The Commonwealth of Australia is the sixth-largest country in the world (geographically), the only one to occupy an entire continent, and the largest in the region of Australasia. Australia includes the island of Tasmania, which is an Australian State. Its neighbouring countries include New Zealand to the southeast; and Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and East Timor to its north. The name 'Australia' comes from the Latin phrase terra australis incognita ("unknown southern land", see Terra Australis). The word "Australia" is pronounced by locals as either @"streIlI@ or @"streIj@ (SAMPA), əˈstɹeɪlɪə or əˈstɹeɪjə (IPA).
Origin and history of the name
The name Australia derives from Latin australis meaning southern, and dates back to 2nd century AD legends of an "unknown southern land" (i.e. terra australis incognita). The English explorer Matthew Flinders named the land Terra Australis which was later abbreviated to the current form. Previously, when the Dutch explored the area they named it Nova Hollandicus or New Holland, a name which is recalled in the scientific name of the native cockatiel, Nymphicus hollandicus, a relative of the budgerigar.
Main article: History of Australia
The exact date of the first human habitation of Australia is still a subject of considerable research. There is strong scientific evidence for a presence around 50,000 years ago, a period of massive ecological upheaval in Australia which is believed to be consistent with human colonisation. However, there is some speculation about considerably earlier arrivals, even as far as 100,000 or more years ago. These first Australians were the remote ancestors of the current Australian Aborigines, and arrived via land bridges and navigation of significant sea crossings from present-day Southeast Asia.
The land was not discovered by Europeans until the 17th century, when it was sighted and visited by several expeditions: The Dutch explorer Willem Jansz (1606), the Portuguese explorer Luis Vaez de Torres in Spanish service (1607), and the Dutch explorers Jan Carstensz (1623), Dirk Hartog and Abel Tasman (1642), after whom is named the island of Tasmania, but which he himself originally named Anthoonij van Diemenslandt.
The first English explorers were Willem Dampier on the west coast of the continent in 1688, and James Cook, who in 1770 claimed the eastern two-thirds of the continent for Britain, despite orders from King George III to first conclude a treaty with the indigenous population. His report to London that Australia was uninhabited provided impetus for the establishment of a penal colony there following the loss of the American colonies.
The British Crown Colony of New South Wales began by the establishment of a settlement (later to become Sydney) in Port Jackson by Captain Arthur Phillip on January 26, 1788. The date of arrival of the First Fleet was later to become the date of Australia's national day, Australia Day.
Van Diemen's Land (i.e. the present day Tasmania) was settled in 1803, and became a separate colony in 1825. The rest of the continent, what is now Western Australia, was formally claimed by the United Kingdom in 1829. Following the spread of British settlement, separate Colonies were created from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851 and Queensland in 1859. The Northern Territory was founded, as part of the Colony of South Australia, in 1863.
During the period of 1855-1890, the six Crown Colonies each successively became self-governing colonies, which managed most of their own affairs. British law was adopted in each colony at the time of the granting of responsible government, and was subsequently modified by the individual legislatures. The British government retained control of some matters, especially foreign affairs, defence, international shipping. Despite its heavily rural based economy Australia remained significantly urbanised, centred particularly around the cities of Melbourne and Sydney. In the 1880s 'Marvellous Melbourne' was the second largest city in the British Empire. Australia also gained a reputation as a 'working man's paradise' and as a laboratory for social reform, with the world's first secret ballot and first national Labor Party government.
On 1 January 1901, federation of the Colonies was completed after a 10 year gestation period, and the Commonwealth of Australia was born, as a dominion of the British Empire. The Australian Capital Territory was separated from New South Wales in 1911, to provide a neutral place for the proposed new federal capital of Canberra (the initial capital having been Melbourne). Although Australia had become independent, the British government retained some powers over Australia until the Statute of Westminster in 1931, and the authority of the British Parliament was not completely severed until 1986. Indigenous Australians were generally denied both citizenship and the vote until the Constitution was altered by referendum in 1967.
Australia is a constitutional monarchy, with Elizabeth II reigning as 'Queen of Australia'. In 1999, a referendum was held on the question of constitutional change to a republic, with an appointed President replacing the Queen as head of state, but this was rejected. Various surveys held before and since the referendum suggest that the majority of Australians favour some form of republic, and hence many people ascribe the negative result of the referendum to dissatisfaction with the particular republican model that was proposed. A further discussion of this issue can be found in the topic Australian republicanism.
