The Commonwealth of Australia is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the world's smallest continent and a number of islands in the Southern, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Australia's neighbouring countries include Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea to the north, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and the French dependency of New Caledonia to the northeast, and New Zealand to the southeast.
The continent of Australia has been inhabited for over 40,000 years by Indigenous Australians. After sporadic visits by fishermen from the north and by European explorers and merchants starting in the seventeenth century, the eastern half of the continent was claimed by the British in 1770 and officially settled as the penal colony of New South Wales on 26 January 1788. As the population grew and new areas were explored, another five largely self-governing Crown Colonies were successively established over the course of the nineteenth century.
On 1 January 1901, the six colonies federated and the Commonwealth of Australia was formed. Since federation, Australia has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system and remains a Commonwealth Realm. The capital city is Canberra although the current population of around 20.5 million is concentrated mainly in the large coastal cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide.
The first human habitation of Australia is estimated to have occurred between 42,000 and 48,000 years ago. The first Australians were the ancestors of the current Indigenous Australians; they arrived via land bridges and short sea-crossings from present-day Southeast Asia. Most of these people were hunter-gatherers, with a complex oral culture and spiritual values based on reverence for the land and a belief in the Dreamtime. The Torres Strait Islanders, ethnically Melanesian, inhabited the Torres Strait Islands and parts of far-north Queensland; they possess distinct cultural practices from the Aborigines.
The Indigenous Australian population, estimated at about 350,000 at the time of European settlement, declined steeply for 150 years following settlement, mainly because of infectious disease combined with forced re-settlement and cultural disintegration. The removal of children, that some historians and Indigenous Australians have argued could be considered to constitute genocide by today's understanding, may have made a small contribution to the decline in the indigenous population. Such interpretations of Aboriginal history are disputed by some as being exaggerated or fabricated for political or ideological reasons.  This debate is known within Australia as the History Wars. Following the 1967 referendum, the Federal government gained the power to implement policies and make laws with respect to Aborigines. Traditional ownership of land — native title — was not recognised until the High Court case Mabo v Queensland (No 2) overturned the notion of Australia as terra nullius at the time of European occupation.
On 1 January 1901, federation of the colonies was achieved after a decade of planning, consultation and voting, and the Commonwealth of Australia was born, as a Dominion of the British Empire. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) was formed from New South Wales in 1911 to provide a location for the proposed new federal capital of Canberra (Melbourne was the capital from 1901 to 1927). The Northern Territory was transferred from the control of the South Australian government to the Commonwealth in 1911. Australia willingly participated in World War I; many Australians regard the defeat of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) at Gallipoli as the birth of the nation — its first major military action. Much like Gallipoli, the Kokoda Track Campaign is regarded by many as a nation-defining battle from World War II.
The Statute of Westminster 1931 formally ended most of the constitutional links between Australia and the United Kingdom, but Australia did not adopt the Statute until 1942. The shock of the United Kingdom's defeat in Asia in 1942 and the threat of Japanese invasion caused Australia to turn to the United States as a new ally and protector. Since 1951, Australia has been a formal military ally of the US under the auspices of the ANZUS treaty. After World War II, Australia encouraged mass immigration from Europe; since the 1970s and the abolition of the White Australia policy, immigration from Asia and other parts of the world was also encouraged. As a result, Australia's demography, culture and image of itself were radically transformed.
Since the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972, there has been an increasing focus on the nation's future as a part of the Asia-Pacific region.
The Commonwealth of Australia is a constitutional monarchy and has a parliamentary system of government. Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of Australia, a role that is distinct from her position as Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. The Queen is nominally represented by the Governor-General at Federal level and by the Governors at State level. Although the Constitution gives extensive executive powers to the Governor-General, these are normally exercised only on the advice of the Prime Minister.
There are three branches of government.
- The legislature: the Commonwealth Parliament, comprising the Queen, the Senate, and the House of Representatives; the Queen is represented by the Governor-General, who in practice exercises little or no power over the Parliament.
