Australia in brief

Australia and the world

Engaging with the world

Australia is strongly engaged with the rest of the world, not only because so many of its people originate from so many parts of the world but also from longstanding recognition that its prosperity and security are integrally linked to global engagement.

Australia was a founding member of the United Nations and is the 12th-largest contributor to the UN regular and peacekeeping budgets. It is strongly committed to the building of a rules-based international order which advances and protects the interests of all nations and peoples. Australia plays an active role in a wide array of global and regional institutions, including the:

Australia has a strong network of alliances and partnerships to advance its international interests, including a longstanding alliance with the United States. Both countries have worked closely together over the past century in the promotion of global peace and prosperity.

A strong foreign and trade policy focus for Australia is strengthening its already significant engagement with countries in the dynamic Asia–Pacific region. As a founding member of APEC and active participant in the EAS, Australia is also helping to build regional institutions that foster stability, security and prosperity across the region.

Some key international policy objectives for Australia include:

Australia has significant, longstanding and close bilateral ties with Indonesia, as well as strong ties with other member nations of ASEAN in South-East Asia. Australia also has strong relations with the major states of North Asia: China, Japan and the Republic of Korea, countries which are also our major markets.

Stability, security and prosperity in the Pacific are central to Australia's national interest. Australia has strong bilateral ties to the region, including an important relationship with Papua New Guinea, and a commitment to regional cooperation and economic development.

Beyond our region, Australia enjoys strong economic, security, political, social and cultural ties with the United States and Canada.

Australia continues to build on our strong and longstanding political, cultural, trade, investment, and people-to-people links with Europe to advance mutual interests. We are committed to a broad-based, creative partnership with the European Union, addressing the contemporary challenges of economic management and international trade, climate change, development, security, and strengthening international governance.

Australia has significant people-to-people links and growing trade and investment interests in the strategically important Middle East. In Africa, Australia has longstanding bilateral ties, especially with fellow Commonwealth nations, and growing trade and investment interests, particularly in the resources sector.

Australia's connections with Latin American countries are expanding in a range of international forums, including in the WTO. Australia has warm relations with Caribbean countries built on strong historical and cultural foundations.

Smiling woman in Army fatigues holding infant on hip.
Nursing Officer Flight Lieutenant Susan Wither weighs a Micronesian boy at Pohnpei Hospital, during a Medical Civic Action Project for Pacific Partnerships 2011. Photo: Defence Media (Mr Kristopher Radder)

A leading Antarctic nation

Australia is a leading Antarctic nation, driving international efforts to preserve Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science. As host of the 35th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Hobart in June 2012, Australia worked with representatives of the 50 Antarctic Treaty Parties on practical measures to enhance the protection and management of Antarctica, including strengthening support for the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty, which permanently bans mining. Australia's worldclass Antarctic research program contributes to understanding environmental systems in Antarctica and the effects of global climate change. It involves cooperation with hundreds of institutions in more than 25 countries.

Penguins standing in Antarctic landscape.
Photo: Todor Iolovski/Australian Antarctic Division

Australia and Asia

Asia's growth presents significant opportunities for Australia's continued strong engagement in this dynamic region.

Australia has developed people-to-people links throughout the countries of Asia, reinforced by its significant population of people of Asian origin and widely recognised academic, business and other expertise in Asian culture, history and geography. These people-to-people links include the fact that:

  • Australia is home to around two million people born in Asia
  • between two and three million Australians visit Asia every year
  • in 2011, about three-quarters of international students in Australian higher education were born in Asia.

Asia's strong economic growth will continue to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. It is predicted that Asia's middle class will one day be bigger than that of the rest of the world combined. Australia is well placed to contribute to, and benefit from, this remarkable transformation. Australian natural resources, high-quality food production, world-class services, such as in education and the financial sector, and new technologies will continue to aid this transformation.

Australia is already one of the most Asian-oriented economies. Today, China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, India and our ASEAN neighbours purchase around three quarters of our merchandise exports. Our diplomacy has had Asia at its centre for six decades. Australia has been at the forefront of creating regional institutions from APEC to the ASEAN Regional Forum and, more recently, expansion of the EAS.

