Australia – island continent

Australia, island continent located southeast of Asia and forming, with the nearby island of Tasmania, the commenwealth of Australia, a self governing member of the Commenwealth of Nations. The commenwealth of Australia is made up of six states–News south Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Wester n Australia–and two territories–the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

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Australia, including Tasmania but excluding external territories, covers a land area of 7,682,300 sq. km, extending from Cape York (100 41′ S) in the north some 3,680 km to Tasmania (430 39′ S), and from Cape Byron (1530 39′ E) in the east some 4,000 km west to Western Australia (1130 9′ E).

Basic Data

Population (estimates), July 1995, 18,322,231, with the age structure under 15 (female 1,929,366; male 2,032,238), 15-64 (female 6,017,362; male 6,181,887), 65 and over(female 1,227,004; male 934,374). Population growth rate is estimated at 1.31% (1995 est.). Literacy rate age 15 and over can read and write (1980 est.).

English is the official language, with modern Australian English a conglomerate of British, American, and their own phraseology and spelling. Because Australia is one of the most multicultural nations in the world it is possible to find vibrant ethnic communities using almost every other world language.Australian school children have the highest rate of learning Asian languages, particularly Japanese and Chinese, of any industrialized western nation – in recognition of their future as a member of the Asia-Pacific region.

Labor force is 8.63 million(september 1991) by occupation of finance and service 33.8%, public and community services 22.3%, wholesale and reatail trade 20.1%, manufacturing and industry 16.2%, agriculture 6.1%(1987).

Political System

Australia has a federal system of government, and a long history as a multiparty parliamentary democracy. There is no written Bill of Rights, but fundamental rights are ensured by law and respected in practice.

The Commonwealth (federal) government and the six state governments operate under written constitutions that draw on the British tradition of a Cabinet Government, led by a Prime Minister, which is responsible to a majority in Parliament’s lower house. The Federal Constitution, however, also contains some elements that resemble American practice (e.g., a Senate, in which each state has equal representation). The Head of State is Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning British monarch, but she exercises her functions through personal representatives who live in Australia (i.e., Australian citizens who serve as the Governor-General of Australia, and the Governors of the six states). Australians are debating whether their country should become a republic, give up ties with the Queen, revise the constitution, and adopt a new flag.

Members of the Federal House of Representatives are elected for three years, and national elections were last held in March, 1993. Lower-house elections, thus, are due no later than mid-1996, but earlier scheduling is a matter of discretion. (The Prime Minister may recommend that the House be dissolved at any time, and the Governor-General traditionally follows such advice.) Current political commentary focuses on two likely “windows” for national elections: August- October, 1995, and March-May, 1996.

Members of the Senate are elected for six years. June 30, 1996 is the next date on which Senators’ terms expire, and a regular election for half the members of the Senate is due before that time, but no earlier than July, 1995.

Under complex conditions specified in the federal Constitution — in essence, extended deadlock between the House and Senate — both houses may be dissolved simultaneously, so that ensuing national elections would involve all seats in Parliament. This “double dissolution” is unusual, and has occurred only six times since the Constitution entered into effect (1901).

All major parties support the U.S.-Australia alliance and stress the importance of close relations between Australia and the United States. Thus, this longstanding and stable pattern is essentially unaffected by the outcome of national elections.

The ruling Australian Labor Party (ALP) maintains close ties to the trade union movement and has held office since 1983. During that period, the government has carried out major restructuring of the economy (e.g., floating the Australian dollar, cutting tariffs by substantial amounts, reducing and simplifying regulations that affect business). Liberalizing trade and enhancing economic integration with Asia-Pacific countries are major tenets of the ALP and, in particular, of the incumbent Prime Minister, Paul Keating.

The opposition Liberal-National Coalition is often described to Americans as the more “conservative” party. It upholds traditional social values and stresses the importance of a free market, entrepreneurial approach to economic growth (i.e., it promotes an updated version of the classical liberalism originated by Adam Smith). The Liberal Party is the senior partner, holding 79 of the Coalition’s 101 seats in the current Parliament. The National Party is identified closely with the interests of farmers, and its supporters reside mainly in rural areas.

Two minor parties, the Australian Democrats and the Western Australia “Greens”, are represented only in the Senate but have political and media effects that are disproportionate to their numbers. They take highly visible stands on various economic, political, environmental, and social issues, challenging the major parties to respond in ways that meet their concerns.

Australia has a prosperous Western-style capitalist economy, with a percapita GDP comparable to levels in industrialized West European countries. Rich in natural resources, Australia is a major exporter of agricultural products, minerals, metals, and fossil fuels. Primary products account for more than 60% of the value of total exports, so that, as in 1983-84, a downturn in world commodity prices can have a big impact on the economy. The government is pushing for increased exports of manufactured goods, but competition in international markets continues to be severe.

Australia has suffered from the low growth and high unemployment characterizing the OECD countries in the early 1990s. In 1992- 93 the economy recovered slowly from the prolonged recession of 1990-91, a major restraining factor being weak world demand for Australia’s exports. Growth picked up so strongly in 1994 that the government felt the need for fiscal and monetary tightening by year end. Australia’s GDP grew 6.4% in 1994, largely due to increases in industrial output and business investment. A severe drought in 1994 is expected to reduce the value of Australia’s net farm production by $825 million in the twelve months through June 1995, but rising world commodity prices are likely to boost rural exports by 7.7% to $14.5 billion in 1995/96, according to government statistics.

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