Prior to the formation of the Federation, Australia was made up of six separate and self-governing British colonies. Within their respective borders, the colonies were free to enact their own laws concerning defence, immigration, trade and infrastructure.
Because of this system, the trade between the colonies was hampered, just as the colonies’ police and defence work. Towards the end of the 1800s, an emerging nationalism surfaced, and a unique Australian culture began to take shape with national teams representing the colonies abroad and artists who created art, poetry, songs and wrote uniquely Australian stories about life on the new continent.
On January the 1st in 1901, the colonies were united in a Federation, or rather a commonwealth, which was named Commonwealth of Australia. Uniting the colonies and creating the new nation was a long and difficult job, but the nation is proud over its achievements; That Australia is one of few countries in the world to have been united by negotiations, referendums and cooperation instead of revolution and bloodshed. The six original colonies were given the status of a state with its own autonomy. We know these as New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. As for the areas that did not belong to a colony when the federation was formed, they were named Territories. At present, there are two territories on the Australian mainland; The Northern Territory and Capital Territory which have restricted self-government, while the other eight territories under the Australian flag have no autonomy and are governed solely by the Commonwealth law; Norfolk Island (formerly limited to self-government but now under reform), Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Australian Antarctic Territory, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Coral Sea Islands, Jervis Bay Territory, Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands.
The Constitution; A brief overview
The Constitution laid out the guidelines on how to govern the new country and created the Federal Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia with two chambers; A House of Representatives, also called the lower house, and a Senate, also called the upper house. The two houses share responsibility governing Australia. The Constitution also created the High Court of Australia with the task of applying and interpreting the laws of the new country.
The Constitution and the Australian Government are based on the principle of tripartite power (to prevent a single ruler or group to take over the country). The Australian tripartite power, or three branches, at a federal level are made up of the Parliament’s legislative branch (which legislates and modifies laws), the executive branch (ministers and their ministries who are operatively responsible for steering and leading the country) and the judicial branch (judges and Courts that operate independently of Parliament and Government/Ministries).
An interesting legacy from the time of the British colonies is that the Head of State of Australia is the same as the British monarch, at the time of writing – Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. However, the monarch is barely involved at all in the governance of Australia. The Queen is represented in Australia by a Governor General, appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister of Australia, who is independent from all the political parties. In each state, the Queen is also represented by a governor who fills a similar representative function there.
Thus, Australia is a constitutional monarchy, with a king or queen as Head of state, but also with a constitution regulating that power and dictating which authorities should do what.
There are many similarities between the Australian and the British systems, both Governments are for example led by a Prime Minister. If you want to follow the Australian national news here are some other leadership roles to know of; Premier (the leader of a state government), Chief Minister (leader of the Government of a territory), Government Minister (Minister of Government), Member of Parliament – MP ( Member of the House of Representatives), Senator (member of the Senate), Mayor or Shire President (the leader of a municipality known as a council) and Councillor (member of a local government council).
The members are chosen to represent the entire population of a constituency, and thus it is not a proportional representation but a single-man constituency (if the majority of the population in an area votes for the Labor party, one Labor representative is sent to represent all the voters). The number of constituencies and the number of members per state and territory depends on its population and, in total there are 150 members in the House of Representatives.
The Senate has 12 representatives from each state, regardless of the state’s population, and two per territory, making a total of 76 senators in the Australian Senate. Since the 150 members in the House of Representatives are elected in a single-man constituency, but the Senate’s 76 senators are elected in proportionate elections, it is easier for smaller parties to enter the Senate (because they must win a full 51% of the votes in a constituency to get into the lower house).
The term of office is three years, and at each election, half the Senate plus the entire House of Representatives is elected. Citizens from 18 years of age can vote. Except for South Australia it is compulsory to vote in Australia. Those who do not vote may pay a fine.
Australia has six states and two territories on the mainland, and out of these the states are more federal independent than the territories. Each state and mainland territory have its own local constitution and local Parliament. Just like the Federal Parliament, they are elected by the people.
Further, all the states and the Northern Territory are divided into local areas with their own governance and these can be called everything from city, shire, town or municipality. These are controlled by the equivalent of a municipal authority called the Council, which are responsible for planning and delivering local government services to the population in the area.
The responsibility for various issues is obviously divided between the different levels of government. For example, the Federal Government has responsibility for issues such as taxation, the country’s economic policy, migration and integration, pensions and unemployment benefits, defence policy and international relations.
The territorial and state Governments are responsible for home affairs such as; Hospitals and care, schools and education in each state, public transport and roads, police (although there is also a federal police force – the Australian Federal Police) and fire brigade.
Finally, each municipality is responsible for minor issues in people’s everyday lives; Parks, libraries, road maintenance, garbage collection and building permits, etc.
