|Conventional Long Name:||Commonwealth of Australia|
|National Anthem:||Advance Australia Fair|
|Languages Type:||National language|
|Languages:||English (de facto)|
|Ethnic Groups:||29.06% Australian,|
0.45% Australian Aboriginal,
|Government Type:||Federal parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, see Government of Australia|
|Leader Title3:||Prime Minister|
|Leader Name1:||Queen Elizabeth II|
|Leader Name2:||Quentin Bryce|
|Leader Name3:||Kevin Rudd|
|Area Magnitude:||1 E12|
|Population Estimate Year:||2009|
|Population Estimate Rank:||51st|
|Population Census Year:||2006|
|Population Density Km2:||2.833|
|Population Density Rank:||232nd|
|Sovereignty Note:||from the United Kingdom|
|Established Event2:||Statute of Westminster|
|Established Event3:||Statute of Westminster Adoption Act|
|Established Event4:||Australia Act|
|Established Date1:||1 January 1901|
|Established Date2:||11 December 1931|
|Established Date3:||9 October 1942 (with effect from 3 September 1939)|
|Established Date4:||3 March 1986|
|Utc Offset:||+8 to +10.5|
|Time Zone Dst:||various|
|Utc Offset Dst:||+9 to +11.5|
|Iso 3166-1 Alpha2:||AU|
|Iso 3166-1 Alpha3:||AUS|
|Iso 3166-1 Numeric:||036|
|Gdp Ppp Year:||2007|
|Gdp Ppp:||$762.887 billion|
|Gdp Ppp Rank:||17th|
|Gdp Ppp Per Capita:||$36,225|
|Gdp Ppp Per Capita Rank:||14th|
|Gdp Nominal:||$1,069 billion (DFAT)|
|Gdp Nominal Rank:||15th|
|Gdp Nominal Year:||2008|
|Gdp Nominal Per Capita:||$50,150 (DFAT)|
|Gdp Nominal Per Capita Rank:||16th|
Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the southern hemisphere comprising the mainland of the world's smallest continent, the major island of Tasmania, and numerous other islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Neighbouring countries include Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea to the north, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia to the north-east, and New Zealand to the south-east.
For around 40,000 years before European settlement commenced in the late 18th century, the Australian mainland and Tasmania were inhabited by around 250 individual nations of indigenous Australians. After sporadic visits by fishermen from the immediate north, and European discovery by Dutch explorers in 1606, the eastern half of Australia was claimed by the British in 1770 and initially settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales, founded on 26 January 1788. The population grew steadily in the following years; the continent was explored, and during the 19th century another five largely self-governing Crown Colonies were established.
On 1 January 1901, the six colonies became a federation, and the Commonwealth of Australia was formed. Since Federation, Australia has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system and remains a Commonwealth realm. The population is just over 21.3 million, with approximately 60% concentrated in and around the mainland state capitals of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide. The nation's capital city is Canberra, located in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
Technologically advanced and industrialised, Australia is a prosperous multicultural country and has good results in many international comparisons of national performance such as health care, life expectancy, quality-of-life, human development, public education, economic freedom, and the protection of civil liberties and political rights.
The name Australia is derived from the Latin Australis, meaning "Southern". Legends of an "unknown land of the south" (terra australis incognita) date back to Roman times and were commonplace in medieval geography but were not based on any documented knowledge of the continent. In 1521 Spaniards were among the first Europeans to sail the Pacific Ocean. The first use of the word Australia in English was in 1625, in "A note of Australia del Espiritu Santo, written by Master Hakluyt", published by Samuel Purchas in Hakluytus Posthumus. The Dutch adjectival form Australische was used by Dutch East India Company officials in Batavia to refer to the newly discovered land to the south in 1638. Australia was used in a 1693 translation of Les Aventures de Jacques Sadeur dans la Découverte et le Voyage de la Terre Australe, a 1676 French novel by Gabriel de Foigny under the pen-name Jacques Sadeur. Alexander Dalrymple then used it in An Historical Collection of Voyages and Discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean (1771), to refer to the entire South Pacific region. In 1793, George Shaw and Sir James Smith published Zoology and Botany of New Holland, in which they wrote of "the vast island, or rather continent, of Australia, Australasia or New Holland". It also appeared on a 1799 chart by James Wilson.
