For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Commonwealth of Australia Geography
Area: 7.7 million sq. km. (3 million sq. mi.); about the size of the 48 contiguous United States.
Cities: (2003) Capital--Canberra (pop. 323,000). Other cities--Sydney (4.2 million), Melbourne (3.6 million), Brisbane (1.7 million), Perth (1.4 million).
Terrain: Varied, but generally low-lying.
Climate: Relatively dry, ranging from temperate in the south to tropical in the north.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Australian(s).
Population (2004): 20.2 million.
Annual population growth rate: 1.2%.
Ethnic groups: European 92%, Asian 6%, Aboriginal 2%.
Religions (2001): Anglican 21%, Roman Catholic 27%, other Christian 20%, other non-Christian 5%, no religion 16% and not stated 12%.
Education: Years compulsory--to age 15 in all states except Tasmania, where it is 16. Literacy--85%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--5/1,000. Life expectancy--males 77 yrs., females 82 yrs.
Work force (10.3 million): Agriculture--4%; mining, manufacturing, construction, and utilities--21%; services--70%; public administration and defense--5%.
Type: Democratic, federal-state system recognizing British monarch as sovereign.
Constitution: July 9, 1900.
Independence (federation): January 1, 1901.
Branches: Head of state is the governor general, who is appointed by the Queen of Australia (the British Monarch). Legislative--bicameral Parliament (76-member Senate, 150-member House of Representatives). The House of Representatives selects as head of government the Prime Minister, who then appoints his cabinet. Judicial--independent judiciary. Administrative subdivisions: Six states and two territories.
Political parties: Liberal, Nationals, Australian Labor, Australian Democrats, Australian Greens, and Family First. The Liberal Party and the Nationals form the governing coalition.
Suffrage: Universal and compulsory over 18.
Central government budget: FY 2003-04--$129.3 billion; FY 2004-05--$138.4 billion.
Defense: 1.9% of GDP for FY 2004-05.
GDP: (2003) $504.4 billion.
Inflation rate: (2003) 2.8% p.a.
Trade: Exports ($91.8 billion, 2003)--coal, gold, iron ore, crude oil and petroleum products, wheat, aluminum. Major markets--Japan, U.S. ($8.1 billion), China, New Zealand, South Korea.
Imports ($107.3 billion, 2003) passenger motor vehicles, computers, crude oil and petroleum products, aircraft and parts, medicaments. Major suppliers--U.S. ($16.8 billion), Japan, China, Germany, U.K., New Zealand, Taiwan, and Singapore.
Australia's aboriginal inhabitants, a hunting-gathering people generally referred to as Aboriginals and Torres Straits Islanders, arrived more than 40,000 years ago. Although their technical culture remained static--depending on wood, bone, and stone tools and weapons--their spiritual and social life was highly complex. Most spoke several languages, and confederacies sometimes linked widely scattered tribal groups. Aboriginal population density ranged from 1 person per square mile along the coasts to 1 person per 35 square miles in the arid interior. When Capt. James Cook claimed Australia for Great Britain in 1770, the native population may have numbered 300,000 in as many as 500 tribes speaking many different languages. The aboriginal population currently numbers more than 410,000, representing about 2.2% of the population. Since the end of World War II, the government and the public have made efforts to be more responsive to aboriginal rights and needs.
Immigration has been a key to Australia's development since the beginning of European settlement in 1788. For generations, most settlers came from the British Isles, and the people of Australia are still predominantly of British or Irish origin, with a culture and outlook similar to those of Americans. However, since the end of World War II, the population has more than doubled; non-European immigration, mostly from the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America, has increased significantly since 1960 through an extensive, planned immigration program. From 1945 through 2000, nearly 5.9 million immigrants settled in Australia, and about 80% have remained; nearly two of every seven Australians is foreign-born. Britain and Ireland have been the largest sources of post-war immigrants, followed by Italy, Greece, New Zealand, and the former Yugoslavia.
Australia's refugee admissions of about 12,000 per year are in addition to the normal immigration program. In recent years, refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia have comprised the largest element in Australia's refugee program.
Although Australia has scarcely more than two people per square kilometer, it is one of the world's most urbanized countries. Less than 15% of the population lives in rural areas.
Much of Australia's culture is derived from European roots, but distinctive Australian features have evolved from the environment, aboriginal culture, and the influence of Australia's neighbors. The vigor and originality of the arts in Australia--films, opera, music, painting, theater, dance, and crafts--are achieving international recognition.
