Prehistoric settlers arrived on the continent from Southeast Asia at least 40,000 years before the first Europeans began exploration in the 17th century. No formal territorial claims were made until 1770, when Capt. James COOK took possession of the east coast in the name of Great Britain (all of Australia was claimed as British territory in 1829 with the creation of the colony of Western Australia). Six colonies were created in the late 18th and 19th centuries; they federated and became the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.

The new country took advantage of its natural resources to rapidly develop agricultural and manufacturing industries and to make a major contribution to the Allied effort in World Wars I and II. In recent decades, Australia has become an internationally competitive, advanced market economy due in large part to economic reforms adopted in the 1980s and its location in one of the fastest growing regions of the world economy. Long-term concerns include aging of the population, pressure on infrastructure, and environmental issues such as floods, droughts, and bushfires.

Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth, making it particularly vulnerable to the challenges of climate change. Australia is home to 10 per cent of the world’s biodiversity, and a great number of its flora and fauna exist nowhere else in the world. In January 2013, Australia assumed a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2013-14 term.

Australian Flag

Australian Flag


Oceania, continent between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean

Geographic coordinates:
27 00 S, 133 00 E

Map references:

total: 7,741,220 sq km
country comparison to the world: 6
land: 7,682,300 sq km
water: 58,920 sq km
note: includes Lord Howe Island and Macquarie Island
Area – comparative:
slightly smaller than the US contiguous 48 states
Land boundaries:
0 km

25,760 km

Maritime claims:
territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin

generally arid to semiarid; temperate in south and east; tropical in north

mostly low plateau with deserts; fertile plain in southeast
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Lake Eyre -15 m
highest point: Mount Kosciuszko 2,229 m

Natural resources:
bauxite, coal, iron ore, copper, tin, gold, silver, uranium, nickel, tungsten, rare earth elements, mineral sands, lead, zinc, diamonds, natural gas, petroleum
note: Australia is the world’s largest net exporter of coal accounting for 29% of global coal exports

Land use:
arable land: 6.16% (includes about 27 million hectares of cultivated grassland)
permanent crops: 0.05%
other: 93.79% (2011)
Irrigated land:
25,460 sq km (2006)

Total renewable water resources:
492 cu km (2011)

Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural):
total: 22.58 cu km/yr (27%/18%/55%)
per capita: 1,152 cu m/yr (2010)

Natural hazards:
cyclones along the coast; severe droughts; forest fires
volcanism: volcanic activity on Heard and McDonald Islands

Environment – current issues:
soil erosion from overgrazing, industrial development, urbanization, and poor farming practices; soil salinity rising due to the use of poor quality water; desertification; clearing for agricultural purposes threatens the natural habitat of many unique animal and plant species; the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast, the largest coral reef in the world, is threatened by increased shipping and its popularity as a tourist site; limited natural freshwater resources

Environment – international agreements:
party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements

Geography – note:
world’s smallest continent but sixth-largest country; the only continent without glaciers; population concentrated along the eastern and southeastern coasts; the invigorating sea breeze known as the “Fremantle Doctor” affects the city of Perth on the west coast and is one of the most consistent winds in the world

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People & Society

noun: Australian(s)
adjective: Australian

Ethnic groups:
white 92%, Asian 7%, aboriginal and other 1%

English 78.5%, Chinese 2.5%, Italian 1.6%, Greek 1.3%, Arabic 1.2%, Vietnamese 1%, other 8.2%, unspecified 5.7% (2006 Census)

Protestant 27.4% (Anglican 18.7%, Uniting Church 5.7%, Presbyterian and Reformed 3%), Catholic 25.8%, Eastern Orthodox 2.7%, other Christian 7.9%, Buddhist 2.1%, Muslim 1.7%, other 2.4%, unspecified 11.3%, none 18.7% (2006 Census)

22,262,501 (July 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 55

Age structure:
0-14 years: 18.1% (male 2,061,973/female 1,957,558)
15-24 years: 13.4% (male 1,531,325/female 1,453,940)
25-54 years: 42% (male 4,748,667/female 4,598,259)
55-64 years: 11.8% (male 1,308,660/female 1,326,220)
65 years and over: 14.7% (male 1,509,460/female 1,766,439) (2013 est.)