The name Australia was popularised by Matthew Flinders, who as early as 1804 pushed for the name to be formally adopted. When preparing his manuscript and charts for his 1814 A Voyage to Terra Australis, he was persuaded by his patron Sir Joseph Banks to use the term Terra Australis as this was the name most familiar to the public. Flinders did so, but allowed himself the footnote: This is the only occurrence of the word Australia in that text; but in Appendix III, Robert Brown's General remarks, geographical and systematical, on the botany of Terra Australis, Brown makes use of the adjectival form Australian throughout, this being the first known use of that form. Despite popular conception, the book was not instrumental in the adoption of the name: the name came gradually to be accepted over the following ten years.
Governor Lachlan Macquarie of New South Wales subsequently used the word in his dispatches to England, and on 12 December 1817 recommended to the Colonial Office that it be formally adopted. In 1824, the Admiralty agreed that the continent should be known officially as Australia.
The word Australia in Australian English is . Since early in the 20th century the country is sometimes referred to locally and internationally as Oz. Aussie (less frequently spelt Ozzie, better representing the pronunciation) is common colloquially as an adjective, and as a noun referring to an Australian. The pejorative term ocker is also in use; it suggests an uncouth Australian, normally male.
See main article: History of Australia.
Human habitation of Australia is estimated to have begun between 42,000 and 48,000 years ago. These first Australians may have been ancestors of modern Indigenous Australians; they may have arrived via land bridges and short sea-crossings from what is now South-East Asia. Most of these people were hunter-gatherers, with a complex oral culture and spiritual values based on reverence for the land and a belief in the Dreamtime. The Torres Strait Islanders, ethnically Melanesian, were originally horticulturalists and hunter-gatherers. Their cultural practices have always been distinct from those of the Aborigines.The first recorded European sighting of the Australian mainland was made by the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon, who sighted the coast of Cape York Peninsula in 1606. During the 17th century, the Dutch charted the whole of the western and northern coastlines of what they called New Holland, but they made no attempt at settlement. In 1770, James Cook sailed along and mapped the east coast of Australia, which he named New South Wales and claimed for Great Britain.
Cook's discoveries prepared the way for establishment of a new penal colony. The British Crown Colony of New South Wales began a settlement at Port Jackson by Captain Arthur Phillip on 26 January 1788. This date was later to become Australia's national day, Australia Day. Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania, was settled in 1803 and became a separate colony in 1825. The United Kingdom formally claimed the western part of Australia in 1829. Separate colonies were created from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859. The Northern Territory was founded in 1911 when it was excised from South Australia. South Australia was founded as a "free province"—that is, it was never a penal colony. Victoria and Western Australia were also founded "free" but later accepted transported convicts. The transportation of convicts to the colony of New South Wales ceased in 1848 after a campaign by the settlers.
The Indigenous Australian population, estimated at 350,000 at the time of European settlement, declined steeply for 150 years following settlement, mainly because of infectious disease combined with forced re-settlement and cultural disintegration. The removal of children from their families, which historians such as Henry Reynolds and Indigenous Australians have argued could be considered genocide by some definitions, may have contributed to the decline in the indigenous population. Such interpretations of Aboriginal history are disputed by some commentators as being exaggerated or fabricated for political or ideological reasons. This debate is known within Australia as the History Wars. Following the 1967 referendum, the Federal government gained the power to implement policies and make laws with respect to Aborigines. Traditional ownership of land—native title—was not recognised until 1992, when the High Court case Mabo v Queensland (No 2) overturned the notion of Australia as terra nullius (literally "no one's land", effectively "empty land") at the time of European occupation.
A gold rush began in Australia in the early 1850s, and the Eureka Stockade rebellion against mining licence fees in 1854 was an early expression of civil disobedience. Between 1855 and 1890, the six colonies individually gained responsible government, managing most of their own affairs while remaining part of the British Empire. The Colonial Office in London retained control of some matters, notably foreign affairs, defence, and international shipping. On 1 January 1901, federation of the colonies was achieved after a decade of planning, consultation, and voting. The Commonwealth of Australia was born as a dominion of the British Empire. The Federal Capital Territory (later renamed the Australian Capital Territory) was formed from a part of New South Wales in 1911 to provide a location for the proposed new federal capital of Canberra. (Melbourne was the temporary seat of government from 1901 to 1927 while Canberra was being constructed.) The Northern Territory was transferred from the control of the South Australian government to the Commonwealth in 1911. Australia willingly participated in World War I. Many Australians regard the defeat of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) at Gallipoli as the birth of the nation—its first major military action. The Kokoda Track Campaign is regarded by many as an analogous nation-defining event during World War II.
