Australia in brief

Society and culture

Innovative Australia

Australian Government policies aim to encourage innovation across the economy and to promote research and development and international cooperation. Australia's workforce is highly skilled, multilingual, and has a strong entrepreneurial spirit.

Our research institutions are among the world's best and offer unsurpassed opportunities for industry collaboration. Australian scientists collaborate internationally in a range of fields from coral reef management to medicine. In 2012, Australia won the right to co-host, with South Africa, the world's largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array, which will give astronomers new insights into our universe. Australia's research and development expenditure has grown at almost twice the OECD average: 9.9 per cent between 2000 and 2008.

The Australian Government has a 10-year plan for innovation in Australia. It aims to increase the number of Australians undertaking higher degrees by research and the level of innovation among Australian businesses, and to facilitate collaboration between industry and Australian researchers, and their international colleagues.

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Satellite dishes in desert landscape.
The Square Kilometre Array is a nextgeneration radio telescope being planned by institutions from over 20 countries. It will be sited in remote Australia and South Africa. Photo: SKA Organisation/Swinburne Astronomy Productions
Man gazing at sky.
Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt. Photo: Australian National University

Creative Australia

Australia has one of the oldest continuous cultures in the world – that of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – and at the same time possesses one of the most diverse cultures, being home to people from all corners of the globe. This unique make-up permeates our culture and how we express our identity, including in the creative arts.

Australian artists have played an important role in shaping and reflecting Australia's image and promoting the country's creativity.

The Australian Government regards investment in a healthy arts and culture sector as a national priority. Australia has many publicly run galleries, museums and performance spaces, from the World Heritage listed Opera House in Sydney, to national galleries and museums in Canberra, and history museums and galleries in country towns assisted by local government. The Australia Council provides government funding to artists and arts organisations and Screen Australia supports Australia's film industry.

Private sector arts philanthropy is growing in Australia. Tasmania's innovative Museum of Old and New Art is privately funded, and generous private support helped to create the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.

Our creative industries have built a global reputation for innovation, talent and energy and play an important role in the Australian economy. Ninety per cent of the population engages with the arts, and at least as many Australians will visit a museum in any given year as will go to a sporting event. The creative sector also links us to our region and the world.

Contemporary visual arts in Australia encompass photography, multi-media, sculpture, installations, drawings, paintings and performance art. Reflecting issues in Australia, some works and artists also resonate internationally. Since the 1970s, the works of Indigenous artists have attracted international attention. Australian Indigenous art features, for example, in the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. The Tu Di-Shen Ti, Our Land-Our Body Western Australian Aboriginal exhibition toured China in 2011 and a major Emily Kame Kngwarreye exhibition received acclaim in Japan in 2008.

Exhibition of glass totem poles.
Tiwi artist Jock Puautjimi and Dutch-born, Australian resident artist Luna Ryan toured their Mamana Mamanta (gradual friendship) exhibition nationally in 2009–10, with funding from the Australian Government's Visions of Australia program and assistance from the ACT Government. Several of these glass Pukumani poles are now in the National Gallery of Australia collection. Photo: Wagga Wagga Regional Gallery
Headshot of two artists.
Jock Puautjimi and Luna Ryan. Photo: Gina Dow
Two actors performing on stage in costume.
Morgan David Jones (A Young Collector) and Cate Blanchett (Blanche) in Sydney Theatre Company's A Streetcar Named Desire. © Lisa Tomasetti. Photo: Woss Group

Our performing arts groups, musicians, dance troupes and theatre performers display the energy and diversity of Australia's arts and many are involved in international exchanges. Opera Australia and the Australian Ballet regularly undertake world tours. Smaller companies such as dance troupe Chunky Moves have toured the Middle East and the Bangarra Dance Theatre, Circus Oz and others are recognised internationally for the quality of their productions.