Dependency ratios:
total dependency ratio: 50.2 %
youth dependency ratio: 28.6 %
elderly dependency ratio: 21.5 %
potential support ratio: 4.6 (2013)

Median age:
total: 38.1 years
male: 37.3 years
female: 38.8 years (2013 est.)

Population growth rate:
1.11% (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 107

Birth rate:
12.23 births/1,000 population (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 163

Death rate:
7.01 deaths/1,000 population (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 133

Net migration rate:
5.83 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 21

urban population: 89% of total population (2010)
rate of urbanization: 1.2% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)

Major urban areas – population:
Sydney 4.429 million; Melbourne 3.853 million; Brisbane 1.97 million; Perth 1.599 million; CANBERRA (capital) 399,000 (2011)

Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
0-14 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
15-24 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
25-54 years: 1.03 male(s)/female
55-64 years: 0.99 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.85 male(s)/female
total population: 1.01 male(s)/female (2013 est.)

Mother’s mean age at first birth:
30.5 (2006 est.)

Maternal mortality rate:
7 deaths/100,000 live births (2010)
country comparison to the world: 165

Infant mortality rate:
total: 4.49 deaths/1,000 live births
country comparison to the world: 190
male: 4.8 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 4.15 deaths/1,000 live births (2013 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 81.98 years
country comparison to the world: 10
male: 79.55 years
female: 84.54 years (2013 est.)

Total fertility rate:
1.77 children born/woman (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 162

Contraceptive prevalence rate:
note: percent of women aged 18-44 (2005)

Health expenditures:
8.7% of GDP (2010)
country comparison to the world: 48

Physicians density:
2.99 physicians/1,000 population (2009)

Hospital bed density:
3.82 beds/1,000 population (2009)

Drinking water source:
urban: 100% of population
rural: 100% of population
total: 100% of population (2010 est.)

Sanitation facility access:
urban: 100% of population
rural: 100% of population
total: 100% of population (2010 est.)

HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate:
0.1% (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 110
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS:
20,000 (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 76
HIV/AIDS – deaths:
fewer than 100 (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 123

Obesity – adult prevalence rate:
26.8% (2008)
country comparison to the world: 44

Education expenditures:
5.1% of GDP (2009)
country comparison to the world: 71

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99%
male: 99%
female: 99% (2003 est.)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education):
total: 20 years
male: 19 years
female: 20 years (2010)

Unemployment, youth ages 15-24:
total: 11.3%
country comparison to the world: 101
male: 11.9%
female: 10.8% (2011)

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Country name:
conventional long form: Commonwealth of Australia
conventional short form: Australia

Government type: federal parliamentary democracy and a Commonwealth realm

Capital: Canberra
geographic coordinates: 35 16 S, 149 08 E
time difference: UTC+10 (15 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
daylight saving time: +1hr, begins first Sunday in October; ends first Sunday in April
note: Australia is divided into three time zones

Administrative divisions:
6 states and 2 territories*; Australian Capital Territory*, New South Wales, Northern Territory*, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia

Dependent areas: Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Coral Sea Islands, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, Macquarie Island, Norfolk Island

Independence: 1 January 1901 (from the federation of UK colonies)

National holiday: Australia Day (commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet of Australian settlers), 26 January (1788); ANZAC Day (commemorates the anniversary of the landing of troops of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during World War I at Gallipoli, Turkey), 25 April (1915)

Constitution: 9 July 1900; effective 1 January 1901

Legal system:
common law system based on the English model

International law organization participation:
accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction with reservations; accepts ICCt jurisdiction

18 years of age; universal and compulsory

Executive branch:
chief of state: Queen of Australia ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952); represented by Governor General Quentin BRYCE (since 5 September 2008)
head of government: Prime Minister Kevin RUDD (since 27 June 2013); Deputy Prime Minister Anthony N. ALBANESE (since 27 June 2013)
cabinet: prime minister nominates, from among members of Parliament, candidates who are subsequently sworn in by the governor general to serve as government ministers
elections: the monarchy is hereditary; governor general appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the prime minister; following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or leader of a majority coalition is sworn in as prime minister by the governor general