The Commonwealth of Australia is a constitutional monarchy: the Queen of Australia is considered to be the head of state, although that term is found nowhere in the Constitution or the law. The Queen is represented by the Governor-General. Under the Australian Constitution the role of the monarch is almost entirely ceremonial. Although the constitution gives significant executive power to the Governor-General, these powers are almost never used directly, and are usually delegated to the Cabinet, whose members are chosen by the governing party or by the Prime Minister alone, from amongst the current members of the parliament.
Government is undertaken by three inter-connected arms of government:
The Separation of Powers is the principle whereby the three arms of government undertake their activities separate from the others:
The legal basis for the nation changed with the passage of the Australia Act 1986, and associated legislation in the parliament of the United Kingdom. Until the passage of this Act, Australian cases could be referred to the highest courts of the UK and even to the Privy Council for final appeal. With this act of parliament, Australian law was made unequivocally the law in the nation, and the High Court of Australia was confirmed as the single highest court of appeal. The theoretical possibility of the British Parliament enacting laws to override the Australian Constitution was also removed.(Act:pdf) (http://scaleplus.law.gov.au/html/pasteact/1/973/pdf/AustraliaAct86.pdf)
Main article: Politics of Australia
Australia has a bicameral federal Parliament, comprising a Senate (or upper house) with 76 Senators, and a House of Representatives (or lower house) with 150 Members. Members of the lower house are elected on a population basis from single-member constituencies, known technically as 'divisions' but more commonly, as 'electorates' or 'seats'. The more populous the state, the more members it will have in the House of Representatives. There is a minimum of 5 members for each state. In the Senate, each state regardless of population is represented by twelve Senators, and each mainland territory by two. Elections for both chambers are held every three years, usually with only one half of the Senate being eligible for re-election, as the Senators have overlapping terms of six years each. The government is formed in the lower house, and the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives is the Prime Minister. On only one short-lived occasion has a Senator become Prime Minister.
An exception to the constitutional conventions occurred on 11 November, 1975, when Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam. This remains the single most controversial event in Australian political history.
States and Territories
Main article: Australian States and Territories
Australia is divided into six states and several territories. The states are New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. The two major territories are the Northern Territory (NT) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The ACT also incorporates a separate area within New South Wales known as Jervis Bay Territory which serves as a naval base and sea port for the national capital.
Australia also has several inhabitated external territories (Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands) and several largely uninhabited external territories: Coral Sea Islands Territory, Heard Island and McDonald Islands and the Australian Antarctic Territory.
The Australian Capital Territory was created at the chosen site of the capital city Canberra. Canberra was founded as a compromise between the two largest cities, Melbourne and Sydney. The name 'Canberra' is derived from the indigenous Ngunnawal language, which is loosely translated into English as "meeting place".
Main article: Geography of Australia
By far the largest part of Australia is desert or semi-arid — 40% of the land mass is covered by sand dunes. Only the south-east and south-west corners have a temperate climate and moderately fertile soil. The northern part of the country has a tropical climate: part is tropical rainforests, part grasslands, and part desert. The Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef, lies a short distance off the north-east coast and extends for over 1,200 kilometres. Uluru (until 1986 known as Ayers Rock), is the second largest monolith in the world and is located in central Australia (the largest being Mount Augustus in Western Australia).
Flora and fauna
Although most of the continent is desert or semi-arid, Australia nevertheless includes a diverse range of habitats, from alpine heaths to tropical rainforests. Because of the great age of the continent, its very variable weather patterns, and its long-term geographic isolation, much of Australia's biota is unique.
Main article: Economy of Australia
Australia's economic development was slow at first and based on the export of wool. This all changed with the discovery of gold in 1851 and mining has, overall, been the most important sector of the Australian economy. By the late 20th century, Australia had a prosperous Western-style mixed economy, with a per capita GDP on par with the four dominant Western European economies. In recent years, the Australian economy has been resilient in the face of global economic downturn, with steady growth. Rising output in the domestic economy has been offsetting the global slump, and business and consumer confidence remains robust. Australia's emphasis on reforms is another key factor behind the economy's strength. In the 1980s, the Labor Party, led by Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Treasurer Paul Keating, played a crucial role in modernizing Australia's economy.
Since 1996, the Coalition government, led by Prime Minister John Howard, has continued to implement microeconomic reform policies. Some have claimed that the deregulation of the labour market during this period has resulted in a needed flexibility in the labour force. Others have criticised these deregulations as having a negative impact on workers on wages, safety and health grounds. Legislation introduced during this period sought to reduce union involement and power, and has preferred to emphasise enterprise bargaining (a tendency towards wage bargaining). Also during this period, the Coalition government deregulated numerous other industries, including the telecommunications sector, and privatised many of the pre-existing natural monopolies.