Australian music is another big export and covers an extraordinary range from classical, to contemporary and children's entertainment. The Australian Chamber Orchestra regularly tours Europe and Japan. Guitarist Slava Grigoryan is one of a number of prominent classical musicians and composers who regularly tour and work overseas. An eclectic group of Australian contemporary artists have achieved international success, including AC/DC, Gotye, Nick Cave, INXS, Kylie Minogue, Midnight Oil, Savage Garden, Keith Urban, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu and the Warrumpi Band. Bananas in Pyjamas, a successful Australian children's television show, captivates approximately 100 million viewers from about 70 countries around the world. The Wiggles children's music group is well known internationally.

Fashion Week in Sydney and Melbourne showcases to the world the best of Australian designers and fashion brands: Collette Dinnigan, Akira Isogawa, Lisa Ho, Carla Zampatti, Sass & Bide, Alex Perry and Wayne Cooper.

Australian arts expertise is an important segment of Australia's export economy, with Australians regularly contributing creative ideas and technologies to world festival events.

Australian arts expertise is an important segment of Australia's export economy, with Australians regularly contributing creative ideas and technologies to world festival events. The Australian film industry brings together production expertise, locations, technical know-how and actors who have performed in local theatre as well as film. Screen Australia has supported this industry resulting in film successes like Bran Nue Dae, Crocodile Dundee, Happy Feet, Muriel's Wedding, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, Red Dog, Samson and Delilah, Shine, Strictly Ballroom, Wolf Creek and The Sapphires. Internationally acclaimed Australian actors from these and other films include Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Abby Cornish, Geoffrey Rush, Russell Crowe, Judy Davis, Mel Gibson, Paul Hogan, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Guy Pearce and Naomi Watts.

Community engagement with the arts forms an important part of Australia's fabric and economy. Australian states and territories are working with the Australian Government on an Arts and Disability Strategy to ensure that all Australians have access to the arts and can participate in this sector, including as practitioners. Arts education is also linked to academic achievement and aids school retention. Australia's new national education curriculum will include the creative arts.

Technology and innovation are growing new audiences for the arts, and advances in broadband technology are both building capacity in regional Australia and helping bring performance and ideas to international audiences.

Photograph of man sitting in front of painting.
Axel Poignant (1906–1986): Portrait of Patrick White in front of Sidney Nolan's Galaxy, 1963. Photo: National Library of Australia.
Photo showing edifice of Melbourne Recitial Centre and surrounding streetscape.
The Melbourne Recital Centre is an acclaimed performance venue, recognised for its architecture and state-of-the-art acoustics.

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Excellence in education

In Australia, education starts in the years before formal schooling, with many child care services and preschools receiving government funding.

Australia's education system

Australian students participate in school education from the age of five or six to around 18, with many going on to tertiary education. The public and private education sectors are working together to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage and improve outcomes in Indigenous education, with programs such as 'Learn, Earn, Legend!' that encourage and support young Indigenous Australians to stay at school.

Australia has a vocational education and training system that provides students with the skills required in a modern labour market, and delivers competency-based training that is practical and careeroriented. The Australian higher education system comprises both public and private universities, Australian branches of overseas universities and other higher education providers. Some universities have campuses in other countries.

School of the Air

Australia is a huge continent and is home to some of the most geographically isolated and remote communities in the world. School of the Air is one of the means by which children in remote communities and on isolated properties can access schools. The School of the Air uses various communication technologies to have daily contact among students, home tutors (often parents) and teachers.

