Australia - Geography
Official name: Australian Union
Languages: English (official), Spanish, French
Official curency: australian dollar (AUD)
Religon: Orthodox, others
Ethnic groups: 85% European (31.6% English, 9.1% Irish, 7.7% Scotish), Asian 8 %, Other 2 %
Biggest city: Sydney
Area: 7,741,220 km2
Relief: Australia's main mountain range is the Great Dividing Range on the east coast. The eastern seaboard is where most Australians live, as this area gets substantial rainfall to support a large population. Most of Australia is actually desert or semi arid.
The south of both Western and South Australia supports reasonably large populations. Both areas enjoy a mediterranean climate.
The island state of Tasmania, just below the Australian continent is one of the most mountainous islands on earth and has a temperate climate with regular rainfall.
Seven states: Victoria, New South Wells, Tasmania, South Australia, West Australia, North Teritory, Queensland.
Australia - History
The groups comprising the aborigines are thought to have migrated from Southeast Asia. Skeletal remains indicate that aborigines arrived in Australia more than 40,000 years ago, and some evidence suggests that they were active there about 100,000 years ago. The aborigines spread throughout Australia and remained isolated from outside influences until the arrival of the Europeans. Australia may have sighted by a Portuguese, Manuel Godhino de Eredia, in 1601 and by a Spaniard, Luis Vaez de Torres, around 1605–6, but Dutchman Willem Janszoon is the first European confirmed to have seen (1606) and landed in Australia. Other Dutch navigators later visited the continent, and the Dutch named it New Holland. In 1688 the Englishman William Dampier landed at King Sound on the northwest coast. Little interest was aroused, however, until the fertile east coast was observed when Capt. James Cook reached Botany Bay in 1770 and sailed N to Cape York, claiming the coast for Great Britain. The groups comprising the aborigines are thought to have migrated from Southeast Asia. Skeletal remains indicate that aborigines arrived in Australia more than 40,000 years ago, and some evidence suggests that they were active there about 100,000 years ago. The aborigines spread throughout Australia and remained isolated from outside influences until the arrival of the Europeans. Australia may have sighted by a Portuguese, Manuel Godhino de Eredia, in 1601 and by a Spaniard, Luis Vaez de Torres, around 1605–6, but Dutchman Willem Janszoon is the first European confirmed to have seen (1606) and landed in Australia. Other Dutch navigators later visited the continent, and the Dutch named it New Holland. In 1688 the Englishman William Dampier landed at King Sound on the northwest coast. Little interest was aroused, however, until the fertile east coast was observed when Capt. James Cook reached Botany Bay in 1770 and sailed N to Cape York, claiming the coast for Great Britain.
In 1788 the first British settlement was made—a penal colony on the shores of Port Jackson, where Sydney now stands. By 1829 the whole continent was a British dependency. Exploration, begun before the first settlement was founded, was continued by such men as Matthew Flinders (1798), Count Paul Strzelecki (1839), Ludwig Leichhardt (1848), and John McDouall Stuart (first to cross the continent, 1862). Australia was long used as a dumping ground for criminals, bankrupts, and other undesirables from the British Isles. Sheep raising was introduced early, and before the middle of the 19th cent. wheat was being exported in large quantities to England. A gold strike in Victoria in 1851 brought a rush to that region. Other strikes were made later in the century in Western Australia. With minerals, sheep, and grain forming the base of the economy, Australia developed rapidly. By the mid-19th cent. systematic, permanent colonization had completely replaced the old penal settlements.
Confederation of the separate Australian colonies did not come until a constitution, drafted in 1897–98, was approved by the British parliament in 1900. It was put into operation in 1901; under its terms, the colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania, all of which had by then been granted self-government, were federated in the Commonwealth of Australia. The Northern Territory was added to the Commonwealth in 1911. The new federal government moved quickly to institute high protective tariffs (to restrain competition to Australian industry) and to initiate a strict anti-Asian “White Australia” immigration policy, which was not lifted until 1956.