The United Kingdom's Statute of Westminster 1931 formally ended most of the constitutional links between Australia and the UK. Australia adopted it in 1942, but backdated it to the beginning of World War II to confirm the validity of legislation passed by the Australian Parliament during the war. The shock of the UK's defeat in Asia in 1942 and the threat of Japanese invasion caused Australia to turn to the United States as a new ally and protector. Since 1951, Australia has been a formal military ally of the US, under the ANZUS treaty. After World War II, Australia encouraged immigration from Europe; since the 1970s and the abolition of the White Australia policy, immigration from Asia and elsewhere was also encouraged. As a result, Australia's demography, culture, and self-image have been transformed. The final constitutional ties between Australia and the UK were severed with the passing of the Australia Act 1986, ending any British role in the government of the Australian States, and ending judicial appeals to the UK Privy Council. At the 1999 referendum, 54% of Australian voters rejected a proposal to become a republic with a president appointed by two-thirds vote of both houses of the Australian Parliament. Since the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972, there has been an increasing focus on the expansion of ties with other Pacific Rim nations while maintaining close ties with Australia's traditional allies and trading partners.
The Commonwealth of Australia is a constitutional democracy based on a federal division of powers. The form of government used in Australia is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government. Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of Australia, a role that is distinct from her position as monarch of the other Commonwealth realms. The Queen is represented by the Governor-General at federal level and by the Governors at state level. Although the Constitution gives extensive executive powers to the Governor-General, these are normally exercised only on the advice of the Prime Minister. The most notable exercise of the Governor-General's reserve powers outside the Prime Minister's direction was the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in the constitutional crisis of 1975.
There are three branches of government:
The bicameral Commonwealth Parliament consists of the Queen, the Senate (the upper house) of 76 senators, and a House of Representatives (the lower house) of 150 members. Members of the lower house are elected from single-member constituencies, commonly known as "electorates" or "seats", allocated to states on the basis of population, with each original state guaranteed a minimum of five seats. In the Senate, each state is represented by twelve senators, and each of the territories (the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory) by two. Elections for both chambers are normally held every three years, simultaneously; senators have overlapping six-year terms, since only half of places in the Senate are put to each election unless the cycle is interrupted by a double dissolution. The party with majority support in the House of Representatives forms government and its leader becomes Prime Minister.
There are two major political groups that form government, federally and in the states: the Australian Labor Party, and the Coalition which is a formal grouping of two parties: the Liberal Party and its minor partner, the National Party. Independent members and several minor parties—including the Greens and the Australian Democrats—have achieved representation in Australian parliaments, mostly in upper houses. Since the election of 3 December 2007, the Labor Party led by the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been in power. Every Australian parliament (federal, state, and territory) then had a Labor government until September 2008 when the Liberal Party formed a minority government in association with the National Party in Western Australia. In the 2004 election, the previous governing coalition led by John Howard won control of the Senate—the first time in more than 20 years that a party (or a coalition) has done so while in government. Voting is compulsory for all enrolled citizens 18 years and over, in each state and territory and at the federal level. Enrolment to vote is compulsory in all jurisdictions except South Australia.
See main article: States and territories of Australia.
Australia has six states and two major mainland territories. There are also lesser territories that are under the administration of the federal government.
The states are New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia. The two major mainland territories are the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). In most respects these two territories function like states, but the Commonwealth Parliament can override any legislation of their parliaments. By contrast, federal legislation only overrides state legislation in certain areas that are set out in Section 51 of the Australian Constitution; state parliaments retain all residual legislative powers, including powers over hospitals, education, police, the judiciary, roads, public transport, and local government.
