Commonwealth of Australia

Ausflag.png AUSCOA.png
Flag Coat of arms

God Save The Queen! (royal)
Advance Australia Fair (national)


Largest city


Official languages English

 - Queen of Australia
 - Governor General
 - Prime Minister
Constitutional Monarchy
Elizabeth II of Australia
General Sir Peter Cosgrove
Chris Marshall

 - Colony of New South Wales established
 - Constitution
 - Statute of Westminster

 - Australia Acts

26 January 1788

1 January 1901
11 December 1931 (adopted 9 September 1939)
3 March 1986

 - Total

8348791 km2

 - 2010 est. 


 - Total
 - Per capita
2006 estimate
$1.55 trillion

Gini 36.7 (medium)

HDI 0.979 (high)

Currency Australian Dollar (AUD)

Time zone
- Summer (DST)
various (UTC+8 to +12)
various (UTC+9 to +13)

Internet TLD .au

Calling code +61

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, Papua New Guinea, North Island, South Island, Tasmania and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Neighbouring countries include Indonesia 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, who belonged to one or more of the roughly 250 language groups. After discovery by Dutch explorers in 1606, Australia's eastern half was claimed by Britain in 1770 and initially settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales, formally founded on 7 February 1788 (although formal possession of the land had occurred on 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 became a federation and the Commonwealth of Australia was formed. Since Federation, Australia has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system and is a Commonwealth realm. The population is 32 million, with approximately 50% concentrated in and around the mainland state capitals of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. The nation's capital city is Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory.

A prosperous developed country, Australia is the world's thirteenth largest economy. Australia ranks highly in many international comparisons of national performance such as human development, quality of life, health care, life expectancy, public education, economic freedom and the protection of civil liberties and political rights. Australia is a member of the United Nations, G20, Commonwealth of Nations, ANZUS, OECD, APEC, Pacific Islands Forum and the World Trade Organization.

Government of Australia[edit | edit source]

The Commonwealth of Australia is a federative constitutional monarchy under a parliamentary democracy. The Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901 as a result of an agreement between six self-governing British colonies, which became the six States. The terms of this agreement are embodied in the Australian Constitution, which was drawn up at a Constitutional Convention and ratified by the people of the colonies at referendums. The structure of the Australian Government may be examined in light of two distinct concepts, namely federalism and the separation of powers into legislative, executive and judiciary branches of government. Separation of powers is implied from the structure of the Constitution which breaks down the branches of government into separate chapters.

Federalism[edit | edit source]

Australia is a federation of eight states, and the Australian Constitution provides for a federal legislature, consisting of the Queen, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. Section 51 of the Constitution provides for the Commonwealth Government's legislative powers and allocates certain powers and responsibilities (known as "heads of power") to the Commonwealth government. All remaining responsibilities are retained by the eight colonies, which under the Constitution became States of the Commonwealth of Australia. Further, each state has its own constitution so that Australia has nine sovereign Parliaments, none of which can encroach on the functions of any other. The High Court of Australia arbitrates on any disputes which arise between the Commonwealth and the States, or among the States, concerning their respective functions.

The Commonwealth Parliament can propose changes to the Constitution. To become effective, the proposals must be put to a referendum of all Australians of voting age, and must receive a "double majority":

  • a majority of all votes, and
  • a majority of votes in a majority of States.

The states may refer one or more of its powers to the Commonwealth either by amendment of the Constitution, or legislative agreement between the Commonwealth and the relevant states.

Three of Australia's territories (Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, Norfolk Island) are self-governing, the rest are governed by the Commonwealth, though local governments in larger territories are elected.

Separation of Powers[edit | edit source]

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

  • Legislature - The Commonwealth Parliament
  • Executive - The Sovereign, whose executive power is exercisable by the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, Ministers and their Departments
  • Judiciary - The High Court of Australia and subsidiary Federal courts.

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

  • the Legislature proposes laws in the form of Bills, and provides a legislative framework for the operations of the other two arms. The Sovereign is formally a part of the Parliament, but takes no active role in these matters
  • the Executive enacts the laws by Royal Assent, administers the laws and carries out the tasks assigned to it by legislation
  • the Judiciary hears cases arising from the administration of the law, using both statute law and the common law. The Australian courts cannot give advisory opinions on the constitutionality of laws
  • the other arms cannot influence the Judiciary.