Stages of Australia's education system
Graph showing the stages of Australia's education system: first, primary education (foundation to year 6), second, secondary education (year 7 to 12), then private education and training consisting of diploma, associate diploma, certificate, univertity consisting of PhD; Masters, graduate diploma, bachelor diploma, teaching and further education consisting of diploma, associate diploma, advanced certificate, certificate.
Young school boy touching interactive exhibit.
The Australian Government funds children from across Australia to visit Parliament House and other key institutions in Canberra to learn about citizenship and democracy. Photo: MOAD
Two university students sharing a notebook, sitting outdoors.
Photo: Shutterstock
School children in uniform wearing helmets and riding horses beside a herd of cattle on desert road.
Indigenous schoolchildren from Ngukurr School in the Northern Territory droving community cattle. Photo: Newslines
Four children in uniform seated around a school desk, each drawing on a piece of paper.
Primary school students in the Australian Capital Territory. Photo: ACT Department of Education

Study in Australia

Australia is a sought-after destination for international students: more than 425,000 international students chose to study in Australia in 2011. International students are attracted to Australia by its high standard of teaching, its internationally accepted qualifications, and its welcoming and diverse society. Seven Australian universities were named among the world's top 200 higher education institutions in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2011. Australia's two largest cities, Melbourne and Sydney, have been ranked among the top 10 best student cities in the world according to the QS world university rankings. Australia has more than a 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.

English language training

Australia's English language schools offer a variety of services. They range from short courses for students visiting Australia as part of a holiday, to formal courses in preparation for accredited levels of English, recognised by education and immigration authorities around the world. In 2011, students from nearly 150 countries came to Australia to study English.


Education has the power to transform lives. The Australian Government's Australia Awards are a prestigious scholarship program aimed at promoting knowledge and creating education links and enduring ties between our country, our regional neighbours and the world community. Applicants from around the world compete for the awards, and those who are successful undertake study, research and professional development in Australia's premier universities and research institutes. Australia’s New Colombo Plan offers Australian undergraduates similar opportunities to study or undertake internships in the Indo–Pacific region.

Australian Trade Commission Future Unlimited logo

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Universal health care

The Australian health system is world class in both effectiveness and efficiency: Australia consistently ranks in the best performing group of countries for healthy life expectancy and health expenditure per person (World Health Organization, 2010). Medicare is Australia's universal public health system, providing free public hospital care and subsidies for primary care. Medicare ensures that all Australians have access to a broad range of quality health services. The Australian Government provides significant financing for the health system, working closely with state and territory governments with responsibility for on-the-ground delivery of hospital services. A private health sector complements the public system.

The Australian population has a generally good health status, with an average life expectancy at birth of 81.8 years (79.5 for men and 84 for women), one of the highest in the world. There are some groups with poor health status, and closing the gap on life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is a national priority. Generally the pattern of disease in Australia is similar to that of other developed countries.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service

Since 1928, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) has been vital to Australia's health care system, flying sick people from rural and remote areas to where they can obtain treatment, and providing them with primary health care. Today the RFDS has a fleet of more than 50 aircraft and operates from 21 bases across Australia. The Royal Flying Doctor Service provides health care across Australia through more than 275,000 patient contacts a year – that's one person every two minutes!


Australians love sport. Australia is the only nation besides Greece to have competed at every modern summer Olympic Games. Almost 70 per cent of Australians take part in some sort of physical activity at least once a week. Australia has over 120 national sporting organisations and thousands of local, regional and state sports bodies.

Community-based sport across the nation underpins Australia's remarkable sporting achievements at the elite level where we have produced many international champions across a diverse spectrum of sport. The nation unites when Australians succeed on the international stage. Sport is a powerful force in creating social harmony in a nation made up of people from so many different countries.