Australian actors such as Nicole Kidman, Rachel Griffiths, Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, Geoffrey Rush, Paul Hogan, Hugh Jackman, and Heath Ledger have achieved enormous popularity in the United States. Australian movies and directors such as Peter Weir and Philip Noyes also are well known.
Australia has had a significant school of painting since the early days of European settlement, and Australians with international reputations include Sidney Nolan, Russell Drysdale, and Pro Hart and Arthur Boyd. Writers who have achieved world recognition include Thomas Keneally, Colleen McCullough, Nevil Shute, Morris West, Jill Ker Conway, and Nobel Prize winner Patrick White.
Australia was uninhabited until stone-culture peoples arrived, perhaps by boat across the waters separating the island from the Indonesia archipelago more than 40,000 years ago. Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and English explorers observed the island before 1770, when Captain Cook explored the east coast and claimed it for Great Britain (three American colonists were crew members aboard Cook's ship, the Endeavour).
On January 26, 1788 (now celebrated as Australia Day), the First Fleet under Capt. Arthur Phillip landed at Sydney, and formal proclamation of the establishment of the Colony of New South Wales followed on February 7. Many but by no means all of the first settlers were convicts, condemned for offenses that today would often be thought trivial. The mid-19th century saw the beginning of government policies to emancipate convicts and assist the immigration of free persons. The discovery of gold in 1851 led to increased population, wealth, and trade.
The six colonies that now constitute the states of the Australian Commonwealth were established in the following order: New South Wales, 1788; Tasmania, 1825; Western Australia, 1830; South Australia, 1836; Victoria, 1851; and Queensland, 1859. Settlement had preceded these dates in most cases. Discussions between Australian and British representatives led to adoption by the British Government of an act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia in 1900. Since Federation, the Commonwealth Government has established to two self-governing territories: the Northern Territory, 1978; and the Australian Capital Territory (where the national capital, Canberra, is located), 1989.
The first federal Parliament was opened at Melbourne in May 1901 by the Duke of York (later King George V). In May 1927, the seat of government was transferred to Canberra, a planned city designed by an American, Walter Burley Griffin. The first session of Parliament in that city was opened by another Duke of York (later King George VI). Australia passed the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act on October 9, 1942, which officially established Australia's complete autonomy in both internal and external affairs. Its passage formalized a situation that had existed for years. The Australia Act (1986) eliminated the last vestiges of British legal authority.
The Commonwealth government was created with a Constitution patterned partly on the U.S. Constitution, although it does not include a "bill of rights." The powers of the Commonwealth are specifically defined in the Constitution, and the residual powers remain with the states.
Australia is an independent nation within the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state and since 1973 has been officially styled "Queen of Australia." The Queen is represented throughout Australia by a governor general and in each state by a governor.
The federal Parliament is bicameral, consisting of a 76-member Senate and a 150-member House of Representatives. Twelve senators from each state are elected for 6-year terms, with half elected every 3 years. Each territory has two senators who are elected for 3-year terms. The members of the House of Representatives are allocated among the states and territories roughly in proportion to population. In ordinary legislation, the two chambers have coordinate powers, but all proposals for appropriating revenue or imposing taxes must be introduced in the House of Representatives. Under the prevailing Westminster parliamentary system, the leader of the political party or coalition of parties that wins a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives is named prime minister. The prime minister and the cabinet wield actual power and are responsible to the Parliament, of which they must be elected members. General elections are held at least once every 3 years; the last general election was in October 2004.
Each state is headed by a premier, who is the leader of the party with a majority or a working minority in the lower house of the state legislature. Australia's two self-governing territories have political systems similar to those of the states. The Territories are headed by Chief Ministers who are the leader of the party with a majority or a working minority in the territories' legislature.
At the apex of the court system is the High Court of Australia. It has general appellate jurisdiction over all other federal and state courts and possesses the power of constitutional review.
Principal Government Officials
Governor General-Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Michael Jeffery
Prime Minister--John W. Howard
Foreign Minister--Alexander Downer
Ambassador to the United States--Michael Thawley
Ambassador to the United Nations--John Dauth
Australia maintains an embassy in the United States at 1601 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202-797-3000), and consulates general in New York (212-408-8400), San Francisco (415-362-6160), Honolulu (808-524-5050), Los Angeles (310-229-4800), Chicago (312-419-1480) and Atlanta (404-880-1700).
