Australia is an industrially developed agricultural country with a rich raw material base and significant mineral extraction, significantly export-oriented.
Australian agriculture employs less than 5% of the workforce and its surpluses are of world importance. Arable land and permanent crops occupy only less than 6.5% of the state’s area; more than half of the country’s surface is pasture. Most of the agricultural land suffers from a lack of water, a large part of the arable land must be irrigated. Nevertheless, thanks to mechanization and new farming methods, agricultural production has increased by more than 150% since 1950.
The most important crops are sugarcane cultivated mainly in the coastal zone of Queensland and wheat in the south-east and south-west of the country. Large climatic differences allow the cultivation of a wide variety of fruits; the export of wine grown mainly in the vineyards of South Australia and New South Wales is also increasing. Cotton, rice, sorghum, vegetables, legumes and tobacco are also grown on irrigated lands.
However, livestock production is decisive. Almost a third of the continent is devoted to sheep farming. Australia has the largest sheep population and wool production in the world. Cattle farming requires higher quality tall grass pastures and is concentrated in areas with higher rainfall: for meat mainly in Queensland and New South Wales, and for milk closer to consumption points on the coast of New South Wales and Victoria.
Australia has extensive native forests with commercial timber species mainly in the Eastern Highlands, Western Australia and Tasmania. Japan is the biggest consumer of wood. The coastal areas of Western Australia and Tasmania are the main fishing areas.
According to Localbusinessexplorer.com, Australia possesses one of the largest deposits of iron ore (Pilbara region of Western Australia) and bauxite (Arnhem Land and York Peninsula) in the world; it is also a world-leading producer of ores of lead and zinc, manganese, uranium, gold, silver, copper, tungsten, nickel and cobalt. It takes the 1st place in the world in the mining of rare metal ores (zirconium, rutile and ilmenite). Opal deposits are world-famous. New South Wales and Queensland have large reserves of black and Victoria lignite. Oil and natural gas are produced in the shelf waters of Victoria and northeastern South Australia. Raw materials are exported all over the world. A large part of the export of fuels and iron ore goes to Japan.
Most (90%) of the energy is provided by coal and natural gas thermal power stations, only Tasmania is almost exclusively supplied by hydroelectric power. Australia has one nuclear reactor but no nuclear power plants.
Since the end of the 1970s, the manufacturing industry has struggled to cope with competition from products from Southeast Asia. The most important sectors are ferrous and especially non-ferrous metallurgy, engineering (vehicles, mining, construction and agricultural machinery), petrochemicals, electrical engineering and electronics. More than half of industrial production is concentrated in the two largest cities – Sydney and Melbourne. The food industry, wool, meat and leather processing is extensive. Tourism is developing, especially on the Pacific coast.
Transport and connections
About 4/5 of all freight is transported by road, and therefore considerable investment is made in the construction of new roads. However, the infrastructure in cities does not yet meet the requirements of growing traffic. Railways are used for large-capacity transport of minerals, grain and other agricultural raw materials over long distances. More of a tourist attraction is the well-known Trans-Australian railway from Sydney, or Adelaide to Perth. There are 70 major ports in the country; most of them serve the capital cities of the union states and industrial and mining centers. The largest are Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle and Dampier (export of iron ore). Scheduled domestic air traffic uses about 450 airports; connections to remote areas are provided by small types of aircraft. The Australian airline Qantas transports passengers to 24 countries around the world.
The free press has a long tradition and considerable influence in Australia, but national newspapers have only recently begun to be published. The independent Australian Broadcasting Corporation is government-funded, while other radio and television stations broadcast on a commercial basis. Local radio and television stations are financed by state funds and advertising revenue.
Health and social care
Healthcare is basically funded by the state. Australia’s general health insurance scheme reimburses patients at 85% of standard costs. Special health care for Aboriginal people living in Indigenous communities is funded by the federal government but managed and controlled by Australians themselves. Remote areas are served by the famous Royal Flying Doctor Service, founded in 1928.
The Australian Union, like New Zealand, pioneered the social security system and introduced state old-age pensions as early as 1909. However, today’s social care system provides much broader security.
Primary and secondary education is free and school attendance is compulsory until the age of 15 (in Tasmania, 16). About 2/3 of children learn in state schools. There is also an extensive network of preschool educational facilities. The secondary education system consists mainly of mixed schools of the general education type.