- The executive: the Federal Executive Council (the Governor-General as advised by the executive councillors); in practice, the councillors are the prime minister and ministers of state.
- The judiciary: the High Court of Australia and other federal courts. The State courts became formally independent from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council when the Australia Act was passed in 1986.
The party with majority support in the House of Representatives forms Government, with its leader becoming Prime Minister.
States and territoriesEdit
Australia consists of six states, two major mainland territories, and other minor territories. The states are New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. The two major mainland territories are the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. In most respects, the territories function similarly to the states, but the Commonwealth Parliament can override any legislation of their parliaments. By contrast, federal legislation overrides state legislation only with respect to certain areas as set out in Section 51 of the Constitution; all residual legislative powers are retained by the state parliaments, including powers over hospitals, education, police, the judiciary, roads, public transport and local government.
Each state and territory has its own legislature (unicameral in the case of the Northern Territory, the ACT and Queensland, and bicameral in the remaining states). The heads of the governments in each state and territory are called premiers and chief ministers, respectively. The Queen is represented in each state by a governor; an administrator in the Northern Territory, and the Governor-General in the ACT, have analogous roles.
Australia also has several minor territories; the federal government administers a separate area within New South Wales, the Jervis Bay Territory, as a naval base and sea port for the national capital. In addition Australia has the following, inhabited, external territories: Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and several largely uninhabited external territories: Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Coral Sea Islands, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, and the Australian Antarctic Territory.
Foreign relations and militaryEdit
Over recent decades, Australia's foreign relations have been driven by a close association with the United States, through the ANZUS pact and by a desire to develop relationships with Asia and the Pacific, particularly through ASEAN and the Pacific Islands Forum. In 2005 Australia secured an inaugural seat at the East Asia Summit following its accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. Australia is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, in which the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings provide the main forum for co-operation. Much of Australia's diplomatic energy is focused on international trade liberalisation. Australia led the formation of the Cairns Group and APEC, and is a member of the OECD and the WTO. Australia has pursued several major bilateral free trade agreements, most recently the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement. Australia is a founding member of the United Nations, and maintains an international aid program under which some 60 countries receive assistance. The 2005–06 budget provides A$2.5 bn for development assistance; as a percentage of GDP, this contribution is less than that of the UN Millennium Development Goals.
Geography and climateEdit
- Main article: Geography of Australia
Australia's 7,686,850 square kilometres (2,967,909 sq. mi) landmass is on the Indo-Australian Plate. Surrounded by the Indian, Southern, and Pacific oceans, Australia is separated from Asia by the Arafura and Timor seas. Australia has a total 25,760 kilometres (16,007 mi) of coastline and claims an extensive Exclusive Economic Zone of 8,148,250 square kilometres (3,146,057 sq. mi). This exclusive economic zone does not include the Australian Antarctic Territory.
By far the largest part of Australia is desert or semi-arid. Australia is the driest inhabited continent, the flattest, and has the oldest and least fertile soils. Only the south-east and south-west corners of the continent have a temperate climate. The northern part of the country, with a tropical climate, has a vegetation consisting of rainforest, woodland, grassland and desert. Climate is highly influenced by ocean currents, including the El Niño southern oscillation, which is correlated with periodic drought, and the seasonal tropical low pressure system that produces cyclones in northern Australia.
Flora and faunaEdit
Template:Main articles Although most of Australia is semi-arid or desert, it covers a diverse range of habitats, from alpine heaths to tropical rainforests. Because of the great age and consequent low levels of fertility of the continent, its extremely variable weather patterns, and its long-term geographic isolation, much of Australia's biota is unique and diverse. About 85% of flowering plants, 84% of mammals, more than 45% of birds, and 89% of in-shore, temperate-zone fish are endemic. Many of Australia's ecoregions, and the species within those regions, are threatened by human activities and introduced plant and animal species. The federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is a legal framework used for the protection of threatened species. Numerous protected areas have been created to protect and preserve Australia's unique ecosystems, 64 wetlands are registered under the Ramsar Convention, and 16 World Heritage Sites have been established. Australia was ranked thirteenth in the World on the 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index.
