Australia is in the southern hemisphere and is the world's smallest continent. It is mostly desert or semi arid and is surrounded by the Indian and the Pacific oceans. It's neighbours are, Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and New Zealand.
Australia's population is 21 million, and is concentrated in the mainland state capitals of Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, and Adelaide.
The name "Australia" is derived from the Latin Australis, meaning "Southern". This was an "unknown land of the south" for many centuries until Lieutenant James Cook charted the east coast of Australia and claimed the land for Great Britain in 1770. In 1788 the first convicts from Britain were transported to Australia as punishment hence the beginning of the white settlement.
The Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901. The capital city of Australia is Canberra, located in the Australian Capital Territory. Canberra was designed to provide a location for the proposed new federal capital of Canberra. Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of Australia, even though constitutional ties between Australia and the UK were severed with the passing of the Australia Act 1986.
Australian has been inhabited for more than 42,000 years by Indigenous Australians who were estimated at 350,000 at the time of the European settlement.This number has reduced due to resettlement and disease. After World War II, Australia encouraged immigration from Europe. Since the 1970s and the abolition of the White Australia policy, immigration from Asia and other non-European parts of the world was also encouraged. This migration has transformed Australia's self image, its culture and demography.
There are three major political parties in Australia, the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party and the National Party. The Liberal/National Party Coalition gained office in 2013.
Australia consists of six states, two major mainland territories, and other minor territories. The states are New South Wales, Western Australia,Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania . The two major mainland territories are the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. Each state and territory has its own legislature, which are unicameral in the case of the Northern Territory, the ACT and Queensland, and bicameral in the remaining states.
Australia is currently doing very well economically. As of January 2007, there were 10,033,480 people employed, with an unemployment rate at a low of 4.6%.
Australia is experiencing a severe skills shortage because a high number of its population is aged. There is a high need of skilled labour from overseas to cater for the skill shortages.
The birth rate had gradually declined for many years until the government introduced cash incentives for new parents.