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Editors: Timothy L. Gall , Susan Bevan Gall , and Derek M. Gleason
Date: 2012
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Country overview
Length: 6,204 words
Content Level: (Level 4)
Lexile Measure: 1120L

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Capital: Canberra
Flag: The flag has three main features: the red, white, and blue Union Jack in the upper left quarter, indicating Australia's membership in the Commonwealth of Nations; the white five-star Southern Cross in the right half; and the white seven-pointed federal star below the Union Jack. The flag has a blue ground. Of the five stars of the Southern Cross, four have seven points and one has five points.
Anthem: Advance Australia Fair.
Monetary Unit: The Australian dollar (AUD) is a paper currency of 100 cents. There are coins of 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents and 1 and 2 dollars, and notes of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollars. AUD1 = US$1.02 (or US$1 = AUD0.98) as of January 2012.
Weights and Measures: Metric weights and measures are used. The Australian proof gallon equals 1.37 U.S. proof gallons.
Holidays: New Year's Day, 1 January; Australia Day, 26 January; Labor Day (Western Australia), 5 March; Anzac Day, 25 April; Queen's Birthday, second Monday in June; Christmas, 25 December; and Boxing Day, 26 December. Movable religious holidays include Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. In addition, several state holidays are observed in different parts of the country.
Time: There are three time zones in Australia. Australian Eastern Standard Time (10 p.m. = noon GMT) is used in New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, Tasmania, and Queensland; Australian Central Standard Time (noon GMT = 9:30 p.m.) is used in South Australia and Northern Territory; and Australian Western Standard Time (noon GMT=8 p.m.) is used in Western Australia.

Location and Size

Lying southeast of Asia, between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, Australia is the world's smallest continent. Australia is slightly smaller than the United States, with a total area of 7,741,220 square kilometers (2,988,885 square miles) and a total coastline of 25,760 kilometers (16,007 miles). Australia's capital city, Canberra, is located in the southeastern part of the country.


The continent of Australia is divided into four general topographic regions: (1) a low, sandy eastern coastal plain; (2) the eastern highlands extending from Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland southward to Tasmania; (3) the central plains, including the Great Artesian Basin; and (4) the western plateau, covered with great deserts and "bigger plains" (regularly spaced sand ridges and rocky wastes). The average elevation is less than 300 meters (1,000 feet). The highest point is Mount Kosciuszko, 2,229 meters (7,350 feet), in the Australian Alps of the southeastern corner of New South Wales. The lowest point is Lake Eyre in South Australia, 15 meters (49 feet) below sea level.

The most important river system, and the only one with a permanent, year-round flow, is formed by the Murray, Darling, and Murrumbidgee Rivers in the southeast. The Darling River, a tributary of the Murray, is the longest in the country with a length of 2,739 kilometers (1,702 miles). The Murray, with a length of 2,589 kilometers (1,609 miles), rises in the Australian Alps of New South Wales and empties into the sea below Adelaide, South Australia. Several other rivers are important, but for the most part they carry great amounts of water in the wet season and are dry for the rest of the year.

The largest lakes have no outlet and are usually dry. The largest lake is Lake Eyre with an area of 9,500 square kilometers (3,668 square miles). The coastline is smooth, with few bays or capes. The two largest sea inlets are the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north, between Arnhem Land and the Cape York Peninsula, and the Great Australian Bight in the south. The Great Barrier Reef, the longest coral reef in the world, extends for about 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) off the east coast of Queensland.

Australia is the lowest and flattest continental landmass on Earth.


Although it has many different climatic conditions, Australia is generally warm and dry, with no extreme cold and little frost. July mean temperatures average 9°C (48°F) in Melbourne in the southeast and 25°C (77°F) in Darwin in the north. January mean temperatures average 20°C (68°F) in Melbourne and 30°C (86°F) in Darwin.

Except for a few areas where rainfall is heavy, rainfall is insufficient. Mean annual rainfall is 42 centimeters (17 inches), much less than the world mean of 66 centimeters (26 inches). Droughts and floods occur frequently.