Three political parties dominate the center of the Australian political spectrum: the Liberal Party (LP), nominally representing urban business-related groups; the Nationals, nominally representing rural interests; and the Australian Labor Party (ALP), nominally representing the trade unions and liberal groups. Although embracing some leftists, the ALP traditionally has been moderately socialist in its policies and approaches to social issues. All political groups are tied by tradition to domestic welfare policies that have kept Australia in the forefront of societies offering extensive social welfare programs. Australia's social welfare programs have been reduced, however, in response to budgetary pressures and a changing political outlook. There is strong bipartisan sentiment on many international issues, including Australia's commitment to its alliance with the United States.
The Liberal Party/Nationals coalition came to power in 1996, ending 13 years of ALP government and electing John Howard Prime Minister. Re-elected in October 1998, November 2001, and October 2004, the coalition now holds 87 seats (75 Liberal/12 National) in the House of Representatives, against 60 for the ALP, and 3 independents. Currently, the coalition holds 35 seats, against 28 for the ALP, 7 for the Australian Democrats, 2 for the Greens, 1 for One Nation, 1 for the Australian Progressive Alliance, and 2 independents. However, when the recently elected Senators take their places on July 1, 2005, the coalition will hold a 39-seat majority in the 76-seat chamber, against 28 for the ALP, 4 for the Australian Democrats, 4 for the Australian Greens, and 1 for the Family First party.
Howard's conservative coalition moved quickly to reduce Australia's government deficit and the influence of organized labor, and reform Australia's tax and social welfare systems. The Howard government also has accelerated the pace of privatization, beginning with the government-owned telecommunications corporation. The Howard government has continued the foreign policy of its predecessors, based on relations with four key countries: the United States, Japan, China, and Indonesia. The Howard government strongly supports U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region and has sent troops as part of the coalitions in Afghanistan and Iraq. National elections took place October 9, 2004, and likely will take place again in late 2007 or early 2008.
Australia's advanced market economy is dominated by its services sector (70% of GDP), yet it is the agricultural and mining sectors (7% of GDP combined) that account for the bulk (57%) of Australia's goods and services exports. Australia's comparative advantage in primary products is a reflection of the natural wealth of the Australian continent and its small domestic market; 20 million people occupy a continent the size of the contiguous United States. The relative size of the manufacturing sector has been declining for several decades, and now accounts for around 11% of GDP.
Australia commenced a basic reorientation of its economy in the 1980s and has transformed itself from an inward looking, import-substitution country to an internationally competitive, export-oriented one. Key reforms included unilaterally reducing high tariffs and other protective barriers; floating the Australian dollar exchange rate; deregulating the financial services sector, including liberalizing access for foreign bank branches; making efforts to restructure the highly centralized system of industrial relations and labor bargaining; better integrating the state economies into a national federal system; improving and standardizing the national infrastructure; privatizing many government-owned services and public utilities; and fundamentally reforming the taxation system, including introducing a broad-based Goods and Services Tax (GST).
The ultimate goal is for Australia to become a competitive producer and exporter, not just of traditional farm and mineral commodities, but also of a diversified mix of high value-added manufactured products, services, and technologies. Australia was one of the OECD's fastest-growing economies throughout the 1990s, a performance that owed much to the economic reform program. Despite a transient slowdown in late 2000, it has been 14 years since Australia experienced a recession and economic growth remains robust. Economic growth should be around 3% in 2004, despite the negative effect of the prolonged drought on Australian agricultural exports. The latest predictions suggest that GDP growth will exceed 3% over the next 2 years.
The United States and Australia concluded negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in February 2004. The FTA has been ratified by both the U.S. Congress and the Australian Parliament. The AUSFTA will enter into force on January 1, 2005. The AUSFTA marks the first FTA the U.S. has concluded with a developed economy since the U.S.-Canada FTA in 1988.
Australia has been active participant in international affairs since World War I and has fought beside the United States and other Allies in every significant conflict to the present day. In 1944, it concluded an agreement with New Zealand dealing with the security, welfare, and advancement of the people of the independent territories of the Pacific (the ANZAC pact). After the war, Australia played a role in the Far Eastern Commission in Japan and supported Indonesian independence during that country's revolt against the Dutch (1945-49). Australia was one of the founders of both the United Nations and the South Pacific Commission (1947), and in 1950, it proposed the Colombo Plan to assist developing countries in Asia. In addition to contributing to UN forces in Korea--it was the first country to announce it would do so after the United States--Australia sent troops to assist in putting down the communist revolt in Malaya in 1948-60 and later to combat the Indonesian-supported invasion of Sarawak in 1963-65. The U.S., Australia and New Zealand signed the ANZUS Treaty in 1951, which remains Australia's only formal security treaty alliance. Australia also sent troops to assist South Vietnamese and U.S. forces in Vietnam and joined coalition forces in the Persian Gulf conflict in 1991, in Afghanistan in 2002, and in Iraq in 2003.