Legislative branch:
bicameral Federal Parliament consists of the Senate (76 seats; 12 members from each of the six states and 2 from each of the two mainland territories; one-half of state members are elected every three years by popular vote to serve six-year terms while all territory members are elected every three years) and the House of Representatives (150 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve terms of up to three-years; no state can have fewer than 5 representatives)
elections: Senate – last held on 7 September 2013; House of Representatives – last held on 7 September 2013 (the latest a simultaneous half-Senate and House of Representative elections can be held is 30 November 2016)
election results: Senate NA; House of Representatives – percent of vote by party – Liberal/National Coalition 53.18%, Australian Labor Party 46.82%; seats by party – Liberal/National Coalition 90, Australian Labor Party 55, Australian Greens Party 1, Katter’s Australian Party 1, Palmer United Party 1, independents 2

Judicial branch:
highest court(s): High Court of Australia (consists of 7 justices, including the chief justice); note – each of the 6 states, 2 territories, and Norfolk Island has a Supreme Court; the High Court is the final appellate court beyond the state and territory supreme courts
judge selection and term of office: justices appointed by the governor-general in council for life with mandatory retirement at age 70
subordinate courts: subordinate courts at the federal level: Federal Court; Federal Magistrates’ Courts of Australia; Family Court; subordinate courts at the state and territory level: Local Court – New South Wales; Magistrates’ Courts – Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory; District Courts – New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia; County Court – Victoria; Family Court – Western Australia; Court of Petty Sessions – Norfolk Island

Political parties and leaders:
Australian Greens Party [Christine MILNE]
Australian Labor Party [Kevin RUDD]
Country Liberal Party [Terry MILLS]
Family First Party [Steve FIELDING]
Liberal National Party of Queensland [Campbell NEWMAN]
Liberal Party [Tony ABBOTT]
National Party of Australia [Warren TRUSS]

Political pressure groups and leaders:
other: business groups, environmental groups, social groups, trade unions

International organization participation:
ADB, ANZUS, APEC, ARF, ASEAN (dialogue partner), Australia Group, BIS, C, CD, CP, EAS, EBRD, EITI (implementing country), FAO, FATF, G-20, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC (national committees), ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC (NGOs), MIGA, NEA, NSG, OECD, OPCW, OSCE (partner), Paris Club, PCA, PIF, SAARC (observer), SICA (observer), Sparteca, SPC, UN, UN Security Council (temporary), UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNMISS, UNMIT, UNRWA, UNTSO, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU (NGOs), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO, ZC

Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Kim Christian BEAZLEY
chancery: 1601 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036
telephone: [1] (202) 797-3000
FAX: [1] (202) 797-3168
consulate(s) general: Atlanta, Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco

Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Jeffrey L. BLEICH
embassy: Moonah Place, Yarralumla, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2600
mailing address: APO AP 96549
telephone: [61] (02) 6214-5600
FAX: [61] (02) 6214-5970
consulate(s) general: Melbourne, Perth, Sydney

Flag description:
blue with the flag of the UK in the upper hoist-side quadrant and a large seven-pointed star in the lower hoist-side quadrant known as the Commonwealth or Federation Star, representing the federation of the colonies of Australia in 1901; the star depicts one point for each of the six original states and one representing all of Australia’s internal and external territories; on the fly half is a representation of the Southern Cross constellation in white with one small, five-pointed star and four larger, seven-pointed stars

National symbol(s):
Southern Cross constellation (five, seven-pointed stars); kangaroo; emu

National anthem:
name: “Advance Australia Fair”

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Economy – overview:
The Australian economy has experienced continuous growth and features low unemployment, contained inflation, very low public debt, and a strong and stable financial system. By 2012, Australia had experienced more than 20 years of continued economic growth, averaging 3.5% a year. Demand for resources and energy from Asia and especially China has grown rapidly, creating a channel for resources investments and growth in commodity exports. The high Australian dollar has hurt the manufacturing sector, while the services sector is the largest part of the Australian economy, accounting for about 70% of GDP and 75% of jobs.

Australia was comparatively unaffected by the global financial crisis as the banking system has remained strong and inflation is under control. Australia has benefited from a dramatic surge in its terms of trade in recent years, stemming from rising global commodity prices. Australia is a significant exporter of natural resources, energy, and food. Australia’s abundant and diverse natural resources attract high levels of foreign investment and include extensive reserves of coal, iron, copper, gold, natural gas, uranium, and renewable energy sources. A series of major investments, such as the US$40 billion Gorgon Liquid Natural Gas project, will significantly expand the resources sector.