Each state and major mainland territory has its own legislature or parliament: unicameral in the Northern Territory, the ACT, and Queensland, and bicameral in the remaining states. The states are sovereign, though subject to certain powers of the Commonwealth as defined by the Constitution. The lower house is known as the Legislative Assembly (House of Assembly in South Australia and Tasmania) and the upper house is known as the Legislative Council. The head of the government in each state is the Premier, and in each territory the Chief Minister. The Queen is represented in each state by a Governor; an Administrator in the Northern Territory, and the Australian Governor-General in the ACT, have analogous roles.
The federal government directly administers the following territories: Jervis Bay Territory (a naval base and sea port for the national capital—land that was formerly part of New South Wales); Christmas Island, and Cocos (Keeling) Islands (inhabited external territories); and Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Coral Sea Islands, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, and the Australian Antarctic Territory (largely uninhabited). Norfolk Island is also technically an external territory; however, under the Norfolk Island Act 1979 it has been granted more autonomy and is governed locally by its own legislative assembly. The Queen is represented by an Administrator, currently Owen Walsh.
Over recent decades, Australia's foreign relations have been driven by a close association with the United States through the ANZUS pact, and by a desire to develop relationships with Asia and the Pacific, particularly through ASEAN and the Pacific Islands Forum. In 2005 Australia secured an inaugural seat at the East Asia Summit following its accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. Australia is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, in which the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings provide the main forum for cooperation. Australia has energetically pursued the cause of international trade liberalisation. It led the formation of the Cairns Group and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Australia is a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Trade Organization, and has pursued several major bilateral free trade agreements, most recently the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement and Closer Economic Relations with New Zealand. Australia is also negotiating a free trade agreement with Japan, with whom Australia has close economic ties as a trusted partner in the Asia Pacific region. A founding member country of the United Nations, Australia is strongly committed to multilateralism along with its middle power allies Canada and the Nordic countries, and maintains an international aid program under which some 60 countries receive assistance. The 2005–06 budget provides A$2.5 billion for development assistance; as a percentage of GDP, this contribution is less than that recommended in the UN Millennium Development Goals. Australia ranks 7th overall in the Center for Global Development's 2008 Commitment to Development Index.
Australia's armed forces—the Australian Defence Force (ADF)—comprise the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the Australian Army, and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), in total numbering 73,000 personnel (including 53,000 regulars and 20,000 reservists). Australia's military is 68th largest in the world, but one of the world's smallest in per capita terms. All branches of the ADF have been involved in UN and regional peacekeeping (most recently in East Timor, the Solomon Islands, and Sudan), disaster relief, and armed conflict, including the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The government appoints the Chief of the Defence Force from one of the armed services; the current Chief of the Defence Force is Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston. In the 2006–07 budget, defence spending was A$22 billion, accounting for less than 1% of global military spending. Australia was placed 27th on the 2008 Global Peace Index, primarily due to its presence in Afghanistan. While the Governor-General is the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Defence Force, he or she does not play an active part in the ADF's command structure as the elected Australian Government controls the ADF.
Australia's landmass of 7617930km2 is on the Indo-Australian Plate. Surrounded by the Indian and Pacific oceans, Australia is separated from Asia by the Arafura and Timor seas. Australia has 34218km of coastline (excluding all offshore islands) and claims an extensive exclusive economic zone of 8148250km2. This exclusive economic zone does not include the Australian Antarctic Territory.
The Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef, lies a short distance off the north-east coast and extends for over 2000km. Mount Augustus, claimed to be the world's largest monolith, is located in Western Australia. At 2228m (7,310feet), Mount Kosciuszko on the Great Dividing Range is the highest mountain on the Australian mainland, although Mawson Peak on the remote Australian territory of Heard Island is taller at 2745m (9,006feet).
By far the largest part of Australia is desert or semi-arid lands commonly known as the outback. Australia is the flattest continent, with the oldest and least fertile soils, and is the driest inhabited continent. Only the south-east and south-west corners of the continent have a temperate climate. The population density, 2.8 inhabitants per square kilometre, is among the lowest in the world, although a great proportion of the population lives along the temperate south-eastern coastline. The landscapes of the northern part of the country, with a tropical climate, consist of rainforest, woodland, grassland, mangrove swamps, and desert. The climate is significantly influenced by ocean currents, including the El Niño southern oscillation, which is correlated with periodic drought, and the seasonal tropical low pressure system that produces cyclones in northern Australia.