The Coalition (Coalition of Liberals and Nationals) is an alliance of centre-right political parties in Australia, and the Labor Party’s politics is more towards the middle-left. Conservative members are most widely found in the Coalition, along with those with a more liberal approach to economic policy. Socialists are most involved in the Labor’s left wing, categorising themselves as a democratic socialist party.
The states of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory are considered relatively more conservative than the nation in general, and Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and Australian Capital Territory are somewhat more social liberal. New South Wales has over the course of history shifted between the two.
Partly because the system of single-man constituency favours the largest parties, internal policy in practice works as a two-party system with Labor on the left and the Coalition on the right. Many Labor voters are found in the cities’ working and middle class. Liberal voters are found in the middle class in the cities, but also among entrepreneurs and rural areas, and Nationals often have a strong support in rural areas.
In addition to these, there are some smaller parties worth knowing; The Australian Greens is an environmental party with an agenda on environmental issues and liberalism, and Family First as well as Katter’s Australian Party are both socially conservative. Other smaller parties previously important in the Australian politics are the nationalistic One Nation and the social liberal party Australian Democrats, but at present these have no representation in the Parliament’s two houses.
Like many other countries, there are some issues that are often debated in politics, and topics worth knowing are following issues; (I list issues that are often discussed on TV and in debates, without trying to take a position or rank them based on how “important” they are).
Various environmental issues and especially how Australia best can find a balance between demand on high prosperity and the preservation of unique biotopes and how to avoid the greenhouse effect by environmentally friendly living are often debated by The Greens. Taxation of carbon dioxide emissions, agriculture and society’s usage of groundwater and river water in arid areas (especially from the Murray and Darling rivers), the preservation of the coral reef off Queensland’s coast (the coral dies when the water becomes warmer), the impact of the mining industry on the inland environment, Japan’s whaling in waters near Australian waters, the extensive drought and several catastrophic forest fires are debated. In recent years, due to littering and pollution in the seas and rivers, it has been discussed whether it is possible to ban plastic products with less than 50% biodegradable material. Several large supermarket chains have stopped giving away disposable plastic bags and introduced “stronger” reusable plastic bags the customers must pay for and encourage customers to bring their own reusable fabric bags.
Economic issues and the city budget are always on the agenda, especially in the light of the financial crises affecting the EU and the USA (there is a strong sense of relief in Australia that the country is far from having the political and financial problems as EU, which in recent years have developed into crises in Mediterranean countries).
When it comes to international relations, Australia is keen to nurture good relations with China and the Asian neighbours, while also having close ties with the USA, especially after Australia fought side by side with the USA during the Second World War. Australia has been involved in sending troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan in recent times of unrest, the latter a campaign that the public seems to withdraw their support from, especially after more and more Australian diggers has fallen there. Another issue regarding international relations and economics being discussed is the question whether to allow selling Australian agricultural land and water to foreign buyers.
Australia’s relations with its indigenous is not a major issue on today’s agenda, but now and then it shows up like something of a collective debt about how Aboriginals have been treated in the past and how many still live in poverty and with poor health (this is shown, for example, in the statistics on life expectancy, where Aboriginal men have a life expectancy on around 10.6 years shorter than a non-Aboriginal Australian male; 69.1 years versus 79.7 years, 2018). The intervention in the Aboriginal community on a federal level is, however, controversial, as it is easy to be reminded of the historical oppression of indigenous (controversial mandatory legislation despite good intentions). In the light of reports of major social problems in Aboriginal communities (addiction, unemployment and abuse) the Government took the decision to intervene in the Northern Territory in 2007 by prohibiting the sale of alcohol and limiting the use of social assistance to other than necessary purchases. Extra social workers and nurses were also sent to most affected areas. This welfare package called Northern Territory National Emergency Response, is referred to as “the intervention” and has been criticised for being racially, degrading and incapacitating, and not sufficiently rooted among the Aboriginals themselves. Together with Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, a new policy called Stronger Future was developed, which was approved by the Senate and implemented in 2012. The new policy is based on the old welfare package where the key to success is to address the most acute problems in the Aboriginal communities (ill-health, abuse, housing and education issues). For those interested in seeing the issue from an Aboriginal perspective, there is a documentary from 2010 called “Our generation” (imdb.com/title/tt1843234/) dealing with the subject of Aboriginal rights.
Immigration and population policies are also something that engages many people and politicians, and one major question concerns how to deal with boat refugees trying to cross the sea from Indonesia. Other minor discussions about immigration are about whether immigrants should undergo more tests to gain a better understanding of the country’s values in order to gain citizenship, or whether immigrants should be deported if they commit serious crimes. More generally, the demographic issue can be sensitive, and the vision of some to have a large immigration and strong increase in population is called Big Australia, which is often addressed by ecological and labour market arguments (that, despite Australia’s size, the country does not have enough water and fertile areas to accommodate another 10 million people, and that the labour market does not have enough jobs for too many new Australians).