Australia is an open market with minimal restrictions on imports of goods and services. The process of opening up has increased productivity, stimulated growth, and made the economy more flexible and dynamic. Australia plays an active role in the World Trade Organization, APEC, the G20, and other trade forums. Australia has bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) with Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, and the US, has a regional FTA with ASEAN and New Zealand, is negotiating agreements with China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, as well as with its Pacific neighbors and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, and is also working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement with Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US, and Vietnam.

GDP (purchasing power parity):
$998.3 billion (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 18
$974.2 billion (2012 est.)
$939.7 billion (2011 est.)
note: data are in 2013 US dollars

GDP (official exchange rate):
$1.488 trillion (2013 est.)

GDP – real growth rate:
2.5% (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 131
3.7% (2012 est.)
2.4% (2011 est.)

GDP – per capita (PPP):
$43,000 (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 21
$42,500 (2012 est.)
$41,700 (2011 est.)
note: data are in 2013 US dollars

Gross national saving:
24.4% of GDP (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 53
25.2% of GDP (2012 est.)
25.1% of GDP (2011 est.)

GDP – composition, by end use:
household consumption: 54.6%
government consumption: 17.8%
investment in fixed capital: 27.4%
investment in inventories: 0.1%
exports of goods and services: 20.9%
imports of goods and services: -20.8%
(2013 est.)

GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
agriculture: 3.8%
industry: 27.4%
services: 68.7% (2013 est.)

Agriculture – products:
wheat, barley, sugarcane, fruits; cattle, sheep, poultry

mining, industrial and transportation equipment, food processing, chemicals, steel

Industrial production growth rate:
3.2% (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 91

Labor force:
12.44 million (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 43

Labor force – by occupation:
agriculture: 3.6%
industry: 21.1%
services: 75% (2009 est.)

Unemployment rate:
5.7% (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 53
5.2% (2012 est.)

Population below poverty line:

Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: 2%
highest 10%: 25.4% (1994)

Distribution of family income – Gini index:
30.3 (2008)
country comparison to the world: 120
35.2 (1994)

revenues: $494.3 billion
expenditures: $514.4 billion (2013 est.)

Taxes and other revenues:
33.2% of GDP (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 75

Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-):
-1.3% of GDP (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 66

Public debt:
32.6% of GDP (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 112
32.4% of GDP (2012 est.)

Fiscal year:
1 July – 30 June

Inflation rate (consumer prices):
2.4% (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 89
1.8% (2012 est.)

Central bank discount rate:
3% (February 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 82
4.35% (31 December 2010 est.)
note: this is the Reserve Bank of Australia’s “cash rate target,” or policy rate

Commercial bank prime lending rate:
6.2% (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 120
6.98% (31 December 2012 est.)

Stock of narrow money:
$526.5 billion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 10
$534.8 billion (31 December 2012 est.)

Stock of broad money:
$1.661 trillion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 11
$1.648 trillion (31 December 2012 est.)

Stock of domestic credit:
$2.222 trillion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 12
$2.255 trillion (31 December 2012 est.)

Market value of publicly traded shares:
$NA (31 December 2012 est.)
country comparison to the world: 9
$1.198 trillion (31 December 2011)
$1.455 trillion (31 December 2010 est.)

Current account balance:
-$44.9 billion (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 186
-$57.14 billion (2012 est.)

$251.7 billion (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 22
$257.9 billion (2012 est.)

Exports – commodities:
coal, iron ore, gold, meat, wool, alumina, wheat, machinery and transport equipment

Exports – partners:
China 29.5%, Japan 19.3%, South Korea 8%, India 4.9% (2012)

$245.8 billion (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 21
$263 billion (2012 est.)

Imports – commodities:
machinery and transport equipment, computers and office machines, telecommunication equipment and parts; crude oil and petroleum products

Imports – partners:
China 18.4%, US 11.7%, Japan 7.9%, Singapore 6%, Germany 4.6%, Thailand 4.2%, South Korea 4.1% (2012)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold:
$48.8 billion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 40
$49.15 billion (31 December 2012 est.)

Debt – external:
$1.506 trillion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 13
$1.497 trillion (31 December 2012 est.)

Stock of direct foreign investment – at home:
$661.6 billion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 13
$610.8 billion (31 December 2012 est.)

Stock of direct foreign investment – abroad:
$440.1 billion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 16
$426 billion (31 December 2012 est.)

Exchange rates:
Australian dollars (AUD) per US dollar –
1.031 (2013 est.)
0.9658 (2012 est.)
1.0902 (2010)
1.2822 (2009)
1.2059 (2008)

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