Climate change has become an increasing concern in Australia in recent years, with many Australians considering it to be the most important issue facing the country. The first Rudd Ministry has initiated several emission reduction activities; Rudd's first official act, on his first day in office, was to sign the instrument of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Nevertheless Australia's carbon dioxide emissions per capita are among the highest in the world, lower than only several other industrialised nations including the United States, Canada, and Norway. Rainfall in Australia has increased over the past century, both nationwide and for all four quadrants of the nation. Despite this beneficial effect of climate change, water restrictions are currently in place in many regions and cities of Australia in response to chronic shortages due to urban population increases and localised drought.
Although most of Australia is semi-arid or desert, it includes a diverse range of habitats from alpine heaths to tropical rainforests, and is recognised as a megadiverse country. Because of the continent's great age, its extremely variable weather patterns, and its long-term geographic isolation, much of Australia's biota is unique and diverse. About 85% of flowering plants, 84% of mammals, more than 45% of birds, and 89% of in-shore, temperate-zone fish are endemic. Australia has the greatest number of reptiles of any country, with 755 species. Many of Australia's ecoregions, and the species within those regions, are threatened by human activities and introduced plant and animal species. The federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is a legal framework for the protection of threatened species. Numerous protected areas have been created under the national Biodiversity Action Plan to protect and preserve unique ecosystems; 64 wetlands are registered under the Ramsar Convention, and 16 World Heritage Sites have been established. Australia was ranked 13th in the world on the 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index. Australian forests often contain a wide variety of eucalyptus trees and are mostly located in higher rainfall regions.
Most Australian woody plant species are evergreen and many are adapted to fire and drought, including many eucalypts and acacias. Australia has a rich variety of endemic legume species that thrive in nutrient-poor soils because of their symbiosis with rhizobia bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi. Among well-known Australian fauna are the monotremes (the platypus and the echidna); a host of marsupials, including the kangaroo, the koala, and the wombat; the saltwater and freshwater crocodiles; and birds such as the emu and the kookaburra. Australia is home to some of the most venomous snakes in the world. The dingo was introduced by Austronesian people who traded with Indigenous Australians around 3000 BCE. Many plant and animal species became extinct soon after first human settlement, including the Australian megafauna; others have become extinct since European settlement, among them the thylacine.
See main article: Economy of Australia.
The Australian dollar is the currency of the Commonwealth of Australia, including Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and Norfolk Island, as well as the independent Pacific Island states of Kiribati, Nauru, and Tuvalu. The Australian Securities Exchange and the Sydney Futures Exchange are the largest stock exchanges in Australia.
Australia is one of the most laissez-faire capitalist economies, according to indices of economic freedom. Australia's per capita GDP is slightly higher than that of the UK, Germany, and France in terms of purchasing power parity. The country was ranked third in the United Nations 2007 Human Development Index, first in Legatum's 2008 Prosperity Index, and sixth in The Economist worldwide Quality-of-Life Index for 2005. All of Australia's major cities fare well in global comparative liveability surveys; Melbourne reached 2nd place on The Economists 2008 World's Most Livable Cities list, followed by Perth at 4th, Adelaide at 7th, and Sydney at 9th. The emphasis on exporting commodities rather than manufactures has underpinned a significant increase in Australia's terms of trade during the rise in commodity prices since the start of the century. Australia has a balance of payments that is more than 7% of GDP negative, and has had persistently large current account deficits for more than 50 years. Australia has grown at an average annual rate of 3.6% for over 15 years, a period in which the OECD annual average was 2.5%. The Australian economy could fall into recession in 2009 after 17 years of growth, according to the IMF.
The Hawke Government floated the Australian dollar in 1983 and partially deregulated the financial system. The Howard government followed with a partial deregulation of the labour market and the further privatisation of state-owned businesses, most notably in the telecommunications industry. The indirect tax system was substantially changed in July 2000 with the introduction of a 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST), which has slightly reduced the reliance on personal and company income tax that characterises Australia's tax system.
In January 2007, there were 10,033,480 people employed, with an unemployment rate of 4.6%. Over the past decade, inflation has typically been 2–3% and the base interest rate 5–6%. The service sector of the economy, including tourism, education, and financial services, accounts for 69% of GDP. Although agriculture and natural resources account for only 3% and 5% of GDP respectively, they contribute substantially to export performance. Australia's largest export markets are Japan, China, the US, South Korea, and New Zealand.
