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Australia

Australia (play /əˈstrljə/), officially the Commonwealth of Australia,[10] is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.[N 4] It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area. Neighbouring countries include Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea to the north, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia to the northeast, and New Zealand to the southeast.

For at least 40,000 years before European settlement in the late 18th century, Australia was inhabited by indigenous Australians,[12] who belonged to one or more of roughly 250 language groups.[13][14] After discovery by Dutch explorers in 1606, Australia's eastern half was claimed by Great Britain in 1770 and initially settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales from 26 January 1788. The population grew steadily in subsequent decades; the continent was explored and an additional five self-governing Crown Colonies were established.

On 1 January 1901, the six colonies federated, forming the Commonwealth of Australia. Since Federation, Australia has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system which functions as a federal parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. The federation comprises six states and several territories. The population of 22.7 million is heavily concentrated in the Eastern states and is highly urbanised.

A highly developed country, Australia is the world's thirteenth largest economy and has the world's seventh-highest per capita income. Australia's military expenditure is the world's twelfth largest. With the second-highest human development index globally, Australia ranks highly in many international comparisons of national performance, such as quality of life, health, education, economic freedom and the protection of civil liberties and political rights.[15] Australia is a member of the G20, OECD, WTO, APEC, UN, Commonwealth of Nations, ANZUS, and the Pacific Islands Forum.

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Etymology

Pronounced [əˈstɹæɪljə, -liə] in Australian English,[16] the name Australia is derived from the Latin australis, meaning "southern". The country has been referred to colloquially as Oz since the early 20th century.[N 5] Aussie is a common colloquial term for "Australian".

Legends of Terra Australis Incognita—an "unknown land of the South"—date back to Roman times and were commonplace in medieval geography, although not based on any documented knowledge of the continent. Following European discovery, names for the Australian landmass were often references to the famed Terra Australis.

The earliest recorded use of the word Australia in English was in 1625 in "A note of Australia del Espíritu Santo, written by Master Hakluyt" and published by Samuel Purchas in Hakluytus Posthumus, a corruption of the original Spanish name Austrialia del Espíritu Santo for an island in Vanuatu.[21] The Dutch adjectival form Australische was used in a Dutch book in Batavia (Jakarta) in 1638, to refer to the newly discovered lands to the south.[22] Australia was later used in a 1693 translation of Les Aventures de Jacques Sadeur dans la Découverte et le Voyage de la Terre Australe, a 1676 French novel by Gabriel de Foigny, under the pen-name Jacques Sadeur.[23] Referring to the entire South Pacific region, Alexander Dalrymple used it in An Historical Collection of Voyages and Discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean in 1771. By the end of the 18th century, the name was being used to refer specifically to Australia, with the botanists George Shaw and Sir James Smith writing of "the vast island, or rather continent, of Australia, Australasia or New Holland" in their 1793 Zoology and Botany of New Holland,[24] and James Wilson including it on a 1799 chart.[25]

The name Australia was popularised by the explorer Matthew Flinders, who pushed for it to be formally adopted as early as 1804. When preparing his manuscript and charts for his 1814 A Voyage to Terra Australis, he was persuaded by his patron, Sir Joseph Banks, to use the term Terra Australis as this was the name most familiar to the public. Flinders did so, but allowed himself the footnote:

"Had I permitted myself any innovation on the original term, it would have been to convert it to Australia; as being more agreeable to the ear, and an assimilation to the names of the other great portions of the earth."[26]

This is the only occurrence of the word Australia in that text; but in Appendix III, Robert Brown's General remarks, geographical and systematical, on the botany of Terra Australis, Brown makes use of the adjectival form Australian throughout,[27]—the first known use of that form.[28] Despite popular conception, the book was not instrumental in the adoption of the name: the name came gradually to be accepted over the following ten years.[29] Lachlan Macquarie, a Governor of New South Wales, subsequently used the word in his dispatches to England, and on 12 December 1817 recommended to the Colonial Office that it be formally adopted.[30] In 1824, the Admiralty agreed that the continent should be known officially as Australia.[31]

History

Map of Australia with coloured arrows showing the path of early explorers around the coast of Australia and surrounding islands
Exploration by Europeans till 1812
  1606 Willem Janszoon
  1616 Dirk Hartog
  1644 Abel Tasman
  1699 William Dampier
  1770 James Cook
  1797–1799 George Bass
  1801–1803 Matthew Flinders

