OFFICIAL NAME: Commonwealth of Australia
CAPITAL: Canberra
SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT: Federal Multiparty Parliamentary State with Sovereign Monarchy
AREA: 7,686,850 Sq Km (2,967,710 Sq Mi)

Direct Link to Political MapDirect Link to Physical MapLOCATION & GEOGRAPHY: Australia is the smallest continent in the world. Lying southeast of Asia, it is bound by the Pacific Ocean to the east, the Coral Sea to the northeast, the Timor Sea to the northwest, the Indian Ocean to the west and the Tasman Sea to the southeast. The continent consists largely of plains and plateaux, and can be divided into three principal topographical regions. (1.) The Western Plateau which is a vast desert and semidesert region that covers almost 66% of the land area and is comprised of ancient rocks similar to those of Africa. The Western Plateau has an average elevation of 305 metres (1,000 feet) and is relieved by the Hamersley Range to the west, the Kimberley Ranges and the valleys of Arnhem Land to the north-central as well as the Macdonnell, Musgrave and Petermann Ranges to the East. Also located on the plateau are the country's four major deserts - the Gibson, Great Sandy, Great Victoria and Simpson as well as a massive monolith known as Ayers Rock which rises over 335 metres (1,100 feet). The plateau is also surrounded by escarpments, of which the most unusual is the Nullarbor Plain a flat, smooth, barren lowland that stretches inland along the Great Australian Bight. (2.) The Central Eastern Lowlands which comprises Lake Eyre as well as the Murray, Darling and Gulf of Carpentaria drainage basins stretch from the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north to Western Victoria in the south. The average elevation of the Central Eastern Lowlands is only 152 metres (500 feet) and falls to 12 metres (40 feet) below sea-level at Lake Eyre. The Great Artesian Basin also found beneath the Central Eastern Lowlands is the largest artesian basin in the world and accounts for approximately 20% of the continent. (3.) The Eastern Highlands also described as the Great Dividing Range consist of a complex belt of tablelands, ridges and coastal ranges stretching from Cape York in northern Queensland to southern Victoria, and again resurfacing across Bass Strait in Tasmania. The Eastern Highlands have an average elevation of under 914 metres (3,000 feet) and are low and broad in the north, while tablelands characterized by the New England Plateau and the Blue Mountains are located in the central region. In the south the highlands pass through the Australian Alps and the Snowy Mountains, and across Victoria. The Eastern Highlands also contain a number of rivers, although many are short and swift with the Murray River the longest while its chief tributaries are the Darling, Murrumbidgee and Lachlan Rivers. Major Cities (pop. est.); Sydney 3,739,000, Melbourne 3,198,000, Brisbane 1,455,000, Perth 1,239,000, Adelaide 1,076,000, Newcastle 460,000, Canberra 328,000, Gold Coast 314,000, Woollongong 251,000, Hobart 194,000 (1994). Land Use; pastures 54%, agricultural-cultivated 6%, other including forests, deserts and urban 40% (1993).

CLIMATE: Australia's climatic conditions are characterized by warmth, little rain, clear skies and sunshine while temperature ranges are moderate with the absence of an intense cold winter. The continent can be divided into several climatic zones, an arid and semiarid interior, the monsoonal north and the sub-humid to humid east. Australia can experience hurricanes and cyclones on both coasts mainly on the northeast and northwest while droughts are also common. Although droughts are generally limited, severe national droughts have occurred. More than 33% of the country has an average annual precipitation under 260 mm (10 inches) while less than 33% receives over 500 mm (19.5 inches). Average temperature ranges in Sydney are from 8 to 16 degrees Celsius (46 to 61 degrees Fahrenheit) in July to 18 to 26 degrees Celsius (64 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit) in January.

PEOPLE: The principal ethnic majority are the Whites who account for 95% of the population and are principally of British descent. However, around 22% of the population were born abroad with principal ethnic groups including Italians, Croats, Serbs, Greeks, Maltese, Germans, Dutch, Asians, New Zealanders, North Americans and South Africans. The native Aboriginal population accounts for around 1.5% of the population while Asians account for 1.3%

DEMOGRAPHIC/VITAL STATISTICS: Density; 2.3 persons per sq km (6 persons per sq mi) (1993). Urban-Rural; 85.4% urban, 14.6% rural (1990). Sex Distribution; 49.9% male, 50.1% female (1991). Life Expectancy at Birth; 74.4 years male, 80.3 years female (1991). Age Breakdown; 22% under 15, 24% 15 to 29, 23% 30 to 44, 15% 45 to 59, 11% 60 to 74, 5% 75 and over (1991). Birth Rate; 15.1 per 1,000 (1992). Death Rate; 7.1 per 1,000 (1992). Increase Rate; 8.0 per 1,000 (1992). Infant Mortality Rate; 7.0 per 1,000 live births (1992).