Australia's population has quadrupled since the end of World War I, spurred by an ambitious immigration program. Following World War II and through to 2000, almost 5.9 million of the total population settled in the country as new immigrants, meaning that nearly two out of every seven Australians were born overseas. Most immigrants are skilled, but the immigration quota includes categories for family members and refugees. In 2001, the five largest groups of the 23.1% of Australians who were born overseas were from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Italy, Vietnam, and China.  Following the abolition of the White Australia policy in 1973, numerous government initiatives have been established to encourage and promote racial harmony based on a policy of multiculturalism. In 2005–06, more than 131,000 people emigrated to Australia, mainly from Asia and Oceania. The migration target for 2006–07 was 144,000.
The Indigenous population—mainland Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders—was 410,003 (2.2% of the total population) in 2001, a significant increase from the 1976 census, which showed an indigenous population of 115,953. Indigenous Australians suffer from higher rates of imprisonment and unemployment, lower levels of education, and life expectancies for males and females that are 17 years lower than those of non-indigenous Australians. Some remote Indigenous communities have been described as having "failed state"-like conditions.
In common with many other developed countries, Australia is experiencing a demographic shift towards an older population, with more retirees and fewer people of working age. In 2004, the average age of the civilian population was 38.8 years. A large number of Australians (759,849 for the period 2002–03) live outside their home country.
English is the national language. Australian English is a major variety of the language, with its own distinctive accent and vocabulary (some of which has found its way into other varieties of English), but less internal dialectal variation (apart from small regional pronunciation and lexical variations) than either British or American English. Grammar and spelling are largely based on those of British English. According to the 2001 census, English is the only language spoken in the home for around 80% of the population. The next most common languages spoken at home are Chinese (2.1%), Italian (1.9%), and Greek (1.4%). A considerable proportion of first- and second-generation migrants are bilingual. It is believed that there were between 200 and 300 Australian Aboriginal languages at the time of first European contact. Only about 70 of these languages have survived, and all but 20 of these are now endangered. An indigenous language remains the main language for about 50,000 (0.25%) people. Australia has a sign language known as Auslan, which is the main language of about 6,500 deaf people.Australia has no state religion. In the 2006 census, 64% of Australians were listed as Christian of any denomination, including 26% as Roman Catholic and 19% as Anglican. "No religion" (which includes humanism, atheism, agnosticism, and rationalism) accounted for 19%; and a further 12% declined to answer or did not give a response adequate for interpretation. The fastest-growing and second largest religion in Australia is Buddhism, followed by Hinduism and Islam. Overall less than 6% of Australians identify with non-Christian religions. Surveys have found Australia to be one of the least devout nations in the developed world, with religion not described as an important part in many Australians' lives. As in many Western countries, the level of active participation in church worship is low and in decline; weekly attendance at church services in 2004 was about 1.5 million: about 7.5% of the population.
School attendance is compulsory throughout Australia. In Most Australian States at 5-6 years of age all children receive 11 years (10 years in South Australia and Tasmania) of compulsory education, then can move on to complete two more years (years 11 and 12), contributing to an adult literacy rate that is assumed to be 99%. The Programme for International Student Assessment, coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), currently ranks Australia's education as the eighth best in the world, significantly higher than the average world ranking among the thirty OECD countries. Government grants have supported the establishment of Australia's 38 universities; and although several private universities have been established, the majority receive government funding. There is a state-based system of vocational training, higher than colleges, known as TAFE Institutes, and many trades conduct apprenticeships for training new tradespeople. Approximately 58% of Australians aged from 25 to 64 have vocational or tertiary qualifications, and the tertiary graduation rate of 49% is the highest among OECD countries. The ratio of international to local students in tertiary education in Australia is the highest in the OECD countries.
