About Australia

Australia and the World

Looking Outward

Australia is an outward-looking country that is strongly engaged with the rest of the world. For more than two centuries, Australia has been building strong and enduring ties with many countries. These bonds have been forged through history, through common strategic interests, through trade and through people-to-people relations.

Twenty-eight per cent of Australia's population was born overseas and more than 40 per cent are of mixed cultural origin. One in 10 Australians speak an Asian language at home and almost 1.3 million speak a European language other than English.

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In 2014, Australia celebrated 40 years of partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Australia has a deep relationship with ASEAN in a range of areas including security, culture, education and development.

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Australia had the world's fifth highest GDP per capita in 2013 (US$64,863).

Australia is active in many global and regional institutions. It was a founding member of the United Nations and is among the leading contributors to the UN's regular and peacekeeping budgets. In 2013 Australia began a two-year period as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

In its international economic engagement, Australia aims to build greater prosperity for Australia and the world. To achieve this, Australia supports efforts to liberalise trade, boost economic growth, encourage investments and assist business through economic diplomacy.

Australia is strongly committed to building 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 groups, including the:

  • United Nations (UN)
  • Group of twenty major economies (G20)
  • World Trade Organization (WTO)
  • East Asia Summit (EAS)
  • Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
  • Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)
  • Commonwealth
  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  • Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA)
  • Pacific Islands Forum (PIF)
  • Forum for East Asia–Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC)
  • International climate change negotiations
  • Asia–Europe Meeting (ASEM).
Australian Foreign Minister, the Hon Julie Bishop, MP, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon share an exchange during the Security Council's High-Level Meeting on Small Arms, 26 September 2013
Australian Foreign Minister, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon share an exchange during the Security Council's High-Level Meeting on Small Arms, 26 September 2013 (Trevor Collens, DFAT)

Australia's foreign and trade policy focuses on strengthening its already significant engagement with countries in the dynamic Indo-Pacific region. As a founding member of APEC and an active participant in the East Asia Summit, Australia is helping to build regional institutions that foster stability, security and prosperity across the region.

Australia has close, longstanding bilateral ties with Indonesia, as well as strong ties with the other member nations of ASEAN. Australia also has significant relations with India and with the major states of Northeast Asia—China, Japan and the Republic of Korea—which are also major markets.

Beyond its region, Australia enjoys strong economic, security, political, social and cultural ties with the United States and Canada, and continues to build on its strong and longstanding political, cultural, trade, investment, and people-to-people links with the United Kingdom and Europe. Australia is committed to a broad-based, creative partnership with the European Union, addressing the contemporary challenges of economic management and international trade, development, security, and 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 also has warm relations with Caribbean countries built on strong historical and cultural foundations.

Australia in Brief publication

The cover image for the booklet. It depicts a painting, Jilji 2007, and has an area in the top right corner that contains the title: Australia in Brief.

Australia in Brief provides an authoritative overview of Australia's history, the land, its people and their way of life. It also looks at Australia's economic, scientific and cultural achievements and its foreign, trade and defence policies.

Australia in Brief

Australia Unlimited logo
Australia Unlimited
Skyline, Melbourne
Skyline, Melbourne (Roberto Seba, Tourism Australia)
 

Trade

Trade liberalisation and economic reform have been at the heart of Australian Government policy for decades.

Iron ore ship at Port Hedland
Iron ore ship at Port Hedland (BHP Billiton)

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Australia is the world's largest exporter of iron ore.

Until the 1960s, Britain and the United States were Australia's main trading partners. Today the emphasis of Australia's trade has shifted to Asia, with four out of five of Australia's top trading partners located there. China, Japan, the United States, the Republic of Korea and Singapore are now Australia's largest trading partners.

Australia has a very open market with minimal restrictions on imports of goods and services. This has increased productivity, stimulated growth and made the economy more flexible and dynamic.

Australia has developed a competitive edge in a range of goods and services, from high-technology products such as medical and scientific equipment through to high-quality wine and processed food. Major services exports include education and tourism, and professional and financial services. Services by Australian companies operating overseas provide a major contribution to Australia's economy.