Australia had its third-wettest year in 2010, with the second half of the year being the wettest on record. The rainfall helped end drought conditions that had persisted since 1996 in the southeast and across the Murray-Darling Basin. It also replenished water storages in the basin from 26 percent in January 2010 to 80 percent by January 2011. The floods resulted in the deaths of at least nine people, destroyed properties in central and southern inland parts of Queensland, ruined crops, and disrupted mining. More than 200,000 people and 70 towns were affected, and damage was estimated at $1.02 billion.

Plants and Animals

It is estimated that there are 15,638 plant species in Australia. In addition, Australia hosts 376 mammals, 851 birds, 880 reptiles, and 229 amphibians. The coastal areas were home to 4,000 fish, 1,700 coral, and 50 marine mammal species.

Many distinctive forms of plant and animal life are found, especially in the coastal and tropical areas. The government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade stated the continent's geographic isolation had allowed a range of unique flora and fauna to thrive. Some notable vegetation includes the Wollemi Pine (which as a species dates back 65 million years), cycad palms, grass tree plants, and a variety of wildflowers including the waratah, Sturt's desert pea, banksia, kangeroo paws, and more than 600 species of acacia.

The country has the third most extensive mangrove area in the world, covering over one million hectares (2.5 million acres). Mangrove refers to the diverse habitat of tropical trees and shrubs growing near the seacoast, sometimes called mangrove forest or tidal forest. As of January 2012, there were 19 natural U.N. World Heritage Sites in Australia and 64 Ramsar Wetland Sites.


As of 2006 Australia had designated 73.41 million hectares (181.39 million acres) of land for protection The 2011 State of the Environment report cited climate change as a significant issue, noting that average surface temperatures rose by nearly 1°C (1.8°F) between 1910 and 2009.

The government committed $2.25 billion in 2008 to develop its "Caring For Our Country" program. The initiative has supported the use of indigenous land and sea management practices to rescue the Great Barrier Reef, repair coastal ecosystems, save the endangered Tasmanian Devil, control feral animals and weeds, improve water quality, and expand its indigenous protected area network.

Despite these measures, both natural and human-made disasters are ongoing environmental concerns. Australia's dry hot climate creates conditions favorable to periodic devastating bushfires. Deadly and damaging cyclones occasionally occur along the coastal regions. And in April 2010, a large Chinese vessel carrying 65,000 tons of coal ran aground in a restricted section of the Great Barrier Reef, rupturing its fuel tank and spilling tons of thick oil sludge into the reef. Scientists estimated that it could take the reef 20 years to recover from the trauma.


Human beings may have inhabited what is now Australia as long as 100,000 years ago. The Aboriginals, the first inhabitants, migrated to Australia from Southeast Asia at least 40,000 years before the first Europeans arrived on the island continent. The Aboriginals developed a rich, complex culture and numbered about 300,000 by the 18th century. However, with the onset of European settlement, conflict and disease reduced their numbers significantly.

The first recorded explorations of the continent by Europeans took place early in the 17th century. It was then that Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish explorers sailed along the coast and discovered what is now Tasmania. However, none took formal possession of the land until 1770, when Captain James Cook claimed possession in the name of Great Britain.

The first settlement was a British penal colony at Port Jackson (now Sydney), founded in 1788. As the number of free settlers grew, the country developed, the interior was penetrated, and six colonies were created: New South Wales in 1786, Van Diemen's Land in 1825 (renamed Tasmania in 1856), Western Australia in 1829, South Australia in 1834, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859.

Sheep raising and wheat growing were introduced and soon became the backbone of the economy. The discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851 attracted thousands of prospectors, and in a few years the population had quadrupled.

Until the end of the 19th century, Australia's six self-governing colonies remained separate. However, the obvious advantages of common defense and irrigation, and many other joint functions, led to the federation of the states into the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.

In July 1998, the government passed amendments to the 1993 Native Title Act removing time limits for land claims by native groups. In September 1999, Australian troops led UN-sanctioned peacekeeping forces into Timor-Leste (East Timor) in response to violence following a referendum on independence from Indonesia. A November 1999 referendum on transforming Australia from a commonwealth into a republic was defeated in all six states.