How to deal with terrorism and whether those who join a terrorist group in a foreign country should lose Australian citizenship is discussed. Another rising issue regarding terrorism is whether Australia should wait to open its doors for some immigrants until the country has developed a thorough and secure investigation concerning the applicant’s background, just to reduce the risk of accidentally letting terrorists in.
Other political issues discussed in 2018 were, for example, discrimination and gender equality, gay rights, minimum wages and parental leave, if Australia should legalize marijuana for medical purposes, increase the resources for mental illness and whether hospitals should be privatised. A recurring issue is the desire for improved public transport, how competitive Australian companies are on the international market (especially the manufacturing industry have had a difficulties competing with Asian companies resulting in employees being given notice and a rising unemployment) and Australian relations with the USA, China, Indonesia and other major powers in the region, as well as the use of water resources by the mining industry. Issues getting attention in global media are for example about regulation in export of live animals, regulation in Internet-usage and the use of nuclear energy and storage of nuclear waste.
Australia has a strong and competitive economy, with a rich supply of natural resources and a skilled workforce with a high standard of living. The service-sector accounts for 70% of the country’s gross domestic product and about four out of five jobs. The industry contributes to around 26% of GDP and agriculture around nearly 4% (year 2018).
Despite its distance from many Asian markets, Australia has thanks to its stable political and economic policies attracted many international companies investing in the country. Australia’s largest trading partners are China, the USA, South Korea, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and the major export products are cereals, wool, iron ore, minerals/metals and gold, as well as natural gas and coal. The mining industries’ products have since its start been pushing Australia in a continuous boom, and thanks to Asia’s strong demand in natural resources, Australia managed to ride out the financial crisis without getting caught up in the recession that affected many other countries. However, at the time of writing (2018), there has been a decline in demand for mining products due to a surplus of products available on the market and falling prices. Plus, China’s slower economic growth has resulted in reduced exports to China. This in its turn has affected the industry by decreased numbers of jobs and investors. There are high hopes for a future in tech mining, the mining of rare metals used in technological products such as Phones, computers, solar cells, wind turbines, redox batteries and self-governing vehicles and more. The hope is that this will attract new investors.
Year after year, the Australian economy has been one of the strongest in the OECD countries. In 2011 Australia was the 13th largest economy in the world with a strong focus on free trade. Thanks to its policies, resources and favourable position in the world, Australia has since 1992 been enjoying a single, long-term boom with low unemployment, low inflation, high interest rates and an average annual growth rate of 3.5%. But for how long Australia can continue its record-long boom is debated. The current situation (2018) looks somewhat worse in terms of unemployment, inflation and interest rates, but the annual growth is still the same.
The Australian economy is sometimes spoken of as a two-speed economy; That some part of the country has a rapid growing economy in a certain sector while other parts of the country are experiencing the opposite. For example, the Australian mining states Western Australia and Northern Territory saw a growth in 2012, while Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria suffered a recession.
In the second half of the 1900s, governments tried to make themselves less dependent on commodity exports by trying to stimulate the manufacturing industry. Customs duties and subsidies have been used to stimulate and protect the domestic industry, especially in textiles, clothing and car manufacturing. Almost 80% of the country’s industrial areas are in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, and some of the largest industries are; Food related manufacturing, refineries and chemical industry, metal industry and machine manufacturing.
Australia previously had a rich textile industry, but nowadays most of the clothes are made in China and Vietnam. The refineries and chemical industry work in close cooperation with the mines, gas extraction and agriculture. Up until 2017, Australia had several car manufacturers operating in the country; General Motors-owned Holden, Ford, and Toyota. The Australian owned car manufacturer Tomcar who, after the start-up in the year 2005 seemed to have a bright future, entered a voluntary administration in 2018 after unexpected expenditure. It now remains to be seen if Tomcar manage to sell and revive the company or not. However, both Ford’s and Holden’s design and development facilities are still in operation and have since expanded.
Australia is world leading within the mining industry, and with the country’s relatively high wages it often makes the mines operate with very high-tech equipment. Also, Australia is the world’s largest producer and exporter of bauxite, iron and zinc ore, nickel and gold. Thanks to the country’s riches in coal, natural gas and uranium resources, energy is a major export for Australia. The mining industry accounts for about eight percent of the country’s national economy, but a whole 60% of the value of exports (2015). This has led to Australia being a leader in technology and services related to ore extraction. The boom of the Northern Territory and Western Australia is linked to the success of the mining industry.
