Australia Migration, Immigration Australia, Migrating to Australia
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Economy and people

Australian economy and people


Australia is a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) of the leading industrialized nations and its people generally enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living. In 1994 Australia’s gross national product (GNP) was US$320.7 billion (World Bank estimate; 1992-1994 prices), equivalent to US$17,980 per capita. At the same time, however, Australia’s trade profile is more akin to that of a developing nation. It exports predominantly primary products and imports mainly manufactured goods of various kinds. As a result, like many developing countries, Australia’s economy is vulnerable to price fluctuations in the world commodities markets and to inflation in its main supplier markets. 

Agriculture and mining played a central role in the historical development of Australia, and the country is still one of the world’s outstanding producers of primary products. It is self-sufficient in almost all foodstuffs and is a major exporter of wheat, meat, dairy products, and wool. Australia usually produces more than 25 per cent of the world’s yearly output of wool. It is also one of the world’s top producers and exporters of minerals, particularly coal. However, while primary production plays a central role in the country’s exports, in terms of the domestic economy it has grown far less significantly in recent years. Agriculture now accounts for only about 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), and mining about 5 per cent. In contrast, the manufacturing sector, which has grown rapidly since the 1940s, accounts for some 15 per cent of GDP. The service sector is even more important. In Australia, as in other OECD nations, services have grown since the 1970s to become the largest sector. In the early 1990s they accounted for more than 60 per cent of Australia’s GDP. The financial services sector was the single most important economic sector, contributing almost 22 per cent of GDP. 

In the 1995 fiscal year the estimated federal budget included about US$95.69 billion of revenue and about US$95.15 billion of expenditure.

Although the agricultural sector is now far less significant in terms of GDP and employment (5 per cent of the workforce in the mid-1990s), the prosperity of much of the country continues to depend heavily on live stock -raising and crop-farming. The pastoral sector was established in the early days of settlement, when the first Spanish merino sheep were introduced from South Africa, and grazing lands today account for almost 90 per cent of the farmed area. This reflects the fact that, although livestock is raised in all productive areas, much of the pastoral sector is located in the semi-arid zone of Australia; about one-third of sheep and an even larger percentage of cattle are raised on huge properties known as "stations" in this zone. 

Australia is the world’s largest producer and exporter of wool, particularly fine merino, although income from wool exports is now less than 8 per cent of total export earnings. Overproduction led to a significantfall in international wool prices in the late 1980s; in 1990-1991 more than 10 million sheep were culled from the national flock in an effort to boost the market. In 1992 Australia had some 146.8 million sheep, which produced 863,000 tonnes of wool and 41,000 tonnes of lamb and mutton. Almost half the country’s wool is produced in New South Wales and Western Australia. Victoria is the leading producer of lamb and mutton. 

Cattle are raised in all of Australia’s states and territories, but Queensland is the leading producer; it had approximately 40 per cent of the national herd of 24.06 million head in the mid-1990s. Australia produces both beef and dairy cattle. Dairying is confined primarily to the high-rainfall coastal fringe and to the south-east, especially in Victoria. Farms usually employ high-tech methods. In contrast, the huge cattle stations of the north are more reminiscent of the American "Wild West", although the cowboys’ mounts these days are as likely to be helicopters and motorcycles, as horses; the road train (a large truck pulling several trailers) has also predominantly replaced the old stock routes in moving cattle around the territory and to market. Output of beef in the mid-1990s was more than 1.7 million tonnes, and of milk 7.3 million litres (1.6 million gallons). 

Although only about 10 per cent of the total area of Australia is under crop or fodder production, this acreage is of great economic importance. Wheat crops occupy about 45 per cent of cultivated acreage, and fodder crops and other grains occupy 20 per cent. Wheat production is highly mechanized and the crop is grown in all states; the south-eastern and south-western regions of the country are responsible for the bulk of production. Annual production has decreased in recent years because of shifts into new, higher earning crops. Output was about 10.7 million tonnes in 1992, compared with more than 14 million tonnes in the early 1990s; about 70 per cent is exported. Oats, barley, rye, maize, oil seeds, tobacco, and fodder crops are also important. Rice and cotton are grown in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (in New South Wa les), in Queensland, and in the Northern Territory. Sugar cane production is confined to the fertile coastal fringe of Queensland and the Richmond River district of northern New South Wales. About 32.7 million tonnes of sugar cane were produced in 1994. Many types of fruit are grown, including apples, bananas, grapes, oranges, pears, pineapple, and papayas. The major wine-producing areas are in the Barossa Valley of South Australia, in Hunter Valley, New South Wales, and in parts of north-eastern, southern, and western Victoria. Special varieties of grapes are grown, especially in the Murray Valley, for the production of raisins. 

