Capital city: Canberra (Australian Capital Territory), Sydney (New South Wales), Darwin (Northern Territory) , Brisbane (Queensland), Adelaide (South Australia), Hobart (Tasmania), Melbourne (Victoria), Perth (Western Australia)
Population: 25,763,214 (2021)
Land area: 7.692 million km²
Official language: None
Legal system: English common law, statutes
Time zone: GMT+10
Currency: Australian dollar (AUD)
GDP: 1.36 USD Trillion (2020)
Main industries: Financial and insurance services, construction, healthcare and social assistance, mining, professional, scientific and technical services, manufacturing
Principal exports: Iron ore, coal, gold, and petroleum
Australia is one of the most ethnically diverse nations in the world. Within its population of about 25 million people, around a quarter of the population were born overseas. Migrants commonly come from the United Kingdom, India, China, New Zealand and Philippines. For the year ending 30 September 2020, net overseas migration contributed to 38.6% of the annual population growth in Australia. In South Australia and Tasmania, net overseas migration even exceeded natural increase and became the major contributor to population increase. The main ethnic groups of the Australian population are English and Australian, accounting for 25.9% and 25.4% respectively. This is followed by Irish (7.5%), Scottish (6.4%), Italian (3.3%), German (3.2%), Chinese (3.1%), Indian (1.4%) and Greek (1.4%).
The official language of Australia is English, and in fact around 70% of the population speak English at home. To help new migrants or humanitarian entrants better integrate into the community, the Australian government provides free English language tuition to them through the Adult Migrant English Programme (AMEP).
Australia is the second largest country in the Commonwealth. Located on one of the driest continents in the world, Australia’s climate is generally arid to semiarid as less than 500 millimetres of rain is recorded annually in 70% of the mainland. Desert makes up around 18% of the Australian mainland.
While desert is located in central Australia where temperature is extremely high and rain may not fall, coastal areas in Australia have much less extreme climate. The northeastern coastal part has a tropical climate as it is the place where rain forests are located and rainfall is concentrated. On the contrary, the climate in the southeast and southwest is more temperate to warm.
Australia’s unique and diverse ecosystem promotes biodiversity. Many animal species can only be found in Australia, for example platypus, kangaroo and koala. In addition, tropical rain forests are home to myriads of plants and animal species. Moreover, as the largest coral reef system in the world, the Great Barrier Reef provides shelter to a variety of species of fish, mollusk and crustaceans.
With its diverse environmental conditions and ecosystems, it is not surprising that Australia is one of the few countries in the world that has more than 10 UNESCO natural World Heritage Sites. Apart from the Great Barrier Reef, other famous heritage sites include the Greater Blue Mountains Area, Fraser Island and Kakadu National Park.
The original inhabitants of Australia were the Aboriginal people. They have migrated from Asia to Australia at least 60,000 years ago. In 1770, unlike Dutch explorers who were doubtful about the value of Australian land, Captain James Cook of the British Royal Navy charted the east coast, found that it was fertile, and took possession of it on behalf of the British monarch. The discovery of gold in 1851 attracted people from all over the world to migrate to Australia. In 1901, the British Parliament passed legislation to enable six separate British colonies to jointly form the federal Commonwealth of Australia. Australia has become an independent nation since then.
As the Australian system of government is heavily influenced by the US “Washington” model and the British Westminster model, it is often referred to as a “Wash-minster” model. As mentioned, Australia is a federation of six states, namely New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. Each state has its own government, Governor and Parliament. The federal government, headed by the Prime Minister, has no power to override the decisions made by the state government except in accordance with the federal Constitution. The overall federation model in Australia is regarded as being influenced by the US system of government. Apart from a federation, Australia is a constitutional monarchy. Sharing a monarchy with the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and other Commonwealth realms, Australia’s head of state is Queen Elizabeth II. Her powers and functions are all delegated to the Governor-General by the Constitution. The Governor-General is required to act as advised by the Ministers or Parliamentary Secretaries of the Federal Executive Council. Moreover, Australia is a parliamentary democracy. As defined under the Constitution, the Parliament of Australia consists of the Queen, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Parliament is vested with the powers of enacting laws, authorizing the use of public money and keeping government activities under scrutiny. Following the Westminster model, Australia adopts the idea of responsible government, meaning that the executive government is directly accountable to the Parliament.
The legal system in Australia is the English common law system, with cases and legislation being the major sources of law, and a judiciary that is independent from other branches of the government. The Australian court system consist of the High Court of Australia and other federal courts.
Australia’s economy is one of the strongest and most stable in the world. According to the International Monetary Fund, Australia’s economy is the 12th largest in the world in 2021. Notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian economy outperformed many other advanced economies, recording a real GDP change of -2.4% in 2020 when compared to 2019, as opposed to an average of -4.9% for all advanced economies. Australia’s strong and resilient economy can be attributed to government policies promoting open and fair trade, business-friendly regulatory approach and a highly diversified economy with a focus on the services sector. The services sector accounts for over 70% of Australia’s gross domestic product and employs 80% Australians. A highly educated workforce contributes to the development and growth of the services sector and trade in Australia.
Australian trade is underpinned by the following five globally significant and diverse industries: mining and energy, agriculture, wealth management, tourism and education. As one of the world’s third largest exporter of resources and energy, and in particular the world’s largest exporter of iron ore, it is estimated that export earnings of Australia’s resources and energy will amount to a record A$296 billion in 2020-2021. In addition, with a reputation for agricultural products of high standard and good quality, Australia is one of the major global producers and exporters of agricultural products. Regarding the finance and wealth management sector, the pool of investment fund assets managed by Australia is the eighth largest in the world, amounting to US$2.2 trillion in September 2020. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, international and domestic traveler spending in Australia amounted to A$139 billion in 2019. As around three-quarters, or A$107 billion in 2019, of tourism spending comes from domestic travelers, Australia’s tourism industry is not as hard-hit by the pandemic as one may anticipate. In fact, the tourism industry is recovering as borders have been opened to allow the resumption of domestic regional travel. Furthermore, Australia is the third most popular destination for tertiary education. For instance, the Australian National University, the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney are some of the best universities in the world.
Australia maintains strong trade links with Asian countries. The Asian region contributed around three-quarters of two-way trade in goods and services in 2019-2020. In particular, Asia is a major customer of Australian agricultural exports. 12 of the top 15 export destinations for food and fibre are located within Asia. Asia is also the biggest purchaser of Australia’s resources and energy. In relation to the education sector, about 80% and 90% of international students and international higher education students come from Asian countries respectively. Among all Asian countries, China contributed the most towards Australia’s trade and economy, and it has always been Australia’s largest two-way trading partner in recent years.
As a founding member of the modern Commonwealth, Australia has been very active in Commonwealth organizations, programmes and meetings. Australia is the third largest contributor to the Commonwealth budget. In particular, it has invested heavily in the Commonwealth development programmes that promote democracy, good governance and human rights. Apart from providing financial support, Australia is one of the only six countries that has participated in every Games held since 1930. It has also hosted the most Commonwealth Games. In fact, the most recent Games were hosted by Australia on the Gold Coast in 2018. Consistent with its excellent track record, Australia was the best performing nation in the 2018 Games, winning a total of 198 medals, 80 of which were gold.