Australia continues to push ahead with trade liberalisation—unilaterally, bilaterally and multilaterally. This will strengthen international economic collaboration, reduce the risks facing the global economy, and bolster growth. Australia plays an active role in the WTO, APEC, the G20 and other trade related forums. Australia has also negotiated bilateral and regional trade agreements with a wide range of countries to strengthen trade and investment flows.

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Australian agriculture feeds 60 million people around the world each year.

45,000 Australian Businesses export their goods and services to the world.

Wheat harvest at Beverley
Wheat harvest at Beverley (CBH)

Free Trade Agreements

Australia has free trade agreements (FTAs) in force with New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, the United States, Chile, Malaysia and ASEAN (with New Zealand). FTA negotiations with Korea and Japan were concluded in 2014. The countries covered by these FTAs account for 42 per cent of Australia's total trade.

Australia is engaged in seven FTA negotiations—three bilateral FTA negotiations with China, India and Indonesia, and four plurilateral FTA negotiations with the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Pacific Trade and Economic Agreement (PACER Plus), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

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70 per cent of Australia's trade is with countries in the APEC group.

Australian beef on sale in Korea
Australian beef on sale in Korea (MLA)
Coal mine in the Bowen Basin
Coal mine in the Bowen Basin (BHP Billiton)

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Over 90 per cent of Australia's iron ore and metallurgical coal production is exported with a combined value of A$93 billion in 2013.

Mining and Resources

With abundant resources, skilled professionals and cutting-edge technology, Australia is a leader in the global mining industry and 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.

In 2013, the mining sector accounted for approximately 11 per cent of the Australian economy (based on industry value added at basic prices) and minerals and fuels accounted for 50 per cent of Australia's exports. The sector is expanding, driven by a huge demand for raw materials from the rapidly growing economies of Asia.

The scale of Australia's resources industry has helped the country 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.

 
Australia trading with the world infographic. Text alternative at the following link
 

Growth

Economic growth, driven by the private sector and supported by trade liberalisation, is a key objective of Australia's engagement with the world. Strong economies are an important shaper of prosperity, security, stability and peace.

Workers on a building site
Workers on a building site (Austrade)

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Australia is ranked third on the Index of Economic Freedom, a position it has held since 2009.

Through its membership of international economic institutions, Australia actively promotes open trade to encourage global economic growth and job creation.

As president of the G20 in 2014, Australia is leading the push for G20 members to grow their gross domestic product by an additional two per cent by 2019. This would add nearly US$2 trillion dollars to the global economy and create millions of jobs.

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Australia is the chair of the Cairns Group in the World Trade Organization. The group of 19 countries from the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Pacific works to free up agricultural trade.

Australia's aid program promotes sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction in developing countries. Aid investments help expand the capacity of countries to trade their products, encourage economic growth to create jobs, and empower women and girls to better participate in the economy.

Domestically, Australia is working to reduce government debt, remove unnecessary taxes and cut regulations and costs for business. This will ensure Australia remains an attractive destination for international investment so our economy can continue to grow and develop new industries.

Australia and the G20

As a member of the G20, Australia influences decisions relating to the global economy. Australia's strong financial sector and effective system of financial regulation means Australia is well placed to make a strong contribution to the G20's work. Through its membership of the G20, Australia is also strengthening its engagement with the world's major economies.

On 1 December 2013, Australia began a year as president of the G20. It held a series of meetings culminating in the G20 Leaders' Summit on 15–16 November 2014 in Brisbane.

Flags of the G20 nations
Flags of the G20 nations
Sunset, Barossa Valley, South Australia
Sunset, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Adam Bruzzone, Tourism Australia)
 

Investment

Foreign investment is crucial to Australia's economy. It improves competition and productivity, encourages innovation and gives Australia opportunities to diversify and expand its economy, create more jobs and contribute more broadly to regional and global markets.

Collaborative meeting in drug substance manufacturing
Collaborative meeting in drug substance manufacturing (Amgen)

Australia's highly skilled workforce, robust economy, trusted legal system and stable society make the country an attractive location for foreign investors. The stock of foreign investment in Australia was A$2.5 trillion at the end of 2013.

