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Australia -Background:  
Aboriginal settlers arrived on the continent from Southeast Asia about 40,000 years before the first Europeans began exploration in the 17th century. No formal territorial claims were made until 1770, when Capt. James COOK took possession in the name of Great Britain. Six colonies were created in the late 18th and 19th centuries; they federated and became the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. The new country took advantage of its natural resources to rapidly develop its agricultural and manufacturing industries and to make a major contribution to the British effort in World Wars I and II. In recent decades, Australia has transformed itself into an internationally competitive, advanced market economy. It boasted one of the OECD's fastest growing economies during the 1990's, a performance due in large part to economic reforms adopted in the 1980's. Long-term concerns include pollution, particularly depletion of the ozone layer, and management and conservation of coastal areas, especially the Great Barrier Reef.  

Location:
Oceania, continent between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean  

Geography - note:  
world's smallest continent but sixth-largest country; population concentrated along the eastern and southeastern coasts; regular, tropical, invigorating, sea breeze known as "the Doctor" occurs along the west coast in the summer  

Population:
20,090,437 (July 2005 est.)  

Country name:
conventional long form: Commonwealth of Australia
conventional short form: Australia  

Government type:
democratic, federal-state system recognizing the British monarch as sovereign  

Capital:
Canberra  

Administrative divisions:
6 states and 2 territories*; Australian Capital Territory*, New South Wales, Northern Territory*, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia  
Dependent areas: Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Coral Sea Islands, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, Norfolk Island, Macquarie Island  
Independence:   1 January 1901 (federation of UK colonies)  
National holiday:  Australia Day, 26 January (1788)  
Constitution: 9 July 1900, effective 1 January 1901  
Legal system:   based on English common law; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations  
Suffrage:   18 years of age; universal and compulsory  

Executive branch
chief of state: Queen of Australia ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952), represented by Governor General Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Michael JEFFERY (since 11 August 2003)
head of government: Prime Minister John Winston HOWARD (since 11 March 1996); Deputy Prime Minister John ANDERSON (since 20 July 1999)
cabinet: Prime Minister nominates, from among members of Parliament, candidates who are subsequently sworn in by the Governor General to serve as government ministers
elections: none; the monarch is hereditary; governor general appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the prime minister; following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or leader of a majority coalition is sworn in as prime minister by the governor general
note: government coalition - Liberal Party and National Party  

Legislative branch:
bicameral Federal Parliament consists of the Senate (76 seats - 12 from each of the six states and two from each of the two mainland territories; one-half of state members are elected every three years by popular vote to serve six-year terms while all territory members are elected every three years) and the House of Representatives (150 seats; members elected by popular preferential voting to serve terms of up to three-years; no state can have fewer than five representatives)
elections: Senate - last held 9 October 2004 (next to be held no later than June 2008); House of Representatives - last held 9 October 2004 (next to be called no later than November 2007)
election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party (for session beginning on 1 July 2002) - Liberal Party-National Party coalition 35, Australian Labor Party 28, Australian Democrats 7, Green Party 2, One Nation Party 1, Australian Progressive Alliance 1, independent 2; (for session beginning on 1 July 2005) - Liberal Party-National Party coalition 39, Australian Labor Party 28, Democrats 4, Australian Greens 4, Family First Party 1; House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - Liberal Party-National Party coalition 87, Australian Labor Party 60, independents 3  
Judicial branch:High Court (the chief justice and six other justices are appointed by the governor general)  
Political parties and leaders:  Australian Democrats [Lyn ALLISON]; Australian Labor Party [Kim BEAZLEY]; Australian Progressive Alliance [Meg LEES]; Australian Greens [Bob BROWN]; Liberal Party [John Winston HOWARD]; The Nationals [John ANDERSON]; One Nation Party [Len HARRIS]; Family First Party [Steve FIELDING]  

Flag description:
blue with the flag of the UK in the upper hoist-side quadrant and a large seven-pointed star in the lower hoist-side quadrant known as the Commonwealth Star, representing the federation of the colonies of Australia in 1901; the star depicts one point for each of the six original states and one representing all of Australia's internal and external territories; the remaining half is a representation of the Southern Cross constellation in white with one small five-pointed star and four larger, seven-pointed stars  

Economy - overview:
Australia has an enviable Western-style capitalist economy, with a per capita GDP on par with the four dominant West European economies. Rising output in the domestic economy, robust business and consumer confidence, and rising exports of raw materials and agricultural products are fueling the economy. Australia's emphasis on reforms, low inflation, and growing ties with China are other key factors behind the economy's strength. The impact of drought, weak foreign demand, and strong import demand pushed the trade deficit up from $8 billion in 2002, to $18 billion in 2003, and to $13 billion in 2004. One other concern is the rapid increase in domestic housing prices, which have raised the prospect that interest rates will need to be raised to prevent a speculative bubble.  

Disputes - international:
East Timor and Australia continue to meet but disagree over how to delimit a permanent maritime boundary and share unexploited petroleum resources that fall outside the Joint Petroleum Development Area covered by the 2002 Timor Sea Treaty; East Timor dispute hampers creation of a revised maritime boundary with Indonesia (see also Ashmore and Cartier Islands dispute); regional states express concern over Australia's 2004 declaration of a 1,000-nautical mile-wide maritime indentification zone; Australia asserts land and maritime claims to Antarctica (see Antarctica); in 2004 Australia submitted claims to UNCLOS to extend its continental margin from both its mainland and Antarctic claims  
Illicit drugs:   Tasmania is one of the world's major suppliers of licit opiate products; government maintains strict controls over areas of opium poppy cultivation and output of poppy straw concentrate




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