In spite of the apparent unpopularity of the Howard government's involvement in Iraq, in October 2004 the prime minister won a fourth term in office. Howard's Liberal Party-National Party coalition also won 39 out of 76 seats in the Senate and 87 seats out of 150 in the House of Representatives.

In elections held 24 November 2007, the Labor Party, under the leadership of Kevin Rudd, unseated the incumbent coalition government led by John Howard. Rudd, who was once ambassador to China, was likely to work to strengthen relations between that country and Australia.

The government led by Howard had refused to issue an apology to the country's Aborigine population. Rudd acted quickly to put an apology motion before parliament. The motion passed unanimously. In a speech, Rudd called special attention to the "Stolen Generations," as thousands of Aborigines are known. Until the late 1960s, young Aboriginal children were taken away from their families because the government felt they needed to give up their traditional way of life and learn to live in mainstream Australian society.

In early 2007, Rudd said that reducing greenhouse gas emissions was a top priority for his government. Also in 2007, the government initiated a controversial intervention in the Aboriginal communities of the Northern Territory by sending military and social service workers into the communities. The Racial Discrimination Act was temporarily suspended in order to allow the intervention. The primary goal was to reduce widespread child abuse and alcoholism. Some argued that the intervention program was discriminatory and led to greater stigmatization of the people. About 45,500 Aborigines from 500 communities were affected. The five-year intervention was to end in August 2012.


In 2011 estimates of Australia's net migration rate amounted to 9 migrants per 1,000 citizens. The total number of emigrants living abroad was 442,800, and the total number of immigrants living in Australia was 6 million. The government granted 13,799 visas under its Humanitarian Program from 2010 to 2011. Of that total, 4,828 visas were granted to individuals already in Australia, while 8,971 visas were granted to a total of 54,396 applicants from primarily the Middle East and East Africa.

From 2009 to 2010 citizenship was granted to 119,791 people from 185 countries. The highest numbers of new citizens were from the United Kingdom, India, China, South Africa, and the Philippines. As of 2012, Australia did not recognize children born after 20 August 1986 as natural-born Australian citizens unless one of their parents was either a citizen or permanent resident at the time of their birth.

There was a growing concern regarding the threat posed by Islamic radicals born or raised in Australia. In response to that threat, a new program tightened entry requirements for visitors from ten high-risk nations. The government expected to spend $62 million on fingerprint and face scanners. The Australian government also announced plans to develop community-based programs designed to end radicalism by promoting the integration of various ethnic groups into mainstream society.

Armed Forces

The Australian armed forces numbered 56,552 active personnel in 2011. The Army consisted of 28,246 active members, while the Navy had 14,250 active personnel, and the Air Force had 14,056 active members. Armed forces represented 0.5 percent of the labor force in Australia. Defense spending totaled $27 billion and accounted for 3 percent of GDP.

Australia is divided into six states and two territories. The government consists of the British sovereign, represented by a governor-general, and the Australian Parliament. Officially, executive power belongs to the governor-general and an executive council. In practice, however, it is normally exercised by a cabinet chosen and presided over by a prime minister, representing the political party or coalition with a majority in the House of Representatives.

Voting is universal for all persons 18 years of age and older. Voting is compulsory in national and state parliamentary elections.

Legislative power is exercised by the Parliament, which is composed of a 76-member Senate, representing the states and territories, and a 150-member House of Representatives, representing electoral districts. Twelve senators are elected from each state and two senators each from the Northern Territory and Capital Territory. House membership is not quite double that of the Senate, with a minimum of five representatives for each state. There are two members from the Australian Capital Territory and one from the Northern Territory. Parliament must meet at least once a year.

In February 1998, a constitutional convention voted to institute a republican form of government in Australia, replacing the British monarch as head of the government. However, a November 1999 popular referendum on the issue failed to carry even a single state.

Judicial System

The High Court of Australia consists of a chief justice and six associate justices appointed by the governor-general. It is the supreme authority on interpreting the Australian constitution and has the authority to decide whether state and federal legislation is constitutional. Special cases may be referred to a 25-member federal court that deals with commercial law, copyright law, taxation, and trade practices. There also is a family court.