Since the recession "Australia had to have" (P. Keating) in the early 1990s, the Australian economy has not suffered a recession or "trough" in the business cycle in 11 years. Even the downturn of the early 2000s did not affect its consistent GDP growth.
Many raw materials (including resources postulated to exist but yet to be discovered) remain mostly unexploited. Australia is often referred to by economists as the "world's farm", but despite this emphasis on the agriculture sector, in recent years the Australian government has been focusing on the tourism, education and technology markets.
Main article: Demographics of Australia
Most of the Australian population descends from 19th and 20th century immigrants, most from Great Britain and Ireland to begin with, but from other sources in later years. Although Australia was founded as a penal colony, the transportation of British convicts to Australian colonies was gradually phased out between 1840 and 1868. During the "gold rush" of the late 19th century, the convicts and their descendants were rapidly overshadowed by hundreds of thousands of free settlers from many different countries: for example, in the 1850s about two per cent of the combined populations of Britain and Ireland emigrated to New South Wales and Victoria.
By the late 20th century many inhabitants were of Greek, Italian or Asian descent. The indigenous population, the Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, make up 2.2% of the population, according to the 2001 Census. In common with many other developed countries, Australia is currently experiencing a demographic shift towards an older population, with more people retiring and fewer people of working age.
Similarly, a large number of Australian citizens (850,000 as of 2004) live outside of their home country. This number (almost 5%) represents a higher per capita percentage of overseas residents than many other countries including the United States. This phenomenon was, until recently, given little attention by the Australian government and media, but the term Australian Diaspora has now joined the Australian vocabulary.
Because of the aging population, Australia maintains one of the most active immigration programs in the world, absorbing tens of thousands of immigrants from all over the world every year. Most permanent resident visas are granted on the basis of professional skills or family associations.
New Zealanders are granted Special Category Visas on arrival in Australia, which allow them to remain in Australia to live or work indefinitely. However, New Zealand citizens are excluded from government subsidised tertiary education or other advantages granted to Australian citizens and permanent residents. Until 2001, New Zealanders were entitled to unemployment benefits in Australia on arrival in the country, but now they may only claim these after two years, as is the norm for permanent residents of other nationalities.
English is the main official and spoken language in Australia, although some of the surviving Aboriginal communities maintain their native languages, and a considerable number of first and sometimes second-generation migrants are bilingual.
Main article: Culture of Australia
Much of Australia's culture is derived from European and more recently American roots, but distinctive Australian features have evolved from the environment, aboriginal culture, and the influence of Australia's neighbours. The vigor and originality of the arts in Australia—films, opera, music, painting, theater, dance, and crafts—are achieving international recognition.
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 Arthur Boyd—not to mention the prized work of many Aboriginal artists. There are excellent art galleries (even in surprisingly small towns); a rich tradition in ballet, enlivened by the legacy of Dame Margot Fonteyn and Sir Robert Helpmann; a strong national opera company based in Sydney; and symphony orchestras in all capital cities, in particular the Melbourne and Sydney symphony orchestras.
Writers who have achieved world recognition include Thomas Keneally, Les Murray, Colleen McCullough, Nevil Shute, Morris West, Jill Ker Conway, Booker Prize winner Peter Carey and Nobel Prize winner Patrick White. In the popular music sphere band and musicians (some notable examples include the 1960s successes of The Easybeats and the folk-pop group The Seekers, through the heavy rock of AC/DC, and the slick pop of INXS and more recently Savage Garden) have had considerable international success. In the 2000s rock band Jet achieved popular success locally and in the United States.
Australia has a highly concentrated ownership of media companies. Newspapers are dominated by two companies, News Corporation and John Fairfax Holdings. News Corporation publishes the only daily national newspaper, The Australian, as well as a daily newspaper in every capital city except Perth. Its holdings include The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Herald Sun (Melbourne), The Courier-Mail (Brisbane) and The Advertiser (Adelaide). News Corporation was founded in Adelaide and its first newspaper was The News which was later merged with The Advertiser. John Fairfax Holdings owns The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age (Melbourne) and the most prominent financial newspaper, The Australian Financial Review. Rural and regional media is dominated by Rural Press Limited, with significant holdings in all States and Territories. Titles include The Canberra Times as well as The Land (New South Wales), Queensland Country Life, Stock and Land (Victoria), Stock Journal (South Australia) and Farm Weekly (Western Australia). Rural Press also has significant holdings in New Zealand and the United States.
Australia has three major commercial television networks, the Nine Network, Seven Network and the Ten Network. It also has two government broadcasters, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC and colloquially Channel 2) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS).
Main article: List of Australia-related topics
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