Human habitation of the Australian continent is estimated to have begun between 42,000 and 48,000 years ago,[32] possibly with the migration of people by land bridges and short sea-crossings from what is now Southeast Asia. These first inhabitants may have been ancestors of modern Indigenous Australians. At the time of European settlement in the late 18th century, most Indigenous Australians 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, were originally horticulturalists and hunter-gatherers.[33]

Following sporadic visits by fishermen from the Malay Archipelago,[34] the first recorded European sighting of the Australian mainland and the first recorded European landfall on the Australian continent were attributed to the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon. He sighted the coast of Cape York Peninsula on an unknown date in early 1606, and made landfall on 26 February at the Pennefather River on the western shore of Cape York, near the modern town of Weipa.[35] The Dutch charted the whole of the western and northern coastlines of "New Holland" during the 17th century, but made no attempt at settlement.[35] William Dampier, an English explorer/privateer landed on the northwest coast of Australia in 1688 and again in 1699 on a return trip. In 1770, James Cook sailed along and mapped the east coast of Australia, which he named New South Wales and claimed for Great Britain.[36] Cook's discoveries prepared the way for establishment of a new penal colony. The British Crown Colony of New South Wales was formed on 26 January 1788, when Captain Arthur Phillip led the First Fleet to Port Jackson.[37] This date became Australia's national day, Australia Day. Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania, was settled in 1803 and became a separate colony in 1825.[38] The United Kingdom formally claimed the western part of Australia in 1828.[39]

Separate colonies were carved from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859.[40] The Northern Territory was founded in 1911 when it was excised from South Australia.[41] South Australia was founded as a "free province"—it was never a penal colony.[42] Victoria and Western Australia were also founded "free", but later accepted transported convicts.[43][44] A campaign by the settlers of New South Wales led to the end of convict transportation to that colony; the last convict ship arrived in 1848.[45]

A calm body of water is in the foreground. The shoreline is about 200 metres away. To the left, close to the shore, are three tall gum trees; behind them on an incline are ruins, including walls and watchtowers of light-coloured stone and brick, what appear to be the foundations of walls, and grassed areas. To the right lie the outer walls of a large rectangular four-storey building dotted with regularly spaced windows. Forested land rises gently to a peak several kilometres back from the shore.
Port Arthur, Tasmania was Australia's largest gaol for transported convicts.

The indigenous population, estimated at 750,000 to 1,000,000 at the time of European settlement,[46] declined steeply for 150 years following settlement, mainly due to infectious disease.[47] The "Stolen Generations" (removal of Aboriginal children from their families), which historians such as Henry Reynolds have argued could be considered genocide,[48] may have contributed to the decline in the Indigenous population.[49] Such interpretations of Aboriginal history are disputed by conservative commentators such as former Prime Minister John Howard as exaggerated or fabricated for political or ideological reasons.[50] This debate is known within Australia as the History wars.[51] The Federal government gained the power to make laws with respect to Aborigines following the 1967 referendum.[52] Traditional ownership of land—aboriginal title—was not recognised until 1992, when the High Court case Mabo v Queensland (No 2) overturned the notion of Australia as terra nullius ("land belonging to no one") before European occupation.[53]

A gold rush began in Australia in the early 1850s,[54] and the Eureka Rebellion against mining licence fees in 1854 was an early expression of civil disobedience.[55] Between 1855 and 1890, the six colonies individually gained responsible government, managing most of their own affairs while remaining part of the British Empire.[56] The Colonial Office in London retained control of some matters, notably foreign affairs,[57] defence,[58] and international shipping.

A balding man wearing a suit and playing a bugle, while standing in front of a crowd of other people and a stone monument.
The Last Post is played at an ANZAC Day ceremony in Port Melbourne, Victoria. Similar ceremonies are held in most suburbs and towns.

