The British founded the first settlement and named it Sydney in 1788. Many of the first settlers were convicts. Free settlers arrived in increasing numbers, particularly after the discovery of gold in the mid-19th century.
Politics: Liberal Party PM John Howard leads a conservative coalition; he has been in office since 1996
Economy: The strong, services-based economy has seen sustained growth; mining and agriculture provide the lion’s share of exports
International: Australia is a regional policeman; further afield, its troops are in Iraq and Afghanistan
Australia’s original inhabitants, the Aborigines, numbered a few hundred thousand before the European influx. But two centuries of discrimination and expropriation followed, and at one point the number of Aborigines fell as low as 60,000.
Today 99% of the population are of European or Asian descent, but calls for a formal apology for past injustices towards the Aborigines are still made. Indigenous Australians suffer high rates of unemployment, imprisonment and drug abuse.
The gradual dismantling of the “White Australia” immigration policy in the decades after World War II heralded an increase in the number of non-European arrivals.
Migration continues to shape Australia and is a politically-sensitive issue. The country has taken a tough stance on unauthorised arrivals. Asylum seekers are held in detention centres, which have been criticised at home and abroad, until their cases are heard.
Australia’s foreign policy has shifted in the past 20 years or so from Europe and the US to its near neighbours. It mediated between warring groups in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and deployed thousands of peacekeepers in newly-independent East Timor.
Australia’s economy is also geared to Asia. It is a foremost member of Apec, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, and aims to forge free trade deals with China and Asean, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The country has considered cutting its ties with the British monarchy. In 1999 Australians narrowly voted against plans for the country to become a republic
Full name: Commonwealth of Australia
Population: 21 million (official estimate, 2007)
Largest city: Sydney
Area: 7.7 million sq km (2.9 million sq miles)
Major language: English
Major religion: Christianity
LIfe expectancy: 78 years (men), 83 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 Australian dollar = 100 cents
Main exports: Ores and metals; wool, food and live animals; fuels, transport machinery and equipment
GNI per capita: US $32,220 (World Bank, 2006)
Internet domain: .au
International dialling code: +61
Australia’s media scene is creatively, technologically and economically advanced. There is a tradition of public broadcasting, but privately-owned TV and radio enjoy the lion’s share of listening and viewing.
Media ownership rules have been relaxed
2006: Australian media set for shake-up
Ownership of print and broadcast media is highly-concentrated. For example, four major media groups own 80% of Australia’s newspaper titles.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) runs national and local public radio and TV stations as well as Australia Network, a TV service for the Asia-Pacific region. The other main public broadcaster is the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), whose radio and TV networks broadcast in many languages.
National commercial TV is dominated by three large networks. Commercial broadcasters have to carry a minimum percentage of Australian-made programming. Pay-TV services have gained a substantial foothold. Digital TV is available via satellite, cable and terrestrially.
Sport, news, game shows, imported and home-made dramas top the TV ratings in Australia. The industry has successfully exported some of its productions to English-speaking markets overseas.
More than 70% of Australians use the internet.
The John Howard government changed the regulations governing media ownership. The rules, introduced in 2007, allow for greater cross-ownership of press and TV outlets as well as higher levels of foreign ownership.
All information came from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/country_profiles/default.stm