Australia has been active in the Australia-New Zealand-U.K. agreement and the Five-Power Defense Arrangements--successive arrangements with Britain and New Zealand to ensure the security of Singapore and Malaysia.
One of the drafters of the UN Charter, Australia has given firm support to the United Nations and its specialized agencies. It was a member of the Security Council in 1986-87, a member of the Economic and Social Council for 1986-89, and a member of the UN Human Rights Commission for 1994-96 and 2003-2005. Australia takes a prominent part in many other UN activities, including peacekeeping, nonproliferation and disarmament negotiations, and narcotics control. Australia also is active in meetings of the Commonwealth Regional Heads of Government and the Pacific Islands Forum, and has been a leader in the Cairns Group--countries pressing for agricultural trade reform in World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations--and in the APEC forum.
Australia has devoted particular attention to relations between developed and developing nations, with emphasis on the ten countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the island states of the South Pacific. Australia is an active participant in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which promotes regional cooperation on security issues. In September 1999, acting under a UN Security Council mandate, Australia led an international coalition to restore order in East Timor upon Indonesia's withdrawal from that territory.
Australia will provide over $1.6 billion ($A2.1 billion) as official development assistance in FY 2004-05. The Australian aid program is currently concentrated in Southeast Asia (Papua New Guinea is the largest-single recipient) and the Pacific Islands. In 2003, Australia led a regional mission to restore law and order in Solomon Islands. In 2004, Australia commenced a 5-year $0.8 billion ($A1.1 billion) enhanced cooperation program, which involved government officials working alongside their PNG counterparts. Selected aid flows are allocated to Africa, South Asia, and reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq. Contributions to multilateral organizations and other expenses account for about one-third of the foreign assistance budget.
ANZUS AND DEFENSE
The Australia, New Zealand, United States (ANZUS) security treaty was concluded at San Francisco on September 1, 1951, and entered into force on April 29, 1952. The treaty bound the signatories to recognize that an armed attack in the Pacific area on any of them would endanger the peace and safety of the others. It committed them to consult in the event of a threat and, in the event of attack, to meet the common danger in accordance with their respective constitutional processes. The three nations also pledged to maintain and develop individual and collective capabilities to resist attack.
In 1985, the nature of the ANZUS alliance changed after the Government of New Zealand refused access to its ports by nuclear-weapons-capable and nuclear-powered ships of the U.S. Navy. The United States suspended defense obligations to New Zealand, and annual bilateral meetings between the U.S. Secretary of State and the Australian Foreign Minister replaced annual meetings of the ANZUS Council of Foreign Ministers. The first bilateral meeting was held in Canberra in 1985. At the second, in San Francisco in 1986, the United States and Australia announced that the United States was suspending its treaty security obligations to New Zealand pending the restoration of port access. Subsequent bilateral Australia-U.S. Ministerial (AUSMIN) meetings have alternated between Australia and the United States. The 16th AUSMIN meeting took place in Washington on July 7, 2004.
The U.S.-Australia alliance under the ANZUS Treaty remains in full force. Defense ministers of one or both nations have joined the annual ministerial meetings, which are supplemented by consultations between the U.S. Combatant Commander, Pacific and the Australian Chief of Defense Force. There also are regular civilian and military consultations between the two governments at lower levels.
ANZUS has no integrated defense structure or dedicated forces. However, in fulfillment of ANZUS obligations, Australia and the United States conduct a variety of joint activities. These include military exercises ranging from naval and landing exercises at the task-group level to battalion-level special forces training, assigning officers to each other's armed services, and standardizing, where possible, equipment and operational doctrine. The two countries also operate joint defense facilities in Australia.
Following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Australian Prime Minister Howard invoked the ANZUS Treaty for the first time on September 14, 2001. Australia was one of the earliest participants in Operation Enduring Freedom. Australian Defense Forces participated in coalition military action against Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Australian military and civilian specialists are participating in the training of Iraqi security forces and the reconstruction of Iraq.