States and territories have their own court systems. Cases receive their first hearing in local or circuit courts, magistrates' courts, children's courts, or higher state courts.

Political Parties

The Labour Party is a trade union party, officially socialist in policy and outlook. The Liberal Party represents business interests, while the National Party (formerly the Country Party) is allied with farmers. Smaller parties include the Democratic Labour Party, the Communist Party, the Australian Democrats Party, and the Green Party.

In elections held 24 November 2007, the Australian Labour Party (ALP) lead by Kevin Rudd unseated the incumbent coalition government. Three years later Prime Minister Rudd was forced out of his post by his own party as a result of a series of unpopular decisions. On 24 June 2010, Julia Gillard was sworn in as his replacement. The 21 August 2010 parliamentary elections resulted in the first minority government since World War II. For more than two weeks after the vote, officials worried over the prospect of political deadlock, while party members turned their sights on winning official support from the four independent seat holders. Prime Minister Gillard retained her position after two of these independents offered their backing to her ALP. After serving as the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott became Prime Minister on 28 September 2013.

As of January 2012, the governor-general was Quentin Bryce, who had held the position since 5 September 2008. Bryce was replaced by Sir Peter Cosgrove on 28 March, 2014.

Tourism and Recreation

It is reported that there were 6 million incoming tourists to Australia in 2009; they spent a total of $28 billion. Of those incoming tourists, there were 3 million from East Asia and the Pacific, and 1 million from Europe. There were 692,327 hotel beds available in Australia, which had an occupancy rate of 63 percent. The estimated daily cost to visit Canberra, the capital, was $394. The cost of visiting other cities averaged $370.

The government actively promotes tourism and in 2010 launched a $20 million, four-year brand campaign to promote the nation as a prime destination for trade, tourism, and investment. Among Australia's natural tourist attractions are the Great Barrier Reef, a popular destination for scuba divers; the varied and unusual plants and animals; and the sparsely inhabited outback regions, which in some areas may be toured by camel. Other attractions include Ballarat and other historic gold-rush towns near Melbourne. Arts festivals held in Perth every year and in Adelaide every two years, featuring foreign as well as Australian artists, are also popular.

Social Development

The Commonwealth Social Services Act of 1947, as amended, provides for invalid and old age pensions and a variety of other benefits. Government pensions are payable to men at age 65 and women at age 62.5 (as of 1 July 2000 and rising gradually to age 65 by 1 July 2013). The government provides allowances to families for every child born. Widows' pensions also are provided.

The Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 bars discrimination on the basis of gender, marital status, or pregnancy. Discrimination on the basis of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin is prohibited by law.

Aboriginal Australians have poorer standards of living. They also have higher rates of imprisonment and lower life expectancy.

Ethnic Groups

Most Australians are of British or Irish ancestry. In 2010, approximately 92 percent of the population is Caucasian. The Asian-born population tally stood at 7 percent, while Aboriginal and other groups comprised only 1 percent of the population.

It was reported in 2011 that the Aboriginal and other populations would reach between 713,300 and 721,000 by 2021. Many of them live on government reservations in the north and northwest. Their social organization is among the most complex known to anthropologists. They are nomadic hunters and food gatherers, without settled communities. Though the Aboriginals were given full citizenship rights, they generally continued to suffer from discrimination and a lower living standard than Australians of European descent.


There are over 400 different languages spoken in Australian homes. According to a 2006 census, about 79 percent of the population spoke English, 2 percent spoke Italian, 1 percent spoke Greek, 1 percent spoke Cantonese (a form of Chinese), 1 percent spoke Arabic, and 1 percent spoke Vietnamese. About 14 percent of the population used languages other than the above stated languages or did not specify a primary language. There are no class variations of speech, and few if any local dialects, except among the Aboriginal population. Aboriginal languages are in use in certain schools in the Northern Territories and, to a lesser extent, in schools of other states.


According to the 2006 census, 64 percent of Australian citizens considered themselves Christians, including 26 percent Roman Catholic and 19 percent Anglican. About 20 percent of Australians considered themselves to have no religion. Less than 0.03 percent claimed to practice Aboriginal religions. There were 88,000 members of the Jewish community.

