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Australia

Australia is both the name of the world's smallest continent, and the short
form of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The Commonwealth of Australia is the sixth largest country in the world
(geographically), the only one to occupy an entire continent, and the
largest in Australasia. New Zealand is to to the southeast; Papua New
Guinea, and East Timor to its north, and Indonesia northwest. The name
'Australia' comes from the Latin phrase terra australis incognita ("unknown
southern land", see Terra Australis).

                                 Official language  English
History
                                 Capital            Canberra, Australian
                                                    Capital Territory
                                 Largest City       Sydney, New South
                                                    Wales
Australia has been inhabited for
at least 50,000 years, since the Queen              Elizabeth II
remote ancestors of the current  Governor-General   Michael Jeffery
Australian Aborigines arrived    Prime Minister     John Howard
from present-day Southeast Asia.
The land was not discovered by   Area               Ranked 6th
Europeans until the 17th         - Total           7,686,850 km²
century, when it was sighted and - % water         1%
visited by several expeditions.  Population         Ranked 53rd
It was claimed for the United    - Total (2003)    19,834,248
Kingdom in 1770, and first       - Density         3/km2
colonised in New South Wales in  Independence       From the UK
1788 as an British penal colony. - Date             January 1, 1901
Most of the states that later
federated to form Australia were Currency           Australian dollar
not penal colonies.              Time zone          UTC +8 to +11
In 1901, Australia adopted the   National anthem    Advance Australia Fair
Federal system of government and Internet TLD       .AU
became a commonwealth, or        Calling Code       61
dominion, within the British
Empire, thereby becoming
independent (though full formal                                           
independence took a considerable
time after that). Australia is a
Constitutional monarchy, with          Satellite image - Large version
the 'Queen of Australia' reigning as head of state. Under Australian law,
the monarch of the United Kingdom reigns also as Australian monarch. A
referendum to introduce a republic, with a president replacing the Queen, in
1999 was defeated.

Politics

The Commonwealth of Australia is a constitutional monarchy: the Queen of
Australia is the official head of state and is represented by the Governor
General. In practice the role of the Crown (and thus that of the Governor
General) is largely ceremonial. The executive power theoretically vested in
the Crown is exercised by an elected cabinet headed by a prime minister. The
prime minister is almost always the leader of the majority party in the
House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives (150 seats) is one of the two chambers of the
federal parliament, the other being the Senate (76 seats). Elections for
both chambers are held every three years.

States and Territories

Australia is divided into six states and several territories. The states are
Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria
and Tasmania: the territories, the Australian Capital Territory and the
Northern Territory.

Australia also has an additional minor internal territory, Jervis Bay
Territory (a naval base in New South Wales), several inhabitated external
territories (Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and
several largely uninhabited external territories: Coral Sea Islands
Territory, Heard Island and McDonald Islands and the Australian Antarctic Territory.

The Australian Capital Territory was created at the chosen site of the
capital city Canberra. Canberra was founded as a compromise between the two
largest cities, Melbourne and Sydney.

Geography

By far the largest part of Australia is desert or semi-desert?40% of the
landmass is covered by sand dunes?. Only the south-east and south-west
corners have a temperate climate and moderately fertile soil. The northern
part of the country has a tropical climate: part is tropical rainforests,
part grasslands, and part desert. The Great Barrier Reef, by far the world's
largest coral reef, lies a short distance off the north-east coast.

Flora and Fauna

Although most of the continent is desert or semi-desert, Australia
nevertheless includes a diverse range of habitats, from alpine heaths to
tropical rainforests. Because of the great age of the continent, its very
variable weather patterns, and its long-term geographic isolation, much of
Australia's biota is unique.

Economy

Australia has a prosperous Western-style mixed economy, with a per capita
GDP on par with the four dominant Western European economies. In recent
years, the Australian economy has been resilient in the face of global
economic downturn, with steady growth.

Demographics

Most of the Australian population descends from 19th and 20th century
immigrants, most from the United Kingdom and Ireland to begin with, but from
other sources in later years. Many inhabitants are of Greek, Italian or
Asian descent. Descendants of the original population, the Australian
Aborigines, make up 2.2% of the population, according to the 2001 Census. In
common with many other developed countries, Australia is currently
experiencing a demographic shift towards an older population, with more
retired people and fewer of working age.

English is the spoken language in Australia, although some of the surviving
Aboriginal communities maintain their native languages, and a considerable
number of first and sometimes second-generation migrants are bi-lingual.
Although the nation is broadly secular and few are church-goers,
three-quarters of Australians are nominally Christian, mostly Catholic or
Anglican. A diverse range of other religions is practised.
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