Australia has a prosperous, Western-style mixed economy, with a per capita GDP slightly higher than those of the UK, Germany and France. The country was ranked third in the United Nations' 2005 Human Development Index and sixth in The Economist worldwide quality-of-life index 2005.
In the 1980s, the Labor Party, led by Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Treasurer Paul Keating, started the process of economic reform by floating the Australian dollar in 1983, and deregulating the financial system. Since 1996, the Howard government has continued the process of micro-economic reform, including the partial deregulation of the labour market and the privatisation of state-owned businesses, most notably in the telecommunications industry.
The Australian economy has not suffered a recession since the early 1990s. As of January 2006, unemployment was 5.3% with 10,034,500 persons employed. The service sector of the economy, including tourism, education, and financial services, comprises 69% of GDP. Agriculture and natural resources comprise 3% and 5% of GDP but contribute substantially to Australia's export performance.
Most of the estimated 20.4 million Australians are descended from nineteenth- and twentieth-century immigrants, the majority from Great Britain and Ireland. Australia's population has quadrupled since the end of World War I , spurred by an ambitious immigration program.
The self-declared indigenous population — including Torres Strait Islanders, who are of Melanesian descent — was 410,003 (2.2% of the total population) in 2001, a significant increase from the 1976 census, which showed an indigenous population of 115,953.Indigenous Australians have higher rates of imprisonment and unemployment, lower levels of education and life expectancies for males and females that are 17 years lower than those of other Australians.Template:Ref label Perceived racial inequality is an ongoing political and human rights issue for Australians.
English is the official language, and is spoken and written in a distinct variety known as Australian English. According to the 2001 census, English is the only language spoken in the home for around 80% of the population. The next most common languages spoken at home are Chinese (2.1%), Italian (1.9%) and Greek (1.4%).
- ↑ Gillespie, R. (2002). Dating the first Australians. Radiocarbon 44:455-472
- ↑ Smith, L. (1980), The Aboriginal Population of Australia, Australian National University Press, Canberra
- ↑ Tatz, C. (1999). Genocide in Australia, AIATSIS Research Discussion Papers No 8, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra
- ↑ Windschuttle, K. (2001). The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, The New Criterion Vol. 20, No. 1, September 20.
- ↑ Sheehan, P. (2002). Our history, not rewritten but put right, The Sydney Morning Herald, November 25.
- ↑ Bean, C. Ed. (1941). Volume I - The Story of Anzac: the first phase, First World War Official Histories, Eleventh Edition.
- ↑ Template:Note labelAustralian Government. (2005). Budget 2005-2006
- ↑ Department of the Environment and Heritage. About Biodiversity
- ↑ Macfarlane, I. J. (1998). Australian Monetary Policy in the Last Quarter of the Twentieth Century. Reserve Bank of Australia Bulletin, October
- ↑ Parham, D. (2002). Microeconomic reforms and the revival in Australia’s growth in productivity and living standards. Conference of Economists, Adelaide, 1 October
- ↑ Australian Bureau of Statistics. Labour Force Australia. Cat#6202
- ↑ Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (2003). Advancing the National Interest, Appenidix 1
- ↑ Australian Bureau of Statistics, Population Growth - Australia’s Population Growth
- ↑ Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. (1995). Pluralist Nations: Pluralist Language Policies?
- Wikitravel guide to Australia
- Australian Government Entry Portal
- Commonwealth Government Online
- Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA)
- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT): Country Information
- Satellite images of Australia (Google Maps)
- National Library of Australia
- National Museum of Australia
- Official Australia Tourism Website
- Bureau of Meteorology
|This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).|