RELIGIONS: Mostly Christians, of which 52% of the population are Protestant or Anglican, 25% are Roman Catholic and 3% are Greek Orthodox. Other minorities include Muslims as well as Buddhists and both account for less than 1% each.

LANGUAGES: The official language is English, although Aboriginal and other numerous ethnic immigrant languages are also spoken.

EDUCATION: Aged 15 or over and having attained: no formal schooling 0.3%, primary and secondary 56.1%, post secondary 34.0%, university 9.6% (1992). Literacy; literate population aged 15 or over 99.5% (1990).

MODERN HISTORY - WWII TO 1993: After World War II Australia had an open door policy towards displaced European refugees which resulted in an influx of immigrants. In 1947 Prime Minister Ben Chifley unsuccessfully attempted to nationalize the country's banks and Australia became one of the original members of the UN. In 1949 Sir Robert Menzies was elected Prime Minister of a Liberal coalition government and in the same year Australia contributed forces to a UN command in the Korean War. In 1950 Australia became a member of the Colombo Plan to aid underdeveloped South and South East Asian countries. In 1951 Australia signed the ANZUS Security Treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the United States. In 1954 Australia became a member of South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and in 1965 Australian troops were sent to Vietnam. During the late 1960's Aborigines were granted the right to vote and to claim social benefits. In 1966 Prime Minister Menzies retired and Harold Holt replaced him as head of the coalition government. In 1967 Harold Holt mysteriously disappeared and was presumed to have died during a swimming accident when swept out to sea. Prime Minister Holt was replaced by John Gorton who was in turn succeeded by William McMahon in 1971. In 1972 Gough Whitlam leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) won power and in 1974 Prime Minister Whitlam dissolved both houses of Parliament. In 1975 the Senate blocked the government's money bills and in Nov. 1975 Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed Prime Minister Whitlam and dissolved the Senate which resulted in angry protests and demonstrations. In Dec. 1975 Malcolm Fraser who was appointed interim Prime Minister by the Governor-General was elected as head of another Liberal coalition government which held office until 1983. In Mar. 1983 Robert (Bob) Hawke was elected Prime Minister under an ALP government. In Dec. 1983 the government embarked on a program of economic deregulation and in 1984 legislation was approved which granted greater protection to sacred Aboriginal sites. In Oct. 1985 Ayers Rock was transferred to an Mutijulu Aboriginal Community and then leased back to the government for a period of 99 years. In 1986 the Australian Act gave the country full independence from Britain while still retaining its Commonwealth membership and the Queen as its sovereign head of state. In July 1987 Prime Minister Hawke was re-elected for his third term in office and in the same year a Royal Commission was set up to investigate the death rates of Aborigines in police custody. In 1988 Australia celebrated its bi-centenary of colonization. In Mar 1990 the ALP with Prime Minister Hawke was re-elected for another term. In 1990 Australia sent three war ships to the US-led coalition forces that liberated Kuwait after Iraq had invaded and annexed Kuwait in Aug. 1990. In July 1991 the government controversially banned the mining of Coronation Hill in the Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory over Aboriginal land rights. In Dec. 1991 the former ALP treasurer, Paul Keating replaced Bob Hawke as party leader and Prime Minister ending several months of internal party conflict. Also during 1991 as a result of the deepening recession there were spectacular collapses of several major banks and corporations on a large scale. Royal commissions such as the infamous "WA Inc" investigating a coalition of corporate and political corruption and misappropriation of government monies as well as trials of the more famous bankrupts soon followed. During 1991 foreign relations with the USA over wheat subsidies and Malaysia over the screening of a television series called "Embassy" which they saw as mocking their country and disrespectful to Islam were also damaged. In Feb. 1992 Bob Hawke resigned from his safe Labor seat of Wills forcing a by-election which resulted in the election of an independent, Phil Cleary. Also during 1992 Bob Hawke reneged on his promise not to undermine the Prime Minister, by publicly attacking Keating. Further woes for the ALP included damage as a result of a scandal involving the arrest of a relative of the Labor power-broker Senator Graham Richardson on a forgery charge. Sen. Richardson was latter forced to resign over his relationship with this relative while in South Australia the Labor Premier was also forced to resign over the losses of a State-owned bank. Relations with the UK also soured in 1992 with Keating calling for the establishment of an Australian republic and accusations of British abandonment of Australia and South East Asia to the Japanese in WWII during the Queens royal tour in Feb. 1992. During 1992 Keating also incited hot nationalistic debate over his call for a new national flag while relations with the USA continued to be strain over grain subsidies and relations with Malaysia improved after production of the program "Embassy" ceased. On Mar. 13, 1993 snap elections resulted in the ALP being re-elected for a record fifth term. Although the opposition were defeated John Hewson was re-elected as leader of the Liberal Party and appointed a shadow ministry that included a record number of five women. Also during 1993 Keating setup a Republican Advisory Committee of prominent Australians which keep the republican issue under debate. Additionally, debate also centered on the High Court's Mabo decision which recognized native land title and established a new entitlement to land for the indigenous inhabitants. On Sept. 2, 1993 Keating released a draft of proposed legislation, which included the establishment of a federal tribunal to grant compensation for dispossessed Aborigines and Islanders, to deal with the problems that arose with the ruling. The legislation was ratified by both houses of Parliament on Deck. 22, 1993 to take effect on Jan. 1, 1994. During 1993 foreign relations were focused on mending the "trade" rift between Australia and the USA, and cementing good foreign relations with the US. The economy also show signs of recovery with the stabilizing factor of low inflation and a steady rise in the stock exchange, although unemployment remain high and the government had enormous difficulties with its proposed budget requiring revision three times.