The constitution protects freedom of religion and prohibits the formation of a state religion. However, Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Christmas are observed as national holidays.


Australia has a total of 812,972 kilometers (505,157 miles) of roads, of which 341,448 kilometers (212,166 miles) are paved. There are 687 vehicles per 1,000 people in the country. Railroads extend for 9,674 kilometers (6,011 miles). There are 465 airports, which transported 50 million passengers in 2009. Australia has approximately 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) of navigable waterways.

In addition to the fine natural harbors of Sydney and Hobart, many other harbors have been artificially developed. There are about 70 commercially significant ports. The Australian overseas airline, Qantas, carries more than three million passengers per year to and from Australia, nearly 40 percent of the total carried by all airlines serving Australia. There are international airports at Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, and Townsville.

Famous Australians

The most highly regarded contemporary Australian writer is Patrick White (1912-1990), author of The Eye of the Storm and other works of fiction and winner of the 1973 Nobel Prize for literature. Henry Lawson (1867-1922) was a leading short-story writer and creator of popular ballads. Germaine Greer (b. 1939) is a writer on feminism. A prominent Australian-born publisher of newspapers and magazines, in the United Kingdom and the United States as well as Australia, is Keith Rupert Murdoch (b. 1931).

Three renowned scholars of Australian origin are Sir Gilbert Murray, O.M. (1866-1957), classicist and translator of ancient Greek plays; Samuel Alexander, O.M. (1859-1938), influential scientific philosopher; and Eric Partridge (1894-1979), authority on English slang. Mary Helen MacKillop (1842-1909) was an Australian Roman Catholic nun who dedicated herself to the care of needy children and the promotion of education; she was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, becoming the first Australian saint.

Sir Howard Walter Florey (1898-1968) shared the 1945 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for the discovery of penicillin. An outstanding bacteriologist was Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet, O.M. (1899-1985), director of the Melbourne Hospital and co-winner of the 1960 Nobel Prize for medicine. Elizabeth Kenny (1886-1952) made important contributions to the care and treatment of infantile paralysis victims. Sir John Carew Eccles (1903-1997) shared the 1963 Nobel Prize for medicine for his work on ionic mechanisms of the nerve cell membrane.

John Warcup Cornforth (b. 1917) shared the 1975 Nobel Prize for chemistry for his work on organic molecules. Peter C. Doherty (b. 1940) shared the 1994 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his work in immunology. Barry J. Marshall (b. 1951) and J. Robin Warren (b. 1937), both Australians, shared the 2005 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their discovery of the Helicobacter pylori bacterium, which causes stomach ulcers and gastritis.

The Tasmanian native Elizabeth Blackburn (b. 1948) was a co-recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine, along with her U.S. colleagues, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak. Working in the United States, the team of three researchers discovered the process through which the ends of a chromosome (called telomeres) are copied with the help of the enzyme known as telomerase.

Among Australia's most prominent film directors are Fred Schepisi (b. 1939), Bruce Beresford (b. 1940), George Miller (b. 1943), Peter Weir (b. 1944), and Gillian Armstrong (b. 1950); film stars have included Australian-born Errol Flynn (1909-1959), Paul Hogan (b. 1940), US-born Mel Gibson (b. 1956), Nicole Kidman (b. 1967), and Heath Ledger (1979-2008).

Leading Australian-born figures of the theater include the actors Dame Judith Anderson (1898-1992) and Cyril Ritchard (1898-1977) and the ballet dancer, choreographer, and stage actor and director Sir Robert Murray Helpmann (1909-1986).

Musicians of Australian birth include the operatic singers Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931), John Brownlee (1901-1969), Marjorie Lawrence (1907-1979), and Dame Joan Sutherland (b. 1926) and the composers Percy Grainger (1882-1961), Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960), Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912-1990), and Peter Joshua Sculthorpe (b. 1929).

Popular singers include Helen Reddy (b. 1941) and Olivia Newton-John (b. UK, 1948). Alfred Hill (1870-1960) is regarded as the founder of the art of musical composition in Australia.