After a review in 2000 of Australia's future defense needs, the government made a commitment to increase defense spending by an average of 3% a year for the next 10 years. The Australian Defense Force numbers about 52,000 active duty personnel. The Royal Australian Navy's front-line fleet currently includes 12 frigates, including 6 of the Perry class and 6 Australian-built ANZAC class, with 2 more to be delivered by 2006. The last of six submarines of the new, indigenous Collins class was commissioned in March 2003. In August 2004, Australia selected the Aegis Combat Control System for its three air warfare destroyers, which will start coming into service in 2013. The F/A-18 fighter, built in Australia under license from the U.S. manufacturer, is the principal combat aircraft of the Royal Australian Air Force, backed by the U.S.-built F-111 strike aircraft. In October 2002, Australia became a Level III partner in the U.S.-led Joint Strike Fighter program. Recent U.S. sales to the Royal Australian Army include the M1A1 AIM tank, as well as Hellfire and JAVELIN munitions.
The World War II experience, similarities in culture and historical background, and shared democratic values have made U.S. relations with Australia exceptionally strong and close. Ties linking the two nations cover the entire spectrum of international relations--from commercial, cultural, and environmental contacts to political and defense cooperation. Two-way trade reached $25 billion in 2003. More than 400,000 Americans have visited Australia in a single year.
Traditional friendship is reinforced by the wide range of common interests and similar views on most major international questions. For example, both countries sent military forces to the Persian Gulf in support of UN Security Council resolutions relating to Iraq's occupation of Kuwait; both attach high priority to controlling and eventually eliminating chemical weapons, other weapons of mass destruction, and anti-personnel landmines; and both work closely on global environmental issues such as slowing climate change and preserving coral reefs. The Australian Government and opposition share the view that Australia's security depends on firm ties with the United States, and the ANZUS Treaty enjoys broad bipartisan support. Recent Presidential visits to Australia (in 1991, 1996 and 2003) and Australian Prime Ministerial visits to the United States (in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004) have underscored the strength and closeness of the alliance.
Trade issues have generated bilateral friction. In recent years, especially because of Australia's large trade deficit with the United States, Australians have protested U.S. barriers against their exports of some primary products and fast ferries. Of particular note, Australia's access to the U.S. market for sugar remained unchanged under the recently-negotiated AUSFTA. Australia's sugar exports to the U.S. remains strictly controlled by the country-specific U.S. quota program. Australia also opposes as "extraterritorial" U.S. sanctions legislation against Cuba, Iran, and Libya. Australia remains concerned that U.S. agricultural subsidies may allow U.S. products to undercut Australian grain, dairy products, and other agricultural commodities in the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere. For its part, the United States has concerns about Australian quarantine barriers to imports of meat and some fruits; changes in Australian law governing intellectual property protection; and Australian Government procurement practices. Many of these issues have been subsumed under the comprehensive bilateral FTA.
Both countries share a commitment to liberalizing global trade. They work together very closely in the World Trade Organization (WTO), and both are active members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
A number of U.S. institutions conduct scientific activities in Australia because of its geographical position, large land mass, advanced technology, and, above all, the ready cooperation of its government and scientists. Under an agreement dating back to 1960 and since renewed, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) maintains in Australia one of its largest and most important program outside the United States, including a number of tracking facilities vital to the U.S. space program. Indicative of the broadranging U.S.-Australian cooperation on other global issues, a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) was concluded in 1997, enhancing already close bilateral cooperation on legal and counter-narcotics issues. In 2001, the U.S. and Australia signed a new tax treaty and a bilateral social security agreement.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--J. Thomas Schieffer
Deputy Chief of Mission--William Stanton
Consular Affairs Coordinator--Sylvia Johnson (resident in Sydney)
Economic Counselor--Matt Matthews
Political Counselor--Woo Lee
Management Counselor--Grace Stettenbauer
Public Affairs Counselor--Susan Crystal
Defense and Air Attache and Representative of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Commander in Chief Pacific--Col. Mike Mahar, USAF
Agricultural Counselor--Andrew Burst
Senior Commercial Officer--Beryl Blecher (resident in Sydney)
The U.S. Embassy in Australia is located at Moonah Place, Yarralumla, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2600 (tel. (02) 6-214-5600; fax 6-214-5970). Consulates General are in Sydney (tel. 2-9373-9200; fax 2-9373-9107); Melbourne (tel. 3-9526-5900; fax 3-9510-4646; and Perth (tel. 9-231-9400; fax. 9-231-9444).