Australia is a country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. 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 north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east.
A highly developed country, Australia is the world’s 12th-largest economy and has the world’s fifth-highest per capita income. Australia’s military expenditure is the world’s 13th-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. Australia is a member of the G20, OECD, WTO, APEC, UN, Commonwealth of Nations, ANZUS and the Pacific Islands Forum.
Australia is a wealthy country with a market economy with high GDP per capita and a low rate of poverty. The Australian dollar is the currency for the nation, including Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and Norfolk Island, as well as the independent Pacific Island states of Kiribati, Nauru, and Tuvalu. After the 2006 merger of the Australian Stock Exchange and the Sydney Futures Exchange, the Australian Securities Exchange is now the ninth largest in the world.
Ranked third in the Index of Economic Freedom (2010), Australia is the world’s thirteenth largest economy and has the fifth highest per capita GDP (nominal) at $66,984. The country was ranked second in the United Nations 2011 Human Development Index and first in Legatum’s 2008 Prosperity Index. All of Australia’s major cities fare well in global comparative livability surveys; Melbourne reached first place on The Economist’s 2011 and 2012 world’s most livable cities lists, followed by Sydney, Perth, and Adelaide in sixth, eighth, and ninth place respectively. Total government debt in Australia is about $190 billion – 20 per cent of GDP in 2010. Australia has among the highest house prices and some of the highest household debt levels in the world.
An emphasis on exporting commodities rather than manufactured goods has underpinned a significant increase in Australia’s terms of trade since the start of the 21st century, due to rising commodity prices. Australia has a balance of payments that is more than 7 per cent of GDP negative, and has had persistently large current account deficits for more than 50 years. Australia has grown at an average annual rate of 3.6 per cent for over 15 years, in comparison to the OECD annual average of 2.5 per cent. Australia was the only advanced economy not to experience a recession due to the global financial downturn in 2008–2009. Six of Australia’s major trading partners had been in recession which in turn affected Australia, and economic growth was hampered significantly over recent years.
The Hawke Government floated the Australian dollar in 1983 and partially deregulated the financial system. The Howard Government followed with a partial deregulation of the labour market and the further privatisation of state-owned businesses, most notably in the telecommunications industry.The indirect tax system was substantially changed in July 2000 with the introduction of a 10 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST). In Australia’s tax system, personal and company income tax are the main sources of government revenue.
In May 2012, there were 11,537,900 people employed (either full- or part-time), with an unemployment rate of 5.1 per cent. Youth unemployment (15–24) stood at 11.2 per cent.
Over the past decade, inflation has typically been 2–3 per cent and the base interest rate 5–6 per cent. The service sector of the economy, including tourism, education, and financial services, accounts for about 70 per cent of GDP. Rich in natural resources, Australia is a major exporter of agricultural products, particularly wheat and wool, minerals such as iron-ore and gold, and energy in the forms of liquified natural gas and coal. Although agriculture and natural resources account for only 3 per cent and 5 per cent of GDP respectively, they contribute substantially to export performance. Australia’s largest export markets are Japan, China, the US, South Korea, and New Zealand. Australia is the world’s fourth largest exporter of wine, in an industry contributing $5.5 billion per annum to the nation’s economy.