Albert Namatjira (1902-1959), an Aranda Aboriginal, achieved renown as a painter, as did Sir Sidney Robert Nolan (1917-1992) and Arthur Boyd (1920-99), who was a sculptor as well as a painter. The aviator Sir Charles Edward Kingsford-Smith (1897-1935) pioneered flights across the Pacific Ocean. A popular figure of folklore was the outlaw Ned (Edward) Kelly (1855-1980).

From about 1970 to 1990, the tennis world was dominated by such Australian players as Frank Sedgman (b. 1927), Lewis Hoad (1934-94), Kenneth Rosewall (b. 1934), Rod (George) Laver (b. 1938), John David Newcombe (b. 1944), and Evonne Goolagong Cawley (b. 1951). Sir Donald George Bradman (1908-2001) was one of the outstanding cricket players of modern times. Record-breaking long-distance runners include John Landy (b. 1930) and Herb Elliott (b. 1938). Jon Konrads (b. 1942) and his sister Ilsa (b. 1944) have held many world swimming records, as did Dawn Fraser (b. 1937), the first woman to swim 100 meters in less than a minute, and Murray Rose (b. 1939).

A notable modern Australian statesman is Sir Robert Gordon Menzies (1894-1978), who served as prime minister from 1939 to 1941 and again from 1949 to 1966. Subsequent prime ministers have included Edward Gough Whitlam, who held office from 1972 to 1975; John Malcolm Fraser, who succeeded Whitlam late in 1975; Robert James Lee Hawke, who served from 1983-91, Paul John Keating, who succeeded Bob Hawke in 1991; and John Winston Howard, who began his term as Australia's 25th prime minister in 1996; he was reelected four times, becoming the most electorally successful prime minister since Menzies.


Education is compulsory for children from the age of six to fifteen (sixteen in Tasmania). Primary education generally begins at six years of age and lasts for six or seven years, depending on the state. Free education is provided in municipal kindergartens and in state primary, secondary, and technical schools. Secondary education lasts for five or six years; four years of lower secondary, followed by another one or two years of upper secondary. There are also state-regulated private schools, which are attended by approximately one-third of Australian children.

In 2008 it was estimated that 97 percent of age-eligible children in Australia were enrolled in primary school. Secondary enrollment for age-eligible children stood at 88 percent. Tertiary enrollment was estimated at 77 percent. Of those enrolled in tertiary education, there were 100 male students for every 130 female students. Overall, Australia had a literacy rate of the 99 percent. Public expenditure on education represented 5 percent of GDP.

Australia has approximately 20 universities in addition to more than 200 technical institutes. There is a state university in each capital city and each provincial area, a national postgraduate research institute in Canberra, and a university of technology in Sydney with a branch at Newcastle. There are also a number of privately funded higher education institutions including theological and teacher training colleges. Adult education includes both vocational and nonvocational courses. Most universities offer education programs for interested persons.


Australia is one of the healthiest countries in the world. The common cold and other respiratory infections are the most prevalent forms of illness; arteriosclerosis is the most common cause of death. In 2011 that life expectancy in Australia was 82 years. The country spent 17 percent of its GDP on healthcare, amounting to $3,867 per person. There were 30 physicians, 96 nurses and midwives, and 38 hospital beds per 10,000 inhabitants. The fertility rate was 2, while the infant mortality rate was 4 per 1,000 live births. In 2008 the maternal mortality rate was 8 per 100,000 births. It was also estimated that 94 percent of children were vaccinated against measles. The HIV/AIDS prevalence in Australia was calculated to be about 0.1 percent in 2009.

The federal and state governments fund approximately 69 percent of healthcare spending, through a government-funded program. The private sector funds the remaining percent.


According to 2006 national census figures, there were about 8 million dwellings in the nation. About 70 percent were owner-occupied private dwellings. Central heating, formerly found only in the most modern and expensive homes and apartments, is generally available in the coldest areas of the country. Most apartments and houses are equipped with hot water, refrigeration, and indoor bath and toilet facilities.

Home sales slowed in 2010 and 2011 due to an increase in interest rates as well as the end of the First Home Owner Grant that had been in effect since 2000.