Irrigation is of importance to arable farmers in all but the highest rainfall areas. However, increased soil salinity is becoming a problem in several areas, threatening production. Experiments with biotechnologies are being carried out with the aim of reducing the impact of soil salinity and cutting the use of expensive water resources.

Political Divisions

The Commonwealth of Australia comprises six states and two territories. The states and their capitals are New South Wales (Sydney), Victoria (Melbourne), Queensland (Brisbane), South Australia (Adelaide), Western Australia (Perth), and Tasmania (Hobart). The territories and their chief cities are the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) and the Northern Territory (Darwin). 

Principal Cities
In terms of its urban communities, Australia is very much a country of suburbs. Its cities are extensive, and about 60 per cent of Australians live in the metropolitan areas of the six state capitals and Canberra. Sydney (1993 estimate; greater city, 3,738,500) was Australia’s first city and remains its largest. It is the country’s leading financial and commercial centre, and one of its most important ports. It also contains the world’s largest area of suburbs, and is twice the area of Beijing and six times that of Rome. Australia’s other major cities are (1993 greater city): Melbourne (3,198,200); Brisbane (1,454,800); Perth (1,239,400); and Adelaide (1,076,400). Canberra, the purpose-built national capital and the only one of Australia’s largest cities located inland, had a population of 328,000 in 1994.

Australia has no established Church and its constitution guarantees freedom of worship. Although the majority of the population characterizes itself as Christian, most individuals are not active in that faith and Australian society is predominantly secular. The largest Christian denominations are the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, with about 24 per cent of the total population Anglican and 27 per cent Catholic. Over 25 per cent more belong to other Christian denominations, predominantly Nonconformist and Protestant, but also including Eastern Orthodox communities. There are small Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim communities. The number of Buddhists and Muslims has increased sharply since the 1970s, in keeping with changing immigration patterns. 

Australia’s indigenous Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders today make up just 1.5 per cent of the country’s population. Almost 95 per cent of Australians are of European descent. The majority have British or Irish heritage but about 18 per cent have other European origins. Asians, including people from the Middle East, account for about 3.5 per cent of the population. There has been a significant change in population structure since 1945. Before World War II, more than 95 per cent of the population was of British or Irish origin. However, a post-war immigration drive brought not only a large number of immigrants from the British Isles, but also many from continental Europe. Since then more than 2 million other Europeans have migrated to Australia. 

During the 1960s the "White Australia" policy, which had underpinned both colonial and federal immigration policies for 100 years (see History below), began to be relaxed, and was formally abandoned in 1973. Initially most non-European immigrants were from Latin America and the Middle East, notably Lebanon. However, since the late 1970s, there have been increasing numbers of immigrants from Asia, especially South East Asia and China; many early South East Asian arrivals were refugees. The 1991 census underlines the changes. Figures on Australians born overseas show 22.5 per cent were born in Great Britain or Ireland, 30 per cent were born in other European countries, and 21 per cent were born in Asia and the Middle East. 

English is the official language of Australia. Aboriginal and other languages are spoken in ethnic communities. 

Population Characteristics

Australia is the most sparsely populated of the inhabited continents. In 1993 Australia had an estimated population of 17,657,400. The average population density is just over 2 people per sq km (6 per sq mi). The average figure is very misleading, however. For climatic and other environmental reasons, Australia’s settlement is one of the most heavily concentrated in the world; some 90 per cent of the population lives in about 3 per cent of the land area. 