A large number of foreign companies are registered in Australia and many have developed close links with local firms. This has generated cooperation on research and development and resulted in Australian companies becoming integral parts of regional and global supply chains.

One of the world's largest biotech companies, AMGEN from California, invests about A$35 million in local research and development in Australia annually and has been conducting clinical trials in Australia for over 20 years. The company markets eight products in Australia for the treatment of cancer, kidney disease, bone disease and other serious illnesses and employs nearly 150 people in five cities around the country.

 
 

Business

Australia's strong economic performance, combined with its proximity to and experience in working with Asian nations, makes Australia an excellent place to do business. Its economic resilience and strong growth rate create opportunities for business in a safe, low-risk environment.

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In 2013, Australia was ranked by the World Bank as the fourth fastest place in the world in which to start a new business—it can take just three days.

A business meeting on Kangaroo Island
A business meeting on Kangaroo Island (Adam Taylor, Tourism Australia)

Almost 40 percent of Australia's workforce holds a tertiary qualification.

From the resources sector to high-end agribusiness, higher education, the services sector and medical research, Australian businesses are keen to collaborate with partners at home and overseas.

Australia has one of the most educated, multicultural and multilingual workforces in the world.

Its research institutions are world class and there are generous tax incentives for research and development.

Foreign Aid

Australia spends more than A$5 billion on foreign aid each year, making it one of the most generous aid donors in the world.

Weaver at the Australian Government supported Dhaka weaving centre, Nepal
Weaver at the Australian Government supported Dhaka weaving centre, Nepal (Jim Holmes, DFAT)

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Around half of Australia's aid budget is spent on initiatives, policies and programs that focus on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

Australia's aid program is dedicated to promoting prosperity, reducing poverty and lifting living standards through sustainable economic growth.

The focus of Australia's aid program is on its neighbourhood, where it can make the most difference. More than 90 per cent of country and regional funding will be invested in the Indo-Pacific region.

Australia works with the private sector, and promotes private sector growth in recipient countries, to create jobs, boost incomes and increase economic security.

The priority areas for Australia's aid investments are:

  • Infrastructure, trade facilitation and international competitiveness
  • Agriculture, fisheries and water
  • Effective governance
  • Education and health
  • Building resilience
  • Gender equality and empowering women and girls.

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In 2013–14 Australia's aid program supported the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of 4,162 kilometres of roads in developing countries.

An artist's impression of the Cao Lanh bridge in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. Australia is investing $160 million in the design and construction of the bridge which is expected to open in 2017
An artist's impression of the Cao Lanh bridge in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. Australia is investing $160 million in the design and construction of the bridge which is expected to open in 2017 (Australian Embassy Vietnam)
 
 

Tourism

The beauty of Australia's natural landscapes, from pristine coastal areas to lush rainforests and red deserts, makes Australia one of the most desirable travel destinations in the world. More than six million visitors come to Australia each year, attracted by world-class food and wine, beautiful beaches, unique flora and fauna, friendly people and a relaxed atmosphere.

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International visitors spent more than 200 million nights in Australia in 2013.

Freycinet Experience Walk, Tasmania
Freycinet Experience Walk, Tasmania (Hugh Stewart, Tourism Australia)
Poacher's Way
Poacher's Way (Adrian Brown, Tourism Australia)
Seppeltsfield Wines
Seppeltsfield Wines (Adrian Brown, Tourism Australia)
Yering Station winery
Yering Station winery (Roberto Seba, Tourism Australia)
Yarra Valley Dairy
Yarra Valley Dairy (Roberto Seba, Tourism Australia)

Tourism is one of Australia's biggest export industries, adding more than A$42 billion to the economy in 2013 and directly employing more than half a million people. With 46 cents in every tourism dollar spent in regional areas, tourism is important to both metropolitan and regional communities.

In 2013, a record 6.3 million people visited Australia from overseas. The greatest number came from New Zealand, followed by China, Great Britain, the United States, Singapore and Japan. Around 40 per cent of all spending by tourists in Australia was by Asian visitors, and that market is continuing to grow. Chinese tourists are particularly interested in Australia and over the past decade the number of Chinese tourists has tripled. The number of visitors from India is also rapidly increasing.