Australia fought alongside Great Britain in both world wars. During World War I, the nation was part of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac), which fought bravely in many battles, notably in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. During World War II, Darwin, Port Jackson, and Newcastle were bombed or shelled by the Japanese. The Allied victory in the battle of the Coral Sea (1942) probably averted a full-scale attack on Australia. After the war Australia became increasingly active in world affairs, particularly in defense and development projects with its Asian neighbors; it furnished troops to aid the U.S. war effort in South Vietnam. At home, from 1949 to 1972 the government was controlled by a Liberal-Country party coalition with, until 1966, Robert Menzies as prime minister.
In 1983, Bob Hawke won his first of four terms as prime minister against a coalition of the Liberal and National parties. In 1991, as Australia foundered in a deep recession, Hawke lost the prime ministership to fellow Laborite Paul Keating. Keating led Labor to its fifth consecutive electoral victory in 1993. In the Mar., 1996, elections, however, 13 years of Labor rule were ended by a Liberal-National party coalition led by John Howard, who promised deregulation, smaller government, and other conservative economic reforms. Howard's coalition was reelected, although by a smaller margin, in 1998.
In a 1999 referendum, voters rejected a plan to replace the British monarch as head of state with a president elected by the parliament. In Nov., 2001, after a campaign dominated by issues of nonwhite immigration and national security, Howard's government was returned to office for a third term. In 2002–3, Australia experienced one of the worst droughts of the past 100 years, and wildfires scorched some 7.4 million acres (3 million hectares) of the bush. After Great Britain, Australia was the most prominent supporter militarily of the United States' invasion of Iraq in 2003, sending a force of about 2,000 to the Persian Gulf, and the country has taken an increasingly interventionist role in surrounding region, sending forces to the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and East Timor to restore law and order.
Benefiting from a prosperous economy, Howard led his coalition to a fourth consecutive term, winning a strong mandate in the Oct., 2004, national elections. In Jan., 2005, the country again experienced deadly bush fires, in South Australia. The Sydney area was stunned by several days of ethnically-based mob violence (between Australians of European and Middle Eastern descent) in Dec., 2005. A scandal involving kickbacks paid under the oil-for-food program to Saddam Hussein's Iraq by AWB Ltd. (the private Australian wheat-exporting monopoly that formerly was the Australian Wheat Board) threatened in 2006 to entangle Howard's government. The government admitted in March that, despite previous denials, it was aware there were charges that AWB was paying kickbacks, but said officials had received assurances from AWB that no payments had been made. Late in 2006 the commission investigating AWB cleared government officials (but not AWB officials) of criminal activity.
Relations with the Solomon Islands became tense in 2006 when Australia criticized a Solomons investigation into the post-election unrest there in April as a potential whitewash. The appointment as Solomons attorney general of Julian Moti, an Australian of Fijian descent who was wanted in Australia on child sex charges, further strained relations. Australia sought Moti's extradition from Papua New Guinea, where he was arrested (Sept., 2006) but managed to flee with apparent help from the Solomons embassy; Australia continued to seek Moti's extradition after he illegally entered the Solomons and was held there.
By late 2006, Australia was experiencing its sixth dry year in a row, and many observers termed the worsening “Big Dry” as the worst in the nation's history; 2003 and 2006 were especially dry years. In 2007 there was rainfall at the start of the growing season in SE Australia, but drought conditions continued in many areas and were again severe in the Murray-Darling basin by mid-2008. Parliamentary elections in Nov., 2007, brought the Labor party into office; party leader Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat, became prime minister. The Rudd government embarked on significant reversals of Howard's policies, promising to withdraw Australian combat troops from Iraq, moving to adopt the Kyoto Protocal on climate change, and apologizing to the aborigines for Australia's past mistreatment of them.
Australia - Economy
Most of the rich farmland and good ports are in the east and particularly the southeast, except for the area around Perth in Western Australia. Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide are the leading industrial and commercial cities. There was considerable industrial development in the last two decades of the 20th cent. While the Australian economy fell into a severe recession in the late 1980s, it experienced an extended period of growth beginning in the 1990s. It then suffered somewhat from the Asian economic slump of the 1990s and from the “Big Dry” drought of the early 21st cent.