On 1 January 1901 federation of the colonies was achieved after a decade of planning, consultation, and voting.[59] The Commonwealth of Australia was established and it became a dominion of the British Empire in 1907. The Federal Capital Territory (later renamed the Australian Capital Territory) was formed in 1911 as the location for the future federal capital of Canberra. Melbourne was the temporary seat of government from 1901 to 1927 while Canberra was constructed.[60] The Northern Territory was transferred from the control of the South Australian government to the federal parliament in 1911.[61] In 1914, Australia joined Britain in fighting World War I, with support from both the outgoing Liberal Party and the incoming Labor Party.[62] Australians took part in many of the major battles fought on the Western Front.[63] Of about 416,000 who served, about 60,000 were killed and another 152,000 were wounded.[64] 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.[65][66] The Kokoda Track campaign is regarded by many as an analogous nation-defining event during World War II.[67]

Britain's Statute of Westminster 1931 formally ended most of the constitutional links between Australia and the UK. Australia adopted it in 1942,[68] but it was backdated to 1939 to confirm the validity of legislation passed by the Australian Parliament during World War II.[69][70] The shock of the UK'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.[71] Since 1951, Australia has been a formal military ally of the US, under the ANZUS treaty.[72] After World War II Australia encouraged immigration from Europe. Since the 1970s and following the abolition of the White Australia policy, immigration from Asia and elsewhere was also promoted.[73] As a result, Australia's demography, culture, and self-image were transformed.[74] The final constitutional ties between Australia and the UK were severed with the passing of the Australia Act 1986, ending any British role in the government of the Australian States, and closing the option of judicial appeals to the Privy Council in London.[75] In a 1999 referendum, 55 per cent of Australian voters and a majority in every Australian state rejected a proposal to become a republic with a president appointed by a two-thirds vote in both Houses of the Australian Parliament. Since the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972,[76] there has been an increasing focus in foreign policy on ties with other Pacific Rim nations, while maintaining close ties with Australia's traditional allies and trading partners.[77]

Politics

A large white and cream coloured building with grass on its roof. The building is topped with a large flagpole.
Parliament House, Canberra was opened in 1988, replacing the provisional Parliament House building opened in 1927.

Australia is a constitutional monarchy with a federal division of powers. It uses a parliamentary system of government with Queen Elizabeth II at its apex as the Queen of Australia, a role that is distinct from her position as monarch of the other Commonwealth realms. The Queen resides in the United Kingdom, and she is represented by her viceroys in Australia, (the Governor-General at the federal level and by the Governors at the state level), who by convention act on the advice of her ministers. Supereme executive authority is vested by the constitution of Australia in the sovereign, but the power to exercise it is conferred by the constitution specifically to the Governor-General.[78][79] The most notable exercise of the Governor-General's reserve powers outside a Prime Minister's request was the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in the constitutional crisis of 1975.[80]

The federal government is separated into three branches:

In the Senate (the upper house), there are 76 senators: twelve each from the states and two each from the mainland territories (the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory).[82] The House of Representatives (the lower house) has 150 members elected from single-member electoral divisions, commonly known as "electorates" or "seats", allocated to states on the basis of population,[83] with each original state guaranteed a minimum of five seats.[84] Elections for both chambers are normally held every three years, simultaneously; senators have overlapping six-year terms except for those from the territories, whose terms are not fixed but are tied to the electoral cycle for the lower house; thus only 40 of the 76 places in the Senate are put to each election unless the cycle is interrupted by a double dissolution.[82]

A large Australian flag flying against the blue sky.
Australia's National Flag comprises the Union Jack, the Commonwealth Star and the Southern Cross.

Australia's electoral system uses preferential voting for all lower house elections with the exception of Tasmania and the ACT, which, along with the Senate and most state upper houses, combine it with proportional representation in a system known as the single transferable vote. Voting is compulsory for all enrolled citizens 18 years and over in every jurisdiction,[85] as is enrolment (with the exception of South Australia).[86] Although the Prime Minister is appointed by the Governor-General, in practice the party with majority support in the House of Representatives forms government and its leader becomes Prime Minister.[citation needed]

There are two major political groups that usually form government, federally and in the states: the Australian Labor Party, and the Coalition which is a formal grouping of the Liberal Party and its minor partner, the National Party.[87][88] Independent members and several minor parties—including the Greens and the Australian Democrats—have achieved representation in Australian parliaments, mostly in upper houses.

Following a partyroom leadership challenge, Julia Gillard became the first female Prime Minister in June 2010.[89] The last federal election was held on 21 August 2010 and resulted in the first hung parliament in over 50 years. Gillard was able to form a minority Labor government with the support of independents.