Australia's strong network of close relationships with countries throughout Asia and its active participation in the major institutions of Asia such as APEC, EAS and the Asian Development Bank also make it an important player in addressing the challenges that arise from the changes occurring in the region.

Australia is working closely with Asian countries to ensure continued strong economic growth and regional economic integration aimed at lifting the living standards for all peoples in the region. Australia is also working with the countries of Asia to address shared security challenges and common threats such as the crime of people smuggling and terrorism.

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Four boys smiling at camera, their backs to the ocean on beach.
Some of the 24 children from the Japanese town of Minami Sanriku, devastated by the 11 March 2011 tsunami, who visited the Gold Coast on a visit funded by the Australia–Japan Foundation and the Australian Embassy Tokyo. Photo: DFAT
Friends eating ice-cream at Opera House forecourt.
Photo: Tourism NSW

Trading with the world

Trade is fundamentally important to the Australian economy. We are one of the world's largest exporters of minerals, energy and agricultural commodities.

Australia has developed a competitive edge in a range of goods and services, including high-technology goods such as medical and scientific equipment, as well as wine and processed food. Major services exports include education and tourism, as well as professional and financial services. Sales of services by Australian companies operating overseas provide a major contribution to our economy. Australia's largest trading partners are China, Japan, the United States, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and India. Australia's trading success reflects its stable institutions, strong education system, flexible and skilled workforce, and rich natural resource base.

Trade liberalisation and economic reform have been at the heart of Australian Government policy for decades. Today, Australia is a very open market with minimal restrictions on imports of goods and services. The process of opening up has increased productivity, stimulated growth and made the economy more flexible and dynamic. We are pushing ahead with trade liberalisation – unilaterally, bilaterally and multilaterally. Australia is also working hard to strengthen international economic collaboration to reduce the risks facing the global economy and to bolster growth. We play an active role in the World Trade Organization, APEC, the G20 and other trade forums. Australia has also negotiated bilateral and regional agreements with a wide range of countries to strengthen trade and investment flows.

Australia has bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) with Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and the United States. We have a regional FTA with ASEAN and New Zealand. Australia is negotiating agreements with China, India, Indonesia and Japan as well as with our Pacific neighbours and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Negotiations on the Australia-Korea Free Trade Agreement were concluded in December 2013, with signature scheduled for early 2014. We are also working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement with Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

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A strong and stable economy

The Australian economy continues to outperform other advanced economies. Australia has solid growth, low unemployment, contained inflation, very low public debt and a strong and stable financial system. By 2012, Australia had experienced more than 20 years of continued economic growth, averaging 3.5 per cent a year. Australia's positive outlook is underpinned by a record pipeline of resources investments, solid growth in commodity exports and a strong fiscal position.

The services sector is the largest part of the Australian economy, accounting for around three quarters of gross domestic product and four out of five jobs. Australia is an important and growing financial centre, with a sophisticated financial services sector and strong regulation.

A continuing process of reform to further open the economy and strengthen its competitiveness has been a key ingredient of Australia's success.

Foreign investment

Australia welcomes foreign investment and recognises the key role it plays in bolstering our economic growth, employment and competitiveness. Foreign investment also strengthens our links into regional and global supply chains. A robust economy, strategic location and track record of innovation make Australia an attractive location for foreign investors. The stock of foreign investment in Australia was $2.0 trillion at the end of 2011. A large number of foreign companies are registered in Australia. Many have developed close links with local firms, which has generated cooperation on research and development and resulted in Australian companies becoming drawn into global and regional supply chains.

Facilitating exports

The Australian Government helps Australian businesses to access export markets, through bodies such as the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) and Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (EFIC). Austrade is the Australian Government's trade, investment and education promotion agency. It has an extensive global network covering 102 locations in 55 countries. EFIC is the Australian Government's export credit agency. It provides finance and insurance solutions to help Australian companies overcome financial barriers when they seek to export.

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Mining and resources

With abundant resources, skilled professionals and cutting-edge technology, Australia is a leader in the global mining industry. Australia is among the largest producers of bauxite, iron and zinc ore, nickel and gold. Australia is also a major supplier of energy, including coal, natural gas and uranium.