In all, 85 per cent of the population is classified as urban, and lives in the towns and cities along the eastern, south-eastern, and south-western seaboards, and in Tasmania. In addition, the majority of the 12 per cent of the rural population is settled in a narrow "fertile crescent", running from about Brisbane in Queensland to Adelaide in South Australia and bounded in the interior by the western edge of the Great Dividing Range. The greatest -growing region is the east coast of Queensland, boosted by its nearness to the booming economies of South East Asia. The coastal zones around and between the mainland capitals in the east, south-east, and south-west are also growing rapidly. 

The remaining 97 per cent of Australia is uninhabited or virtually so, with an average population density of less than 0.03 people per sq km (0.09 per sq mi). Average densities only begin to approach 0.3 people per sq km (1 per sq mi) in the semi-arid grazing lands of the interior of Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia, where the huge cattle and sheep stations are located; and in the areas around the few settlements of the interior and western and northern coasts. They include Alice Springs and Darwin in the Northern Territory, and, in Western Australia, Kalgoorlie and Boulder, the western coast between Dampier and Port Hedland, and the diamond mining area of the Kimberleys. 

Australia’s population grew at an annual rate of 1.4 per cent during the early 1990s. The principal reason for this growth has been the continued high level of immigration, which has maintained the numbers of younger people in the childbearing and childrearing age groups. Average life expectancy is about 80 years for women and 73 years for men. However, life expectancy among the Aborigine population is generally much lower. In particular, Aborigines who still live in the more remote Outback areas often have to endure living conditions more associated with the developing nations. This is reflected in a disease profile that includes trachoma, leprosy, tuberculosis, and intestinal illnesses, as well as diabetes. 

The Aborigines 
The first Australians were the Aborigines. Although the modern population shows considerable genetic diversity, Aborigines are quite distinct from any group outside the continent. Aboriginal traditions assert that they were always in Australia. However, anthropologists believe that they emigrated from somewhere in Asia and first arrived in Australia between 60,000 and 40,000 years ago, at a time of lowered sea levels which created an almost continuous land bridge between the two continents. Rising sea levels subsequently disrupted this relatively easy means of migration, and some 13,500 to 8,000 years ago separated Tasmania from the mainland. The island’s Aborigine population subsequently developed in a somewhat different cultural way from the Aborigines of continental Australia. 

These original Australians were primarily nomadic hunter-gatherers, who survived and multiplied through the development of an intimate knowledge of the location, distribution, and characteristics of Australia’s flora and fauna, and of its climatic conditions. Fire was used by the Aborigines as a tool to encourage the growth of grasses attractive to kangaroos and other game animals. There is also evidence that they harvested and dispersed seeds to encourage the development of grasslands, and dammed and redirected streams, swamps, and lake outlets for fishing. 

Technologically, their life was simple; the main tools used were digging sticks, spears and spear throwers, boomerangs, needles, bobbins, wooden dishes, skin water carriers, and plaited grass mats and bags. Aborigines also used bark canoes and rafts, and dug-out log canoes, sometimes with woven grass sails. Division of labour tended to be gender-based: men and older boys hunted large game; women collected vegetable food and hunted small game. Notwithstanding this, the exigencies of the environment meant that all adults had all the skills required to make a living. 

In contrast to the simplicity of their economic life and technology, Australia’s Aborigines developed a complex social organization and one of the world’s richest belief systems, which encompassed all aspects of their lives. Their world view centred on The Dreaming or "Dreamtime", a complex and all-embracing concept embodying the past, present, and future, including the creative era at the dawn of time when mythic beings shaped the land, populated it with plants, animals, and people, and laid down the blueprint of social life. These dream beings eventually withdrew from the physical to the spiritual world, where they retained control of fertility and other life-giving powers. These they would release to the physical world as long as humans followed the blueprint, including religious observances. The spirits communicated to humans through dreams and other altered states of consciousness, while special features in the landscape also confirmed their presence. A complex of myth, ritual, dance, and objects developed which bound the human, spiritual, and physical worlds tightly together, and gave the Aborigines a strong sense of self and a religiously based confidence in their ability to control their world. 