Food and wine tourism is expanding, in line with Australia's growing international reputation as a producer of high-quality wines and a supplier of fresh, regionally produced food.

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Australia was one of the first western nations to be awarded 'approved destination status' by China. This scheme provides streamlined travel arrangements for organised tour groups from China to Australia.

 
 

Study in Australia

Education is Australia's largest services export. In 2013, more than 410,000 international students were studying and living in Australia, adding A$15 billion to the Australian economy.

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Half of Australia's universities are listed in the Times Higher Education World University Ranking Top 400 (2013–14) and five are in the top 100.

International students are attracted to Australia by its high standard of teaching, its internationally accepted qualifications, and its welcoming and diverse society.

Australia has more than one thousand universities, training colleges, English language institutes and schools, offering international students some 25,000 courses. The quality of Australia's vocational education and training sector is recognised around the world.

Five Australian universities were named among the world's top 100 higher education institutions in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013–14. Australia's two largest cities, Melbourne and Sydney, were ranked among the top 10 best student cities in the world according to the QS World University Rankings. In May 2014, Sydney was ranked the most popular city in the world for international students by global consultancy firm A. T. Kearney.

The inaugural Yudhoyono Fellow, Emma Roberts will study in Indonesia in 2015 under the New Colombo Plan
The inaugural Yudhoyono Fellow, Emma Roberts (centre) will study in Indonesia in 2015 under the New Colombo Plan (ANU)

English Language Training

Australia's English language schools offer various services. They range from short courses for students visiting Australia as part of a holiday, to formal courses to prepare for accredited levels of English recognised by education and immigration authorities around the world. In 2013, students from 144 countries came to Australia to study English. Twenty-five per cent of overseas enrolments in English language intensive courses in 2013 were from China, followed by Brazil (nine per cent) and Thailand (eight per cent).

Australia Awards and the New Colombo Plan

Education has the power to transform lives. The Australian Government's Australia Awards are prestigious scholarships and fellowships that promote knowledge and create education links and enduring ties between Australia, its regional neighbours and the international community. They offer emerging leaders from around the world the opportunity to undertake study, research and professional development in premier tertiary institutions in Australia and the region.

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Australia is the world's fourth most popular destination for international students behind the US, the UK and France.

The New Colombo Plan (NCP) is a flagship Australian Government initiative first offered in 2014. The plan provides new opportunities for Australian undergraduate students to study and undertake internships and mentorships in the Indo-Pacific region.

The NCP aims to lift knowledge of the region in Australia, build leadership skills, foster people-to-people links and further develop business and institutional relationships. In the program's first year, over 1,300 Australian students will have had the opportunity to spend time in the pilot locations of Singapore, Indonesia, Japan and Hong Kong through student mobility grants and scholarships.

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Future Unlimited: Study in Australia
International student
International student (Austrade, Future Unlimited)
 

Defence and Security

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

HMAS Newcastle
HMAS Newcastle (Department of Defence)

Australia's 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, with many areas of government playing 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.

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Australia's defence force has more than 80,000 full time personnel and reservists, making it the largest military in the Oceania region.

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

Australia provides assistance to Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea and other Pacific Island countries, helping them maintain stability and protect their security. Australia is also working with countries in South-East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and Africa on law enforcement and counter-terrorism to help build their capacity in this area.

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 NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, which will end on 31 December 2014.

Australia will continue to contribute to Afghanistan's security and stability post-2014. Australia is also a leader in global efforts for non-proliferation and disarmament, and counter-terrorism.

Peace and humanitarian missions

Since 1947, more than 65,000 Australians have served in more than 50 peace and security operations around the world. In its own neighbourhood, Australia has helped build 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 capabilities and national institutions.

Australian Volunteers from HMAS Parramatta help repair the Tuvaruhu Public School in Solomon Islands after devastating floods in 2014
Australian Volunteers from HMAS Parramatta help repair the Tuvaruhu Public School in Solomon Islands after devastating floods in 2014 (Department of Defence)