States and territories

Perth Adelaide Melbourne Canberra Sydney Brisbane Darwin Hobart Tasmania Australian Capital Territory Australian Capital Territory Western Australia Northern Territory South Australia Queensland New South Wales Victoria Tasmania Great Australian Bight Tasman Sea Indian Ocean Coral Sea Indonesia Papua New Guinea Gulf of Carpentaria Arafura Sea East Timor Timor Sea Great Barrier Reef
A clickable map of Australia's states and mainland territories

Australia has six statesNew South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia—and two major mainland territories—the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). In most respects these two territories function as states, but the Commonwealth Parliament can override any legislation of their parliaments. By contrast, federal legislation overrides state legislation only in areas that are set out in Section 51 of the Australian Constitution; state parliaments retain all residual legislative powers, including those over schools, state police, the state judiciary, roads, public transport, and local government, since these do not fall under the provisions listed in Section 51.[90]

Each state and major mainland territory has its own parliamentunicameral in the Northern Territory, the ACT, and Queensland, and bicameral in the other states. The states are sovereign entities, although subject to certain powers of the Commonwealth as defined by the Constitution. The lower houses are known as the Legislative Assembly (the House of Assembly in South Australia and Tasmania); the upper houses are known as the Legislative Council. The head of the government in each state is the Premier, and in each territory the Chief Minister. The Queen is represented in each state by a Governor; and in the Northern Territory, the Administrator.[91] In the Commonwealth, the Queen's representative is the Governor-General.[92]

The federal parliament directly administers the following territories:[81]

Norfolk Island is also technically an external territory; however, under the Norfolk Island Act 1979 it has been granted more autonomy and is governed locally by its own legislative assembly. The Queen is represented by an Administrator, currently Owen Walsh.[93]

Foreign relations and military

A group of Australian soldiers with rifles moving along a path in a wooded area
Australian Army soldiers conducting a foot patrol during a joint training exercise with US forces in Shoalwater Bay (2007).

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 in Southeast Asia, and in 2011 will attend the Sixth East Asia Summit in Indonesia. Australia is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, in which the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings provide the main forum for cooperation.[94]

Australia has pursued the cause of international trade liberalisation.[95][96][97] It led the formation of the Cairns Group and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.[98][99] Australia is a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Trade Organization,[100][101] and has pursued several major bilateral free trade agreements, most recently the Australia – United States Free Trade Agreement[102] and Closer Economic Relations with New Zealand,[103] with another free trade agreement being negotiated with China—the Australia – China Free Trade Agreement—and Japan,[104] South Korea in 2011,[105][106] Australia–Chile Free Trade Agreement, ASEAN – Australia – New Zealand Free Trade Area, and the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership.

Along with New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, and Singapore, Australia is party to the Five Power Defence Arrangements, a regional defence agreement. A founding member country of the United Nations, Australia is strongly committed to multilateralism,[107] and maintains an international aid program under which some 60 countries receive assistance. The 2005–06 budget provides A$2.5 billion for development assistance;[108] as a percentage of GDP, this contribution is less than that recommended in the UN Millennium Development Goals. Australia ranks seventh overall in the Center for Global Development's 2008 Commitment to Development Index.[109]

Australia's armed forces—the Australian Defence Force (ADF)—comprise the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the Australian Army, and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), in total numbering 80,561 personnel (including 55,068 regulars and 25,493 reservists).[110] The titular role of Commander-in-Chief is vested in the Governor-General, who appoints a Chief of the Defence Force from one of the armed services on the advice of the government.[111] Day-to-day force operations are under the command of the Chief, while broader administration and the formulation of defence policy is undertaken by the Minister and Department of Defence.

In the 2010–11 budget, defence spending was A$25.7 billion,[112] representing the 14th largest defence budget in the world but accounting for only 1.2 per cent of global military spending.[113] Australia has been involved in UN and regional peacekeeping, disaster relief, and armed conflict; it currently has deployed approximately 3,330 defence force personnel in varying capacities to 12 overseas operations in areas including East Timor, Solomon Islands and Afghanistan.

Author:Bling King
Published:Sep 24th 2011
Modified:Dec 29th 2011

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