Woman holding a netball with a group of young girls.
Australian netball star Eloise Southby- Halbish gives a clinic for the Modewarre Juniors in country Victoria. Photo: Geelong Advertiser
Action shot of male AFL players on opposing teams, two of them leaping in mid-air.
Australian Rules football originated in Victoria but is popular throughout Australia, particularly in remote Indigenous communities, which are providing new talent to the game. Photo courtesy of the Australian Football League.
A group of female soccer players celebrating together on field.
The Matildas, Australia's national women's football (soccer) team, celebrate a win against New Zealand at the Wollongong Stadium, New South Wales. Photo: Orlando Chiodo/Illawarra Mercury
Action shot of female tennis player hitting a ball with her racket.
Australian tennis champion Samantha Stosur at the Australian Open 2012. Photo: Ben Solomon, Tennis Australia
Action shot of male rugby union player running on field with the ball.
Wallabies fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper makes a break for Australia's national rugby union team. Photo: Getty Images
Action shot of rugby league players on opposing teams, one attempting to tackle the ball-carrier.
NRL Rugby League, North Queensland Cowboys v Melbourne Storm, Dairy Farmers Stadium, Townsville, April 2012. Photo: Colin Whelan
Action shot of cricketer in Australian cap about to hit a cricket ball with his bat.
Australian captain Michael Clarke training in Barbados during the 2012 West Indies tour. Photo: Cricket Australia

Successive governments have committed to supporting sport in Australia from grassroots to elite; increasing participation in physical and recreational activities to promote physical and mental health; staging world-class major sporting events; and using sport as a vehicle to address disadvantage and social inclusion challenges.

Almost every sport is played somewhere in Australia, with men and women well represented in sporting activities throughout the nation. Football (soccer) and netball are the biggest team sports in Australia. Three other football codes are also popular throughout the country: rugby league, rugby union and Australia's own unique brand of Australian Rules Football. Cricket, tennis, golf, swimming, field hockey and cycling, among others, are also popular.

The Australian Sports Commission promotes and funds grassroots participation in sport as well as investing in high-performance sport, including through scholarships for athletes in facilities such as the Australian Institute of Sport, based in Canberra.

Sport for international development

Australia is regarded as a world leader in using sport to assist developing countries to achieve positive societal outcomes. The Australian Sports Outreach Program, principally funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and managed by the Australian Sports Commission, manages grassroots sports development programs in the Pacific, southern Africa and Caribbean regions as well as India.

Sporting events

Australia has a reputation for staging successful major sporting events. It has hosted the summer Olympics twice (Melbourne 1956 and Sydney 2000) and the Commonwealth Games four times (Sydney 1938, Perth 1962, Brisbane 1982 and Melbourne 2006). Queensland's Gold Coast will host the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Australia will also host the 2015 Cricket World Cup, and the 2015 Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup. Other international events are staged annually around Australia such as the gruelling Sydney to Hobart yacht race, the Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne, the internationally accredited Tour Down Under cycling event in South Australia, and a round of the Moto GP on Phillip Island in Victoria. The world tennis circuit is kicked off each year by the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Five elite athletes of different ages, smiling for the camera.
Above, left to right: Commonwealth Games Australian representative triathlete Ashleigh Gentle, Games Bid Junior Ambassador Eve Lutze, Olympian and Commonwealth Games medallist cyclist Sara Carrigan OAM, Olympic and Commonwealth Games swimmer Brenton Rickard and Olympic swimmer Cameron McEvoy. Photo: Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games

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Media and communications

Australia has many media outlets. There are two national radio, television and online broadcasters that receive public funding, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), which broadcasts programs in both English and a range of languages other than English, including news from all over the world. Australia also has three commercial freeto- air television networks, hundreds of pay television channels, and many print, radio, digital and online media outlets.

Australia Network is Australia's international television service, beaming Australian information, educational programs (including English language learning programs) and entertainment with a uniquely Australian perspective on a digital and television service 24 hours a day to 46 markets across Asia, the Pacific and the Indian subcontinent.

ABC Radio Australia broadcasts to the region and allows listeners to learn English. Radio Australia programs are broadcast in Vietnamese, Chinese, Tok Pisin, French, Burmese, Khmer and Bahasa Indonesia across the Asia–Pacific.

Pair of twin cartoon bananas wearing striped pyjamas from popular children's show.
Still from Bananas In Pyjamas, ABC TV's iconic preschool series. ©ABC2012. As screened on ABC4Kids on ABC2