CURRENCY: The official currency is the Dollar (AUD) divided into 100 Cents.

ECONOMY: Gross National Product; USD $310,050,000,000 (1993). Public Debt; AUD $80,948,000,000 (1993). Imports; AUD $66,910,000,000 (1994). Exports; AUD $62,839,000,000 (1994). Tourism Receipts; USD $4,655,000,000 (1993). Balance of Trade; AUD -$5,021,000,000 (1994). Economically Active Population; 9,003,000 or 49.5% of total population (1995). Unemployed; 7.9% (1995).

MAIN TRADING PARTNERS: Its main trading partners are China, Japan, Egypt, Indonesia and the former USSR.

MAIN PRIMARY PRODUCTS: Barley, Bauxite, Cattle, Coal, Copper, Diamonds, Fish, Fruit, Gold, Iron Ore, Lead, Maize, Manganese, Natural Gas, Nickel, Oats, Opals, Oil, Pigs, Rice, Rutile, Sheep, Sorghum, Sugar cane, Timber, Tin, Tobacco, Tungsten, Uranium, Vegetables, Wheat, Zinc.

MAJOR INDUSTRIES: Agriculture, Aluminum Refining and Smelting, Cement, Chemicals, Fishing, Food Processing, Forestry, Iron and Steel, Light Engineering, Machinery, Mining, Oil and Gas Production, Textiles and Clothing, Vehicles, Wool and Hide Processing.

MAIN EXPORTS: Alumina, Aluminum, Beef, Coal, Iron Ore, Manufactured Goods, Petroleum Products, Various Minerals, Veal, Wheat, Wool.

TRANSPORT: Railroads; route length 37,295 km (23,174 mi) (1991), passenger-km 2,187,120,000 (1,359,013,000 passenger-mi) (1989), cargo ton-km 53,163,000,000 (36,411,000,000 short ton-mi) (1991). Roads; length 810,264 km (503,475 mi) (1990). Vehicles; cars 7,913,200 (1992), trucks and buses 2,041,300 (1992). Merchant Marine; vessels 695 (1992), deadweight tonnage 3,857,271 (1992). Air Transport; passenger-km 41,279,000,000 (25,650,000,000 passenger-mi) (1991), cargo ton-km 2,578,029,000 (1,765,692,000 short ton-mi) (1991).

COMMUNICATIONS: Daily Newspapers; total of 69 with a total circulation of 4,600,000 (1992). Radio; receivers 20,000,000 (1994). Television; receivers 8,000,000 (1994). Telephones; units 8,540,000 (1993).

MILITARY: 56,100 (1995) total active duty personnel with 42.2% army, 26.7% navy and 31.1% air force while military expenditure accounts for 2.4% (1993) of the Gross National Product (GNP).

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