Australia is highly industrialized, and manufactured goods account for most of the gross domestic product. Its chief industries include mining (much of which is accomplished with the aid of Japanese capital), food processing, and the manufacture of industrial and transportation equipment, chemicals, iron and steel, textiles, machinery, and motor vehicles. Australia has valuable mineral resources, including coal, iron, bauxite, copper, tin, gold, silver, uranium, nickel, tungsten, mineral sands, lead, zinc, natural gas, and petroleum; the country is an important producer of opals and diamonds.
The country is self-sufficient in food, and the raising of sheep and cattle and the production of grain have long been staple occupations. Tropical and subtropical produce—citrus fruits, sugarcane, and tropical fruits—are also important, and there are numerous vineyards and dairy and tobacco farms.
Australia maintains a favorable balance of trade. Its chief export commodities are metals, minerals, coal, wool, beef, mutton, cereals, and manufactured products. The leading imports are machinery, transportation and telecommunications equipment, computers and office machines, crude oil, and petroleum products. Australia's economic ties with Asia and the Pacific Rim have become increasingly important, with Japan, China, and the United States being its main trading partners
Tourism plays important role in Australia economy and it has well developed infrastructure. Annually, the country is being
visited by more than 2.6 million tourists - mailny from Australia, UK, New Zealand. They visit it mailnly in the summer.
By 2007 tourism is 3.7 % of Australia GDP, 10.4 % from exports, 4.7 % of employment.
Since 1788, the primary basis of Australian culture has been Anglo-Celtic, although distinctive Australian features soon arose from the country's unique environment and the pre-existing indigenous culture. Over the past 50 years, Australian culture has been strongly influenced by American popular culture (particularly television and cinema), large-scale immigration from non-English-speaking countries and Australia's Asian neighbours. Australian literature, cinema, opera, music, painting, theatre, dance, and crafts has achieved international recognition.
Australian visual arts have a long history, starting with the cave and bark paintings of its indigenous peoples. From the time of European settlement, a common theme in Australian Art has been the Australian landscape, seen for example in the works of Arthur Streetor,Arthur Boyd, and Albert Namatjira. The traditions of indigenous Australians are largely transmitted orally and are closely tied to ceremony and the telling of the stories of the Dreamtime. Australian aboriginal music, dance, and art have a palpable influence on contemporary Australian visual and performing arts. The National Gallery of Australia and the various state art galleries have strong collections of Australian and overseas artworks and are highly attended by Australians. Australia has an active tradition of music, ballet, and theatre; many of its performing arts companies receive public funding through the federal government's Australia Council. There is a symphony orchestra in each state's capital city, and a national opera company, Opera Australia, first made prominent by the renowned diva Dame Joan Sutherland.Dame Nelie Melba was her great predecessor.Australian music includes classical, jazz, and many popular genres. Ballet and dance are also represented across the nation by The Australian ballet and various state dance companies.Sir Robert Helpmann featured as a great Australian dancer and has been followed by numerous others including the current artistic director of the Australian Ballet, David McAllister. Each state has a publicly funded theatre company. Australia has produced many great actors including Nicole Kidman and the current joint director of the Sydney Theatre Company, Cate Blanchett.
Australian literature has also been influenced by the landscape; the works of writers such as Banjo Peterson and Henry Lawson captured the experience of the Australian bush. The character of colonial Australia, as embodied in early literature, resonates with modern Australia and its perceived emphasis on egalitarianism, mateship, and a perceived anti-authoritarianism. In 1973, Patrick White was awarded the Nobel Prize in literatire, the only Australian to have achieved this; he is recognised as one of the great English-language writers of the 20th century. Colleen McCullough David Williamson and David Malouf are also writers of great renown. Australian English is a major variety of the language; its grammar and spelling are largely based on those of British English, overlaid with a rich vernacular of unique lexical items and phrases, some of which have found their way into standard English. Australian English has much less internal dialectal variation than either British or American English although pronunciation of words and word usage can vary.
