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Australia is the sixth largest country in the world with a land area of 7,617,930 square kilometres. Its relatively small population of 22.9 million is to be found mainly along the eastern coast of the country. Given its size, the country has a range of natural environments including deserts, mountains, tropical forests, beaches and coral reefs.
Australia became a state in 1901, and it currently consists of 8 states and territories. Its capital Canberra has a population of 347,000. The country’s largest cities are Sydney (4.6), Melbourne (4.2), Brisbane (2.1), Perth (1.8) and Adelaide (1.2).
The country has a long history of immigration, with people, originally arriving from the UK, now coming from all over the world. In 2011, 24.6% of the population was born elsewhere, and 43% of the population had at least one parent born overseas. Aboriginal people make up just 2.5% of the population.
It has a democratic federal state system which recognises the British Monarch as Head of State. The government is led by the Prime Minister. The currency is the Australian Dollar.
Australia's natural resources have attracted high levels of foreign investment for many years. It is a significant exporter of natural resources, energy and food. The economy grew for 17 consecutive years before the global financial crisis of 2009. By using low interest rates and a fiscal stimulus, the government saw the economy recover after only one negative quarter. In 2009, a growth rate of 1.4% was the best in the OECD. This grew to 2.5% in 2010 and 3.3% in 2013.
The country’s GDP stood at USD 882.344 billion in 2010, to which agriculture contributed 4%, industry 26.6%, and services 69.4%. In 2012, the rates of inflation and unemployment stood at 2.1% and 5.2%, respectively.
Australia's main export partners are Japan, the USA, China, New Zealand, South Korea, the UK and Taiwan. Its import partners are the USA, Japan, China, Germany, and the UK.
The list of Australia's mineral resources is extensive, encompassing bauxite, coal, iron ore, copper, tin, gold, silver, uranium, nickel, tungsten, mineral sands, lead, zinc, and diamonds, among others.
Mineral deposits are often of high quality and close to the surface, which means they can be mined at competitive prices. Capital costs are high and supply contacts tend to last for many years, meaning that the sector tends to be dominated by large companies. Mineral exports are expected to account for 65% of the revenue in 2013-2014, with coal making up 50% of this total. With the rise of emerging economies, particularly China, there have been dramatic increases in mineral prices over the last few years. Chinese companies invested USD 60million in the industry between 2007 and 2010. They have also begun to lease land from the Australian Government in order to mine resources.
The top ten mining companies include BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Vale, Newcrest Mining, Barrick Gold, Alcoa, Woodside Petroleum, Santos, and Peabody Energy. BHP Billiton with a value of USD 4220.9 billion is Australia's largest company, and Rio Tinto vaLed at USD 128.494 billion is ranked as the fourth largest.
The agricultural crops sector is divided in six parts: cereals - barley, wheat, maize, rice; fruit, vegetables, roots and tubers; sugar crops; oil crops and pulses; spices and stimulants; nuts - walnuts and almond.
In 2011, the total industry revenue is expected to grow from US$ 14.8 billion in 2011 to US$ 17 billion by 2016, posting 2.8% growth. Large companies in the sector include, monk others, ABB grain, AAC and AWB Ltd.
Australia is the world's third largest exporter of beef. It is estimated there is a national herd of 28.5 million. The industry was valued at US$ 12.3billion in 2012-2013. Around 68% of beef is exported, mainly to Japan, the USA and South Korea.
Australia is the world's largest exporter of mutton and live sheep and the second largest exporter of lamb. The national flock is estimated at 74.7 million and the sector is valued at US$ 3.9 billion. (1% of mutton and 51% of lamb was exported in 2012-2013 with a value of US$ 521million. The largest export market is the Middle East.
From 2009 up to end-2013, tourism produced USD 114 billion for the Australian economy, growing at a rate of 1.7%. Around 54,000 companies employ just over 520,000 people. During the financial crisis of 2009, international travellers tended to stay at home. A strong Australian Dollar contributed to the increase in Australian travelers who took advantage of the exchange rate. With 65% of tourists generated by domestic clients, the industry was hit hard. However, once again, China has come to the rescue. Along with Russians, they are the latest large group of tourists to make Australia one of their favoured destinations, making the sector return to growth in 2012.