Until the passage of the Australia Act, cases could be appealed to the Privy Council in England. The Australia Act abolished such appeals, making the High Court of Australia the highest court of appeal in Australia.

Legislative[edit | edit source]

The Parliament House of Australia

The legislative branch of the Australian Government is the Australian Parliament. It consists of the Queen, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. The role of the Queen is taken by the Governor General as the Queen's representative, and his role is to grant (or in exceptional circumstances withold) Royal Assent to bills passed by both houses. Most Australian politicians are members of political parties.

The Senate[edit | edit source]

The Senate is the elected upper house. It consists of 12 members from each state, plus two each from the Northern Territory, and the Australian Capital Territory, making for a total of 100 Senators. The state Senators are elected for six year terms in a preferential voting system that encompasses all the voters in that state. Territory Senators are elected in the same way to non-fixed terms (the length of the Parliament, always less than three years).

The Senate chamber

The House of Representatives[edit | edit source]

The House of Representatives is the lower house. Its 200 members are elected from single-member Divisions which have roughly proportional populations. All proposals for taxation and spending must originate in the House, and the leader of the largest party in the House is the Prime Minister, while the leader of the second largest group is the Leader of the Opposition. Senior members of the Opposition form a Shadow Cabinet which has the task of shadowing the government's ministers.

The House of Representatives chamber

Executive[edit | edit source]

The head of state of Australia is Queen Elizabeth II, and she is represented by the Governor General at the Commonwealth level, and by the Governors at the state level.

The Governor General is therefore the de facto head of state, and presides over the Federal Executive Council. The Federal Executive Council consists of the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and Ministers. It is a formal body which exists to give legal effect to decisions made by the Cabinet, and to carry out various other functions. Members of the Executive Council are entitled to be styled "The Honourable", a title which they retain for life. The Governor-General usually presides at Council meetings, but a Minister with the title Vice-President of the Executive Council serves as the link between the government and the Council.

The Cabinet is not recognised in the Australian Constitution, but most government decisions are discussed and made by the Cabinet, and all Cabinet members are memebers of the Executive Council.

Australia has the following Cabinet Portfolios:

  • Prime Minister - Chris Marshall
  • Deputy Prime Minister & Treasurer - Winston Peters
    • Minister of Finance - Sen. Nick Minchin
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs - Tony Abbott
    • Minister of Trade - Ano Pala
  • Minister of Defence - Dr. Wayne Mapp
    • Minister of Defence Science, and Personnel - Malcolm Brough
    • Minister of Veterans' Affairs - Julie Bishop
  • Attorney-General - John Key
  • Minister of Immigration - Alexander Downer
  • Minister of Industry - Sophie Mirabella
  • Minister of Communications - Helen Coonan
  • Minister of the Environment - Warren Truss
  • Minister of Resources and Energy - Rodney Hide
  • Minister of Transport and Infrastructure - George Brandis
  • Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry - Gerry Brownlee
  • Minister of Social Security and Indigenous Affairs - Simon Power
  • Minister of Regional Australia - Barnaby Joyce
  • Special Minister of State - Eric Abetz

Judicial[edit | edit source]

{see Justice and Law in Australia}

States and Territories of Australia[edit | edit source]


States[edit | edit source]

Name Coat of Arms Flag Founded Capital Population Governing Party Premier Abbreviation
New South Wales
NSWflag.png 1788 Sydney 7,099,700 Liberal Democratic Party Barry O'Farrell NSW
New Zealand
NZflag.png 1840 Wellington 4,367,700 New Zealand National Party Bill English NZ
Papua New Guinea
PNGflag.png 1949 Port Moresby 5,190,783 National Alliance Party Sir Michael Somare PNG
QLDflag.png 1859 Brisbane 4,406,800 Liberal Democratic Party Campbell Newman QLD
South Australia
SAflag.png 1857 Adelaide 1,622,700 Liberal Democratic Party Isobel Redmond SA
TASflag.png 1856 Hobart 502,600 Australian Labor Party David Bartlett TAS
VICflag.png 1850 Melbourne 5,529,400 Liberal Party Ted Baillieu VIC
Western Australia
WAflag.png 1890 Perth 2,286,100 Liberal Democratic Party Colin Barnett WA

