Australia is situated in the southern hemisphere and is the largest country in the Pacific region referred to as ‘Australasia’. The Australian nation is unique in having exclusive rights to a whole continent (the world’s smallest) with its international borders comprising oceans, seas and straits.
Australia is a former British colony and now a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Government is democratic and the country is totally independent, despite retaining a constitutional monarchy with the Australian Governor General representing the British monarch as nominal head of government.
English is the official language and the population of over 19 million is derived largely from European sources (particularly British) but with increasing numbers from Asia and the Middle East leading to an increasingly multicultural society. As is the case in all developed countries, the major part of the workforce is engaged in the provision of services.
While Australia has widespread and abundant mineral deposits, large areas of landmass are relatively unproductive due to low and unreliable rainfall. Australia is sparsely populated (with a population density of about 2.5 persons per square kilometre) but the distribution is very uneven: the country is highly urbanised with the population concentrated largely in the east and south-east coastal regions.
Australia is a large importer of goods and services. Minerals and agricultural products, which make up about half the value of exports, are subject to low and variable prices on world markets, adding difficulties to the management of the balance of payments.