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Australian Facts

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 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 1990s, a performance due in large part to economic reforms adopted in the 1980s. 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
Geographic coordinates:
Definition Field Listing
27 00 S, 133 00 E

Area:
total: 7,686,850 sq km
land: 7,617,930 sq km
water: 68,920 sq km
note: includes Lord Howe Island and Macquarie Island
Area - comparative:
Definition Field Listing
slightly smaller than the US contiguous 48 states

Coastline:
25,760 km

Maritime claims:
territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin

Climate:
generally arid to semiarid; temperate in south and east; tropical in north

Terrain:
mostly low plateau with deserts; fertile plain in southeast
Elevation extremes:
Definition Field Listing
lowest point: Lake Eyre -15 m
highest point: Mount Kosciuszko 2,229 m

Natural resources:
bauxite, coal, iron ore, copper, tin, gold, silver, uranium, nickel, tungsten, mineral sands, lead, zinc, diamonds, natural gas, petroleum

Land use:
arable land: 6.15% (includes about 27 million hectares of cultivated grassland)
permanent crops: 0.04%
other: 93.81% (2005)
Irrigated land:
Definition Field Listing
25,450 sq km (2003)

Natural hazards:
cyclones along the coast; severe droughts; forest fires

Environment - current issues:
soil erosion from overgrazing, industrial development, urbanization, and poor farming practices; soil salinity rising due to the use of poor quality water; desertification; clearing for agricultural purposes threatens the natural habitat of many unique animal and plant species; the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast, the largest coral reef in the world, is threatened by increased shipping and its popularity as a tourist site; limited natural fresh water resources

Environment - international agreements:
party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol

Geography - note:
world's smallest continent but sixth-largest country; population concentrated along the eastern and southeastern coasts; the invigorating tropical sea breeze known as the "Fremantle Doctor" affects the city of Perth on the west coast, and is one of the most consistent winds in the world

Population:
20,264,082 (July 2006 est.)

Age structure:
0-14 years: 19.6% (male 2,031,313/female 1,936,802)
15-64 years: 67.3% (male 6,881,863/female 6,764,709)
65 years and over: 13.1% (male 1,170,589/female 1,478,806) (2006 est.)

Median age:
total: 36.9 years
male: 36 years
female: 37.7 years (2006 est.)
Population growth rate:
Definition Field Listing
0.85% (2006 est.)

Birth rate:
12.14 births/1,000 population (2006 est.)

Death rate:
Definition Field Listing Rank Order
7.51 deaths/1,000 population (2006 est.)

Net migration rate:
3.85 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2006 est.)

Ethnic groups:
Caucasian 92%, Asian 7%, aboriginal and other 1%

Religions:
Catholic 26.4%, Anglican 20.5%, other Christian 20.5%, Buddhist 1.9%, Muslim 1.5%, other 1.2%, unspecified 12.7%, none 15.3% (2001 Census)

Languages:
English 79.1%, Chinese 2.1%, Italian 1.9%, other 11.1%, unspecified 5.8% (2001 Census)

Capital:
Canberra
geographic coordinates: 35 17 S, 149 08 E
time difference: UTC+10
daylight saving time: +1hr, begins last Sunday in October; ends last Sunday in March (ended first Sunday in April 2006)
note: Australia is divided into three time zones

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

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 or Federation 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; on the fly half is a representation of the Southern Cross constellation in white with one small five-pointed star and four larger, seven-pointed stars


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