See main article: Culture of Australia, Cinema of Australia and Music of Australia. Since 1788, the primary basis of Australian culture has been Anglo-Celtic, although distinctive Australian features soon arose from the country's natural environment and Indigenous cultures. Since the middle of the 20th century, Australian culture has been influenced by American popular culture (particularly television and cinema), by Australia's Asian neighbours, and by large-scale immigration from non-English-speaking countries.Australian visual arts are thought to have begun with the cave and bark paintings of its Indigenous peoples. The traditions of Indigenous Australians are largely transmitted orally and are tied to ceremony and the telling of the stories of the Dreamtime. Australian Aboriginal music, dance, and art have influenced contemporary Australian visual and performing arts. From the time of European settlement, a theme in Australian art has been the Australian landscape, seen for example in the works of Albert Namatjira, Arthur Streeton and others associated with the Heidelberg School, and Arthur Boyd. Australian artists who were influenced by the modern American and European art at the time include cubist Grace Crowley, surrealist James Gleeson, abstract expressionist Brett Whiteley, and pop artist Martin Sharp. The National Gallery of Australia and the various state galleries maintain Australian and overseas collections. From early in the 20th century until the present, the country's landscape remains sources of inspiration for Australian modernist artists; it has been depicted in acclaimed works by artists such as Sidney Nolan, Grace Cossington Smith, Fred Williams, Sydney Long, and Clifton Pugh.
Many of Australia's performing arts companies receive funding through the federal government's Australia Council. There is a symphony orchestra in each of the states' capital cities, and a national opera company, Opera Australia, which became prominent through the singer Joan Sutherland. Nellie Melba was her famous predecessor. Ballet and dance are represented by The Australian Ballet and various state dance companies. Each state has a publicly funded theatre company.The Australian cinema industry began with 1906 release of the The Story of the Kelly Gang, a 70-minute account of the Australian bush ranger Ned Kelly, which is regarded as being the world's first feature-length film. The New Wave of Australian cinema in the 1970s brought provocative and successful films, some exploring the nation's colonial past, such as Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Wave. Later hits included Mad Max and Gallipoli. More recent successes included Shine, Rabbit-Proof Fence, and Happy Feet. Australia's diverse landscapes and cities have served as primary locations for many other films, such as The Matrix, Peter Pan, Superman Returns, and Finding Nemo. Recent well-known Australian actors include Judith Anderson, Errol Flynn, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger, Geoffrey Rush, Russell Crowe, Toni Collette, Naomi Watts, and current joint director of the Sydney Theatre Company, Cate Blanchett.
Australian literature has also been influenced by the landscape; the works of writers such as Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson, and Dorothea Mackellar captured the experience of the Australian bush. The character of colonial Australia, as represented in early literature, is popular with modern Australians. They believe it emphasised egalitarianism, mateship, and anti-authoritarianism. In 1973, Patrick White was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the only Australian to have achieved this. Colleen McCullough, David Williamson, and David Malouf are also renowned writers.
Australia has two public broadcasters (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the multicultural Special Broadcasting Service), three commercial television networks, several pay-TV services, and numerous public, non-profit television and radio stations. Each major city has daily newspapers, and there are two national daily newspapers, The Australian and The Australian Financial Review. According to Reporters Without Borders in 2008, Australia was in 25th position on a list of 173 countries ranked by press freedom, behind New Zealand (7th) and the United Kingdom (23rd) but ahead of the United States (48th). This low ranking is primarily because of the limited diversity of commercial media ownership in Australia; in particular, most Australian print media are under the control of News Corporation and John Fairfax Holdings.
23.5% Australians over the age of 15 regularly participate in organised sporting activities in Australia. Australia has strong international teams in cricket, field hockey, netball, rugby league, rugby union and it performs well in cycling, rowing, and swimming. Some of Australia's best-known sportspersons are swimmers Dawn Fraser and Ian Thorpe, sprinter Cathy Freeman, tennis players Rod Laver and Margaret Court, and cricketer Donald Bradman. Nationally, other popular sports include Australian rules football, horse racing, soccer, and motor racing. Australia has participated in every summer Olympic Games of the modern era, and every Commonwealth Games. Australia hosted the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, and has ranked among the top six medal-takers since 2000. Australia has also hosted the 1938, 1962, 1982, and 2006 Commonwealth Games. Other major international events held in Australia include the Grand Slam Australian Open tennis tournament, international cricket matches, and the Formula One Australian Grand Prix. The highest-rating television programs include sports coverage such as the summer Olympic Games, State of Origin, and the grand finals of the National Rugby League and Australian Football League.