The estimated population of Australia in 2011 was approximately 23 million. Approximately 14 percent of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 18 percent under 15 years of age. The median age in Australia was 38 years. There were 1.00 males for every female in the country. The population's annual rate of change was 1.15 percent. The projected population for the year 2025 was 26 million. Population density in Australia was calculated at 3 people per square kilometer (8 people per square mile).

It is estimated that 89 percent of the population lived in urban areas, and that urban populations had an annual rate of change of 1 percent. The largest urban areas, along with their respective populations, included Sydney, 4 million; Melbourne, 4 million; Brisbane, 2 million; Perth, 2 million; and Canberra, 384,000.

One-third of Australia is virtually uninhabited; another third is sparsely populated. The total population is small compared to the large land mass. More than 80 percent of the population is concentrated within 100 kilometers (60 miles) of the coast.


In 2009 it was reported that there were 9 million telephone landlines in Australia. In addition to landlines, mobile phone subscriptions averaged 111 per 100 people. There were 262 FM radio stations, 345 AM radio stations, and 1 shortwave radio station. Internet users numbered 72 per 100 citizens. Prominent newspapers in 2010, with circulation numbers listed parenthetically, included the Herald Sun (575,317), Daily Telegraph (500,000), and the Sydney Morning Herald (225,861), as well as 64 other major newspapers. The major news agency is the Australian Associated Press. Many international news services have bureaus in Sydney.

In 2009 there were some 24 million mobile cellular phones in use. International service was provided by 19 satellite ground stations and submarine cables to New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia. In 2010, the country had about 13 million Internet hosts. In 2009, there were about 16 million Internet users in the nation.


Roughly 6 percent of the total land is farmed, and the country's major crops include wheat, barley, sugarcane, and fruits. Cereal production in 2009 amounted to 35 million tons, fruit production 4 million tons, and vegetable production 2 million tons.

Agriculture declined from 20 percent of GDP in the 1950s to about 3 percent in 2010. Still, Australia remained an important producer and exporter of agricultural products as well as a major world supplier of cereals, sugar, and fruit. According to the government, Australia was one of the world's largest exporters of raw cotton and exported more than 90 percent of the cotton it produced. Rice also was grown for domestic use and export, primarily to Japan.

Australia's wide climate differences permit the cultivation of a range of fruits, from pineapples in the tropical zone to berry fruits in the cooler areas of temperate zones. Orchard fruit trees included orange, apple, pear, and mango. Production of fruit included oranges, bananas, pineapples, pears, peaches, tangerines, lemons and limes, apricots, grapefruit, mangoes, and plums. Australia's wine industry was also growing.

Domesticated Animals

It was reported that Australia dedicated 373 million hectares (922 million acres) to permanent pasture or meadow in 2009. During that year, the country tended 95 million chickens, 28 million head of cattle, and 2 million pigs. The production from these animals amounted to 917,807 tons of beef and veal, 485,242 tons of pork, 829,440 tons of poultry, 130,952 tons of eggs, and 5 million tons of milk. Australia also produced 252,000 tons of cattle hide and 370,601 tons of raw wool.

About 52 percent of Australia's land is used in stock raising. Animal husbandry is concentrated in the eastern highlands, but it spreads across the wide interior spaces and even to low-rainfall areas, in which up to 12 ha (30 acres) are required to support one sheep and from which cattle must be taken overland hundreds of miles to coastal meat-packing plants.

Energy and Power

Traditionally Australia has had to rely on coal-burning steam plants for about three-quarters of its public power requirements. The remainder has been supplied by hydroelectricity, gas turbines, and internal combustion generators. It was reported in 2008 that Australia produced 257 billion kilowatts per hour of electricity and consumed 240 billion kilowatts per hour, or 11,044 kilowatts per hour per capita. Roughly 95 percent of energy came from fossil fuels, while 1 percent came from alternative fuels. Per capita oil consumption was 6,071 kilograms.


Fishing is relatively unimportant, even though the Australian Fishing Zone is the third largest in the world. In 2008 the annual capture totaled 178,576 tons and the export value of seafood totaled $939 million.


Approximately 19 percent of Australia is covered by forest. It was reported in 2009 that roundwood production was 25 million cubic meters (894 million cubic feet). The value of all forest products, including roundwood, totaled $2 billion.

