The Australia reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Apr-2004
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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 Australasia. Australia includes the island of Tasmania, which is an Australian State. New Zealand is 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).

Commonwealth of Australia
Flag of Australia Coat of arms
(In Detail) (Full size)
National motto: None
Official language English
Capital Canberra
Largest City Sydney
Queen Elizabeth II
Governor-General Michael Jeffery
Prime Minister John Howard
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 6th
7,686,850 km²
 - Total (2003)
 - Density
Ranked 53rd
- Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act>Constitution Act
- Statute of Westminster
- Australia Act
From the UK:
1 January 1901
December 11 1931
3 March 1986
Currency Australian dollar
Time zone UTC +8 to +11
National anthem Advance Australia Fair
Internet TLD .au
Calling Code 61

Table of contents
1 History
2 Government
3 Politics
4 States and Territories
5 Geography
6 Flora and Fauna
7 Economy
8 Demographics
9 Culture
10 See also
11 Miscellaneous topics
12 External links


Main article: History of Australia

Australia is thought to have been inhabited for at least 50,000 years, since the remote ancestors of the current Australian Aborigines arrived 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 eastern two-thirds of the continent were claimed for Britain in 1770, and first colonised in New South Wales on January 26, 1788 as a British Crown Colony. The Colony of Van Diemen's Land (i.e. the present day Tasmania) was founded in 1803. The rest of the continent, that is 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. The British government retained control of some matters, especially foreign affairs, defence, international shipping.

On 1 January 1901, federation of the Colonies occurred and the Commonwealth of Australia was born, as a dominion of the British Empire. The Australian Capital Territory, centred on the new federal capital of Canberra, was separated from New South Wales in 1911. 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 UK parliament was not completely severed until 1986). Australia is a Constitutional monarchy, with Elizabeth II reigning as 'Queen of Australia'. In 1999, a referendum was held on constitutional change to a republic, with an appointed President replacing the Queen as head of state, but this was rejected.

See also: Australian Constitutional History


The Commonwealth of Australia is a constitutional monarchy: the Queen of Australia is the official head of state and is represented by the Governor General. Under the Australian Constitution the role of the monarch is almost entirely ceremonial. Although the constitition gives significant executive power to the Governor General, these powers are rarely used and are usually delegated to the cabinet, elected by the Commonwealth Parliament and headed by a prime minister.

Government is undertaken by three inter-connected arms of government:

Separation of Powers is the principle whereby the three arms of government undertake their activities separate from the others:

Legal basis

The legal basis for the nation changed with the passage of the
Australia Act 1986, and associated legislation in the parliament of Great Britain. Until the passage of this act, Australian laws could be referred to Great Britain and its highest courts 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 made the highest court. Australia Act 1986


Main article: Politics of Australia

The prime minister is almost always the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives, the 150-seat lower house of the bicameral parliament. Members of the House of Representatives, or MHRs, are elected from single-member constituencies, known as divisions. The upper house is the 76-seat Senate, in which each state is represented by twelve Senators, regardless of population size, and each mainland territory by two. Elections for both chambers are held every three years, usually with one half of the Senate being eligible for reelection.

An exception to the constitutional conventions occurred on November 11, 1975, when Governor General John Kerr dismissed the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, one of the most controversial events in Australian history.

See also: Republicanism in Australia

States and Territories

Main article: Australian States and Territories
Map of Australia with main cities

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 and the Australian Capital Territory.

Australia also has an additional minor internal territory, Jervis Bay Territory (a naval base in New South Wales), 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 is based on an old Aboriginal word.


Main article: Geography of Australia

By far the largest part of Australia is desert or semi-arid — 40% of the landmass 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, by far the world's largest coral reef, lies a short distance off the north-east coast. Uluru, in central Australia, is the largest monolith in the world.

See also: Protected areas of Australia, List of regions in Australia, List of mountains in Australia

Flora and Fauna

Main articles: Australian fauna, Australian flora

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.

See also: Australian birds


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.


Main article: Demographics of Australia

Most of the Australian population descends from 19th and 20th century immigrants, most from 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. Descendants of 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.

English is the 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 bi-lingual. Although the nation is broadly secular and few are church-goers, three-quarters of Australians are nominally Christian, mostly Catholic or Anglican. A diverse range of other religions are practised.

See also: List of cities in Australia


Main article:
Culture of Australia

See also

Miscellaneous topics

External links

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