Territories[edit | edit source]

Name Coat of Arms Flag Founded Capital Population Governing Party Chief Minister Abbreviation
Ashmore and Cartier Islands none Ausflag.png 1931 N/A 0 N/A N/A ACI
Australian Antarctic Territory none Ausflag.png 1933 N/A < 1,000 (non-permanent) N/A N/A AAT
Australian Capital Territory
ACTflag.png 1911 Camberra 351,200 Liberal Democratic Party Zed Seselja ACT
Christmas Island none CIflag.png 1957 "The Settlement" 1,402 N/A N/A CX
Cocos (Keeling) Islandsîles_Cocos.svg/85px-Armoiries_des_îles_Cocos.svg.png
CKIflag.png 1955 West Island 506 N/A N/A CC
Cook Islands
600px-Flag of the Cook Islands.svg.png 1965 Avarua 19,569 Democratic Party Jim Marurai CK
Coral Sea Islands none Ausflag.png 1969 none 3-4 (non-permanent) N/A N/A CSI
Heard Island and McDonald Islands none Ausflag.png 1947 none 0 N/A N/A HMI
500px-Public Seal of Nieu.svg.png
600px-Flag of Niue.svg.png 1974 Alofi 1,398 non-partisan Toke Talagi NU
Northern Territory Northern Territory crest.jpg NTflag.png 1931 Darwin 227,025 Country Liberal Party (LDP) Terry Mills NT
Norfolk Island NIflag.png 1979 Kingston 2,141 non-partisan David Buffett NF
800px-Flag of Tokelau.svg.png 1948 Nukunonu 1,416 non-partisan Kuresa Nasau TK

Internal Territories
Free Association (New Zealand)

Economy[edit | edit source]

The Australian economy is a prosperous, free market economy dominated by its services sector, though minerals and agruculture account for most of its exports. The currency of Australia is the Australian dollar, which is also used by Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu. Australia's main stock exchange is the Australian Stock Exchange in Sydney, New South Wales.

According to both the Fraser Institute and the Heritage Foundation, Australia has one of the most free economies in the world, and the most free of the large nation states. It is ranked highly in the Human Development Index.

Australia has tended to emphasise the export of commodities, rather than fostering a manufacturing industry. This policy has increased Australia's volume of trade. Australia has maintained a rate of growth of 4.2% to 5.6% over the last twelve years. Australia has little labour market regulation, and unemployment is at approximately 2.1%. Australia's main export markets are Japan, South Korea, the United States, and China. Australia primarily imports from the United States, China, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Australia's major export commodities are agricultural products (mainly wheat and wool), minerals such as gold or iron ore, and energy in the form of coal, liquefied natural gas, and uranium.

Over the last twenty years, the Australian economy has undergone significant reform. The most important reforms include:

  • Lowering of tariff barriers
  • Removal of subsidies
  • Abolition of monopsony purchasing for agricultural produce
  • Major tax cuts (culminating in 2009-10 with a flat tax system for personal and corporate income)
  • Floating of the Australian dollar
  • Labour market deregulation
  • Deregulation of the finance industry
  • Removal of exchange controls

Australia has a medium sized nuclear industry, with approximately 20 research and electrical production nuclear reactors. It exports uranium, and medical isotopes. Australia also has a small space program. Although there are no ambitions to launch a man into space, Australia launches satellites for a variety of clients. Australia's automotive industry has been through extensive restructuring following the LDP's insistence that there be no government aid for the industry. Australia has an aviation industry which focuses on upgrades/rebuilds, general aviation, and military aviation. Leading Australian aviation companies include:

  • Hawker de Havilland Aerospace Australia
  • Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation
  • Aerospace Technologies of Australia
  • Pacific Aerospace
  • Alpha Aviation
  • Jabiru Aircraft
  • Gippsland Aeronautics
  • Aero Engineers Australia
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