Limited softwood resources had become seriously depleted, but new plantations were established in the 1980s at a rate of 33,000 hectares (81,500 acres) annually. Softwood plantations supply more than half the timber harvested annually.


Australia is the world's leading exporter of alumina, bauxite, coal, diamond, ilmenite, iron ore, refined lead, rutile, and zircon. Western Australia was the largest gold producer, producing 222,000 kilograms in 2009. Australia has around 8 percent of the world's gold resources, and in terms of output ranks fourth in the world, behind China, South Africa and the United States, respectively.

Australia was the leading bauxite producer in 2009, with 64 percent coming from Western Australia. In 2009, Australia produced 19,948,000 tons of alumina and 65,231,000 tons of bauxite. Australia also ranked second in iron ore (with 17 percent of world production), mined cobalt, and mined zinc; ranked fourth in mined gold (with 10 percent of the world's output); and was fifth in mined copper. Australia produced 1,635 metric tons of mined silver in 2009.

In 2009, Australia produced 220,000 carats of gem diamond, and 10,575,000 carats of industrial diamond. Western Australia, produced nearly twice the amount of diamond as any other country in the world, able to supply 30 million carats a year.

In June 2010, Prime Minister Gillard forged a compromise with mining companies to tax profits on coal and iron ore at 30 percent. This legislation replaced state royalty taxes on mining projects with a uniform national rent tax beginning in 2012. This will shift the tax burden from low profitability projects to more profitable ones.


Economic growth in Australia has been helped by its small population, large geographic size, and many natural resources. Most exports are derived from its agricultural and mining sectors. As of 2012 the Australian economy had not suffered a recession since the early 1990s.

Economic activity is focused on the country's eastern seaboard, where most of the population lives. There is a clear divide in economic performance between the states: typically, growth in South Australia and Tasmania is considerably below the overall national rate, and Western Australia is heavily dependent on mining.


In 2010 it was estimated that Australia's GDP was $883 billion. The per capita GDP was estimated at $41,000. The annual growth rate of GDP was 3 percent. The average inflation rate was 3 percent. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 4 percent of GDP, industry 25 percent, and services 71 percent.

As of 2011, individual consumption in Australia was 66 percent of GDP and accounted for 1 percent of world consumption. By comparison, the United States accounted for 26 percent of world individual consumption.


In proportion to its total population, Australia is one of the world's most highly industrialized countries. In 2008, the manufacturing industry accounted for 27 percent of the GDP. The industrial growth rate that year was 2 percent.

Australia produces most of its own foods, as well as its beverages, building materials, many common chemicals, some domestic electrical appliances, radios, plastics, textiles, and clothing. In addition, most of its needed communications equipment, farm machinery (except tractors), furniture, leather goods, and metal products are domestically produced. From 2003 to 2010, Australia has seen the rapid growth of high-tech industries including aircraft, communications and other electronic equipment, electrical appliances and machinery, pharmaceuticals, and scientific equipment.


As of 2010, Australia had a total labor force of 12 million people. Within that labor force, it was estimated in 2009 that 4 percent were employed in agriculture, 21 percent in industry, and 75 percent in the service sector.

The federal minimum wage was increased in 2010 to $570 a week from $544. A parental leave benefit took effect in January 2011. The Fair Work Act became effective in 2010, replacing a previous Workplace Relations Act as the basic labor law for private-sector workers. The law requires companies to negotiate with workers in good faith if they wish to form unions and allows union representatives greater access to workplaces.

Foreign Trade

Australia imported an estimated $236 billion worth of goods and services in 2011, compared with $169 million in 2009. Major import partners in 2010 were China, the United States, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Germany, and Malaysia.

Major import commodities were machinery and transportation equipment, computers and office machines, telecommunications equipment and parts, and crude oil and petroleum products.

Australia's exports for 2011 were estimated at $266 billion compared with $155 billion in 2009. Major export partners were China, Japan, South Korea, India, and the United States. Major export commodities were coal, iron ore, gold, meat, wood, aluminum products, wheat, machinery and transportation equipment.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ2171100009