Australia has two public broadcasters (the Australian Broadcasting Corporaion and the multicultural Special Broadcasting Service), three commercial television networks, several pay-TV services, and numerous public, non-profit television and radio stations. Australia`s film industry has achieved many critical and commercial successes. Each major city has daily newspapers, and there are two national daily newspapers, The Australian and The Australian Financial Review. According to Reporters without borders in 2007, Australia was in 28th position on a list of countries ranked by press freedom, behind New Zealand (15th) and the United Kingdom (24th) but ahead of the United States (48th). This low ranking is primarily because of the limited diversity of commercial media ownership in Australia; in particular, most Australian print media are under the control of News Corporation and John Fairfax Holdings.
Sport plays an important part in Australian culture, assisted by a climate that favours outdoor activities; 23.5% Australians over the age of 15 regularly participate in organised sporting activities. At an international level, Australia has strong teams in cricket, field hockey,netball, rugby league, and rugby union, and it performs well in cycling, rowing, and swimming. Nationally, other popular sports include Australian rulles football, horse racing, soccer, and motor racing. Australia has participated in every summer Olympic Games of the modern era, and every Commonweath Games. Australia hosted the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, and has ranked among the top six medal-takers since 2000. Australia has also hosted the 1938, 1962, 1982 and 2006 Commonweath Games. Other major international events held in Australia include the Grand Slam Australian Open tennis tournament, international cricket matches, and the Formula One Australian Grand Prix. Viewing televised sport is popular; the highest-rating television programs include the summer Olympic Games and the grand finals of local and international football (various codes) competitions.
Australia - Policitical system
Australia’s system of government is founded in the liberal democratic tradition. Based on the values of religious tolerance, freedom of speech and association, and the rule of law, Australia’s institutions and practices of government reflect British and North American models. At the same time, they are uniquely Australian.
One of the oldest continuous democracies in the world, the Commonwealth of Australia was created in 1901 when the former British colonies—now the six states—agreed to federate. The democratic practices and principles that shaped the pre-federation colonial parliaments (such as ‘one man, one vote’ and women’s suffrage) were adopted by Australia’s first federal government.
The Australian colonies had inherited an electoral tradition from Britain that included limited franchise and public and plural voting. Abuses such as bribery and intimidation of voters stimulated electoral change. Australia pioneered reforms that underpin the electoral practices of modern democracies.
In 1855, Victoria introduced the secret ballot, which became known throughout the world as ‘the Australian ballot’. In 1856, South Australia eliminated professional and property qualifications and gave the vote to all adult men, and in 1892 gave adult women the vote. In the 1890s the colonies adopted the principle of one vote per person, stopping the practice of plural voting.
Australia’s government is based on a popularly elected parliament with two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Ministers appointed from these chambers conduct executive government, and policy decisions are made in Cabinet meetings. Apart from the announcement of decisions, Cabinet discussions are not disclosed. Ministers are bound by the principle of Cabinet solidarity, which closely mirrors the British model of Cabinet government responsible to parliament.
Although Australia is an independent nation, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain is also formally Queen of Australia. The Queen appoints a Governor-General (on the advice of the elected Australian Government) to represent her. The Governor-General has wide powers, but by convention acts only on the advice of ministers on virtually all matters.
Like the United States and unlike Britain, Australia has a written constitution. The Australian Constitution defines the responsibilities of the federal government, which include foreign relations, trade, defence and immigration. Governments of states and territories are responsible for all matters not assigned to the Commonwealth, and they too adhere to the principles of responsible government. In the states, the Queen is represented by a Governor for each state.
The High Court of Australia arbitrates on disputes between the Commonwealth and the states. Many of the court’s decisions have expanded the constitutional powers and responsibilities of the federal government.
The Australian Constitution can be amended only with the approval of the electorate through a national referendum in which all adults on the electoral roll must participate. A bill containing the amendment must first be passed by both houses of parliament or, in certain limited circumstances, by only one house of parliament. Any constitutional changes must be approved by a double majority—a national majority of electors as well as a majority of electors in a majority of the states (at least four of the six). Where any state or states are particularly affected by the subject of the referendum, a majority of voters in those states must also agree to the change. This is often referred to as the ‘triple majority’ rule.
