamentary democracy with an elected upper house, the system has sometimes been referred to as having a "Washminster mutation", or as a Semi-parliamentary system.

Two major political groups usually form a government, federally and in the states: the Australian Labor Party and the Coalition, which is a formal grouping of the Liberal Party and its minor partner, the National Party. The Liberal National Party and the Country Liberal Party have merged state branches in Queensland and the Northern Territory that function as separate parties at a federal level. Within Australian political culture, the Coalition is considered center-right and the Labor Party is considered center-left. Independent members and several minor parties have achieved representation in Australian parliaments, mostly in upper houses. The Australian Greens are often considered the "third force" in politics, being the third-largest party by both vote and membership.

The most recent federal election was held on 18 May 2019 and resulted in the Coalition, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, retaining government.

Economy

A wealthy country, Australia has a market economy, a high GDP per capita, and a relatively low rate of poverty. In terms of average wealth, Australia ranked second in the world after Switzerland from 2013 until 2018. In 2018, Australia overtook Switzerland and became the country with the highest average wealth. Australia's relative poverty rate is 13.6%. It was identified by the Credit Suisse Research Institute as the nation with the highest median wealth in the world and the second-highest average wealth per adult in 2013.

The Australian dollar is the currency of the nation, including Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and Norfolk Island, as well as the independent Pacific Island states of Kiribati, Nauru, and Tuvalu. With the 2006 merger of the Australian Stock Exchange and the Sydney Futures Exchange, the Australian Securities Exchange became the ninth-largest in the world.

An emphasis on exporting commodities rather than manufactured goods has underpinned a significant increase in Australia's terms of trade since the start of the 21st century, due to rising commodity prices. Australia has a balance of payments that is more than 7% of GDP negative and has had persistently large current account deficits for more than 50 years. Australia has grown at an average annual rate of 3.6% for over 15 years, in comparison to the OECD annual average of 2.5%.

Australia was the only advanced economy, not to experience a recession due to the global financial downturn in 2008–2009. However, the economies of six of Australia's major trading partners were in a recession, which in turn affected Australia, significantly hampering its economic growth. From 2012 to early 2013, Australia's national economy grew, but some non-mining states and Australia's non-mining economy experienced a recession.

The Hawke Government floated the Australian dollar in 1983 and partially deregulated the financial system. The Howard Government followed with a partial deregulation of the labor market and the further privatization of state-owned businesses, most notably in the telecommunications industry. The indirect tax system was substantially changed in July 2000 with the introduction of a 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST). In Australia's tax system, personal and company income taxes are the main sources of government revenue.

As of June 2021, there were 13,154,200 people employed (either full-time or part-time), with an unemployment rate of 4.9%. Data released in mid-November 2013 showed that the number of welfare recipients had grown by 55%. In 2007 228,621 Newstart unemployment allowance recipients were registered, a total that increased to 646,414 in March 2013. According to the Graduate Careers Survey, full-time employment for newly qualified professionals from various occupations has declined since 2011 but it increases for graduates three years after graduation.

As of 2020 interest rates in Australia were set at a record low of 0.1%, targeting an inflation rate of 2 to 3%. The service sector of the economy, including tourism, education, and financial services, accounts for about 70% of GDP. Rich in natural resources, Australia is a major exporter of agricultural products, particularly wheat and wool, minerals such as iron-ore and gold, and energy in the forms of liquified natural gas and coal. Although agriculture and natural resources account for only 3% and 5% of GDP respectively, they contribute substantially to export performance. Australia's largest export markets are Japan, China, the United States, South Korea, and New Zealand. Australia is the world's fourth-largest exporter of wine, and the wine industry contributes A$5.5 billion per year to the nation's economy.

Access to biocapacity in Australia is much higher than the world average. In 2016, Australia had 12.3 global hectares of biocapacity per person within its territory, much more than the world average of 1.6 global hectares per person. In 2016 Australia used 6.6 global hectares of biocapacity per person – their ecological footprint of consumption. This means they use half as much biocapacity as Australia contains. As a result, Australia is running a biocapacity reserve.

In 2020 the Australian Council of Social Service released a report stating that relative poverty was growing in Australia, with an estimated 3.2 million people, or 13.6% of the population, living below an internationally accepted relative poverty threshold of 50% of a country's median income. It also estimated that there were 774,000 (17.7%) children under the age of 15 in relative poverty.

Australia's creative and cultural sectors contribute significantly to its national economy. The Australian Copyright Council (ACC) has been monitoring the industry using the WIPO-guided framework since 2011, with additional reports published in 2012, and 2014. The most recent study published in 2017 claimed that the copyright industries contributed $122.8 billion to the Australian economy in 2016 amounting to 7.4% of Australia's total economic output. The 2016 figure represented an increase of $8.5 billion, compared to 2011, with growth in value-added of 1.4% per annum (since 2011). Further, it found that the creative sectors collectively generated more economic output than the manufacturing, health care, and mining sectors in 2016, and moved from being the 7th largest Australian industry in 2011 to the 3rd largest in 2016.

Australia consistently ranked high in the Global Innovation Index (GII). In 2021, Australia ranked 25th out of the 132 economies featured in the GII 2021, down from 23rd in 2020 and 22nd position in 2019. In the 2021 GII report, Australia ranks 24th among the 51 high-income group economies and 6th among the 17 economies of South East Asia, East Asia, and Oceania. 

Culture

Since 1788, the primary influence behind Australian culture has been Anglo-Celtic Western culture, with some Indigenous influences. The divergence and evolution that has occurred in the ensuing centuries have resulted in distinctive Australian culture. The culture of the United States has served as a significant influence, particularly through television and cinema. Other cultural influences come from neighboring Asian countries, and through large-scale immigration from non-English-speaking nations.

Images

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Sydney Opera House

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Sydney Opera House

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Wineglass Bay Beach

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