The mining sector accounted for approximately eight per cent of the Australian economy in 2011. In the same year, minerals and energy accounted for 50 per cent of Australia's exports. The sector is expanding, driven by huge demand for raw materials from the rapidly growing economies of Asia.

The scale of our resource industry has helped Australia become a world leader in the development and manufacture of mining equipment, technology and services. Australian firms are competitive across the supply chain, including in exploration, engineering, processing, environmental management, mine safety, training, and research and development.

Mining for development

Australia is helping resource-rich developing countries use their natural resources to reduce poverty and expand their economies through mining-related governance and revenue management support, and capacity and technological assistance.

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Four men standing next to one another, dressed in mining gear.
Mining professionals from Sierra Leone, Zambia and Burkina Faso took part in a mining governance study tour to the Bullant gold mine near Kalgoorlie, a major gold mining town in Western Australia. Photo: DFAT (Steve Levitt)

Defence and security

Australia works closely with other countries to promote security and stability in our immediate region and globally.

Our response to security challenges such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, cyber threats, maritime security and weak and failing states is multi-dimensional.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Defence, the Australian Federal Police, the Attorney- General's Department, the Customs and Border Protection Service, state law enforcement agencies, and intelligence agencies all play a role.

A versatile and modern defence force, strong bilateral links and an ongoing commitment to a rules-based global order and the United Nations are all key elements of Australia's approach.

Bilaterally, the alliance with the United States remains vital. Long-term links with New Zealand, and growing ties with Indonesia, Japan and the Republic of Korea are increasingly valued in pursuing common strategic interests.

Australia also has longstanding and valuable defence ties with Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea. We have growing and productive relationships with India, China and Vietnam.

We provide assistance to Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea and other Pacific island countries to enable them to maintain stability and protect their security. Australia is also working with Pakistan, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen and Indonesia on law enforcement and counter-terrorism capacity building.

Regionally and multilaterally, Australia continues to work with others to address traditional and non-traditional security issues. Australia is a significant non-NATO contributor to the International Stability Assistance Force in Afghanistan. We are leaders in global efforts for non-proliferation and disarmament, and counter-terrorism.

Peace and humanitarian missions

Since 1947, around 65,000 Australians have served in more than 50 peace and security operations around the world. In our own neighbourhood, Australia has helped to build the peace in regional missions in Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (Papua New Guinea).

As the nature of peace operations has evolved, so too has Australia's contribution, with an increasing focus on policing and civilian components and on helping nations to build their capacities and national institutions. Australia's geography gives us a distinctive and deep understanding of the vital importance of development to security and stability.

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Australian Army member standing with local villagers in Solomon Islands.
Trooper Oliver Ellis stops for a chat with a schoolteacher at Mbalisuna, Solomon Islands. At the request of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, Australians soldiers have been deployed as part of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). RAMSI's assistance is known in Solomon Islands as operation HELPEM FREN (Pijin for 'help a friend'), and its mission is to assist the Solomon Islands Government in restoring law and order and economic governance, and improving the machinery of government. Photo: CPL Guy Young/Defence Images

International aid

Australians are generous people. Last year two million Australian households donated to non-government organisations—one of the highest private donor rates in the world.

Our aid program is strongly focused on the Indo–Pacific region. We also work in south and west Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean.

We live in one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world where cyclones, floods and earthquakes often hamper development gains. We help communities prepare for, and respond to, damage inflicted by natural disasters.

Australian aid has achieved much over the years. We:

  • helped Solomon Islands reduce malaria by 75 per cent and Vanuatu by more than half since 2003
  • helped 330,000 poor children in Indonesia attend school by building more than 2000 schools
  • provided more than 825,000 Zimbabweans with seeds, fertiliser and agricultural training
  • were one of the first donors to respond to the Horn of Africa food crisis, helping 9.7 million people with life-saving food assistance
  • helped immunise more than 1.6 million children against measles and other diseases
  • provided $180 million to the World Food Programme to support emergency and recovery operations as well as school feeding programs.

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Australian official passes football to child while other children watch.
The former Australian High Commissioner to South Africa, Ann Harrap, with local children at an Australian Rules football clinic. Photo: DFAT