The double majority provision makes alterations to the Constitution difficult. Since federation in 1901, only eight out of 44 proposals to amend the Constitution have been approved. Voters are generally reluctant to support what they perceive as increases in the power of the federal government. States and territories may also hold referendums.
The Australian Constitution sets out the powers of government in three separate chapters—the legislature, the executive and the judiciary—but insists that members of the legislature must also be members of the executive. In practice, parliament delegates wide regulatory powers to the executive.
Government is formed in the House of Representatives by the party able to command a majority in that chamber.
Minority parties often hold the balance of power in the Senate, which serves as a chamber of review for the decisions of the government. Senators are elected for six-year terms, and in an ordinary general election only half the senators face the voters.
In all Australian parliaments questions can be asked without notice, and there is a strict alternation between government and Opposition questions to ministers during Question Time. The Opposition uses its questions to pursue the government. Government members give ministers a chance to put government policies and actions in a favourable light, or to pursue the Opposition.
Anything said in parliament can be reported fairly and accurately without fear of a suit for defamation. The rough-and-tumble of parliamentary Question Time and debates is broadcast and widely reported. This has helped to establish Australia’s reputation for robust public debate, and serves as an informal check on executive power.
A national general election must be held within three years of the first meeting of a new federal parliament. The average life of parliaments is about two-and-a-half years. In practice, general elections are held when the Governor-General agrees to a request from the Prime Minister, who selects the date of the election.
The governing party has changed about every five years on average since federation in 1901, but length of hold on government has varied greatly. The Liberal Party led a coalition with the longest hold on government—23 years—from 1949 to 1972. Prior to World War II, several governments lasted less than a year, but since 1945 there have been only seven changes of government.
For all citizens over the age of 18 it is compulsory to vote in the election of both federal and state governments, and failure to do so may result in a fine or prosecution.
Relative to some other countries, Australia’s political parties and their internal operations are comparatively unregulated, but internal party discipline is extremely tight. There is an official system of party registration and reporting of some party activities through the Australian Electoral Commission and its state and territory equivalents.
Australia has four main political parties. The Australian Labor Party (ALP) is a social democratic party founded by the Australian labour movement. The ALP has governed since late 2007. The Liberal Party is a party of the centre right. The National Party of Australia, formerly the Country Party, is a conservative party representing rural interests. The Australian Greens is a left-wing and environmentalist party.
Australia’s major political parties have structured ways to involve their members in developing party policy on issues. Elected politicians rarely vote against their parties in parliament.
Although Australian commentators observe that elections have become more ‘presidential’ in the sense that some American campaign methods are used, the basic structure of the Australian system tends to emphasise policy stances rather than the character of individual politicians.
As in other democracies, the cost of election campaigns and the source of funds for political activity are issues in Australia. Since 1984, a system of public funding (administered by the Australian Electoral Commission) and disclosure for election campaigns has been in place. Parties must receive at least 4 per cent of the valid vote in the elections they contest to receive this public funding.
Parties must disclose campaign expenditures and sources of donations above a specified threshold. Individual candidates must also disclose sources of donations above a certain threshold. Parties and individuals contesting non-consecutive elections must disclose gifts and donations received between the campaigns.
Relations between levels of government
State parliaments are subject to the national Constitution as well as their state constitutions. A federal law overrides any state law not consistent with it.
In practice, the two levels of government cooperate in many areas where states and territories are formally responsible, such as education, transport, health and law enforcement. Income tax is levied federally, and debate between the levels of governments about access to revenue and duplication of expenditure functions is a perennial feature of Australian politics. Local government bodies are created by legislation at the state and territory level.
The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) is a forum to initiate, develop and implement national policy reforms requiring cooperative action between the three levels of government: national, state or territory, and local. Its objectives include dealing with major issues by cooperating on structural reform of government and on reforms to achieve an integrated, efficient national economy and a single national market.
COAG comprises the prime minister, state premiers, chief ministers of the territories, and the president of the Australian Local Government Association.
In addition, ministerial councils (comprising national, state and territory ministers, and, where relevant, representatives of local government and of the governments of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea) meet regularly to develop and implement inter-governmental action in specific policy areas.