Fundamental Aboriginal values were unselfishness and the dutiful discharge of kinship and religious obligations. Status was not linked to possessions, which were valued either for their sacred role, or kept for their practical usefulness. Trade was important, with networks stretching across the continent. The goods involved were normally scarce and of social or religious significance, the aim being mainly to promote inter-group harmony and alliance. 

By the time of the first European settlement in 1788, the Aborigines had long occupied and utilized the entire continent, adapting to environments ranging from tropical rainforests, through wet temperate lands, to arid deserts. The population is estimated to have ranged between 300,000 and 1 million, and more than 200 different languages were spoken; most Aborigines were bilingual or multilingual. The largest entities recognized were some 50 land-associated, language-named groups. The Europeans often referred to them as "tribes", but although they shared cultural traits, they were not economic or political entities and there was no consciousness of a shared national identity. Individual identity was grounded rather in family and local  affiliations and groupings. 

The arrival of the Europeans was an unmitigated disaster for the Aborigines. Communication between the two groups was minimal, and the culture gap almost total. From initial uneasy coexistence, the Aborigines were quickly forced off the more fertile coastal lands, into the interior. Attempts at resistance met with "pacification by force", in which large numbers of Aborigines were killed. Many more died of introduced diseases. In Tasmania and the south-east the indigenous population rapidly became almost extinct, and there were dramatic declines in the number of Aborigines in all parts of the continent during the first century of white settlement. Those who survived were often subject to brutal mistreatment, or efforts to "civilize" them by missionaries and others. Put on to reserves and denied legal existence in their native land, the Aborigines were physically and spiritually impoverished. It was widely believed after the mid-19th century that, as a race, they were destined for quick cultural, if not physical, annihilation. This belief was supported by the figures: by 1920, there were estimated to be only 60,000 Aborigines surviving. 

Until the 1960s, the Aboriginal population was mainly rural. Over the next two decades, Aborigines began moving in greater numbers to urban areas. The state capitals and larger provincial cities were particular magnets. Often viewed negatively by the European majority, the incomers tended to be concentrated in small, but highly volatile, ghetto-like communities, which were the breeding grounds of the more aggressive political awareness among the Aboriginal community that emerged in the 1960s. The social and political status of Aborigines was so low at this period that they were not even included in the national census until 1971; a 1967 referendum gave the federal government the power for the first time to legislate for the Aborigines and to include them in the census count. Initial concerns over wage and civic equality were quickly overtaken by demands for land rights over territories with special cultural and religious significance (see History below). 

In the 1991 census, 238,492 Australian residents were counted as of Aboriginal descent; another 26,902 as Torres Strait islanders, a group which is often not clearly distinguished from the Aborigines and subsumed within them. This spectacular recovery in numbers compared with the 1920s, is a result partly of higher birth rates but also of the rediscovery of Aboriginal pride. Only a small minority of those classified as Aborigines were of pure descent; most were of mixed origin reclaiming their heritage. 

The greatest concentrations of people of Aboriginal descent today are in New South Wales and Queensland (26.4 per cent each of the national total population of Aborigines), Western Australia (15.7 per cent), and the Northern Territory (15 per cent). More than 70 per cent live in urban areas, and traditional ways of life are under threat, notwithstanding a resurgence of interest in the richness of Aboriginal life, and the teaching of Aboriginal culture in schools. In the early 1990s it was estimated that only about 10,000 Aborigines had had direct experience of traditional life, concentrated primarily in the Northern Territory where the rural population is still predominant. 

Every region of Australia is represented by its own Aboriginal Land Council, and most regions run centres and festivals celebrating Aboriginal culture. Aboriginality is now widely expressed in art, popular music, literature, politics, and sport, and the community has won some important legal victories, particularly over land rights. Aborigines have regained ownership and control over large areas of northern and central Australia in recent years, but at the same time they still face significant social and economic disadvantages. It is not only in life expectancy that Aborigines fare much worse than the Australian population as a whole. Unemployment, family income, welfare dependence, and infant mortality levels are all still much worse than the average, despite positive action in recent years, giving additional funds to Aborigine education, training, and health services. However, the Mabo Judgement on native land title (see Aboriginal Land Rights below) and the legislation resulting from it seem likely to revolutionize the relationship between the Aboriginal community and the white population



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