Nowadays, the mines are found in all Australian states, but especially in Western Australia’s regions of Goldfields, Peel and Pilbara, in New South Wales around Hunter Valley, around Bowen in Queensland and around Latrobe Valley in Victoria. Famous mining cities are Kalgoorlie, Mount Isa, Mount Morgan, Broken Hill and Coober Pedy.
Agriculture and related industries account for 3.6% of Australia’s GDP (2017) and being a farmer in Australia is a challenging lifestyle; Dry periods, low water supply, low fertile soil and lots of indigenous weeds destroying fields and pastures. In many areas, irrigation is a prerequisite for a functioning agriculture. Wheat and sugar cane are important crops, but with EU countries and the USA subsidizing its own national products it is hard for Australian farmers to be competitive on the world market.
Australia also produces large amounts of fruit, nuts and vegetables, especially oranges, apples, bananas, walnuts, potatoes, carrots and tomatoes. Tropical fruits such as bananas, mango and pineapples are grown in Queensland and the Northern Territory, and Tasmania has one of the world’s few legal and highly regulated opium plantations (for medical purposes).
The wine industry is large and growing, and some well-known wine regions are the Barossa Valley in South Australia, the Margaret River in Western Australia, the Yarra Valley in Victoria and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.
The meat- and milk industry exists all across Australia, and over 70% of Australian beef gets exported (2016), mainly till Japan, the USA and South Korea. Export of sheep and lamb is another big industry, along with wool export (part of the world’s finest Merino wool comes from Australia).
Australia was the world’s third largest coal producer in 2017. Three hours north of Sydney is Newcastle, the world’s largest export port for coal. Productions from Australia’s own oilfields are constantly falling, forcing the country to import most of its oil to cover its needs. However, there are still large resources of natural gas in the country, especially in north-western Western Australia and off the northwest coast where large gas reserves are being extracted.
In 2015-2016, Australia’s primary source of energy was oil (37%) followed by coal (32%), natural gas (25%) and last came renewable resources such as water, biomass, solar and wind power at 6%. Regarding the countries’ electricity, a whole 63% was generated from coal, 18% from natural gas, 16% from renewable resources and the rest from oil-based sources. Despite sitting on 23% of the world’s uranium resources, all uranium extracted in Australia is at present exported, but some argue that this may change considering the limitations of coal. There is a strong opinion in the country to move towards more environmentally friendly energy sources.
Infrastructure and telecommunications
With enormous distances to cover in Australia, the country is much dependent on roads and cars, putting it on the top ten list of countries with most passenger cars per capita. Australia’s big cities are some of the world’s most car-dense cities, and a large part of the population commutes to work in their own cars.
Public transport is available in all cities and besides buses, many cities also have commuter trains and in some cases trams and ferries. Australian cities are often vast, and if you live out in the suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane and work inside the city, you are forced to spend a lot of time in traffic. The poorly developed public transport and frequent traffic jams in Melbourne and Sydney are constantly discussed in media and in politics.
It is possible to travel by railway on the east coast from Cairns down to Sydney and further on to Melbourne and Adelaide. There are trains departing Adelaide to both Darwin and Perth, but as an example, there are no passenger trains along the western and north coasts, and it is more common for people to travel between the big cities by either aeroplanes, bus or car rather than train. Australia has over 300 airports with paved runways. The environmental impact of all these vehicles is significant and in 2009, their emissions accounted for just over 15% of all of Australia’s emissions of greenhouse gases.
The telephone network is well developed despite Australia’s low population and enormous distances. Australia is well connected to the outside world via several undersea fibre optic cables. However, you might experience that the distance between Australia and countries on the other side of the globe will be noticeable, it might take a bit longer to load non-Australian websites. All the common technologies that Western countries, amongst others, are accustomed to can be found in Australia, and overseas mobile phones supporting the most standard network GSM can be used in Australia. The largest telecom operators are called Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.
Property prices in Australia are among the world’s highest (relative to average wages), and a common dinner-conversation topic is of the mortgage rate and the high prices of houses and apartments in the big cities. Some critics argue that there are similarities between the Australian housing market and how it looked in the USA before the real estate market crashed there around 2008. During the first half of 2018, property prices in Sydney and Melbourne dropped at a drastic rate (2.4%) and created concerns. Analysts have warned that prices in the big cities can drop up to 5% per annum due to lower demands. What the future holds only time can tell.
Australia’s currency is the Australian dollar and a dollar is equal to 100 cents. The Australian dollar is the world’s seventh most traded currency (after the U.S. dollar, euro, yen and British pounds, Swiss francs and the Canadian dollar, 2018) thanks to the country’s relatively high interest rate and low risk. Australia has a floating exchange rate which in recent years has led to a fluctuation in exchange rates – I remember how the exchange rate when I first came to Australia was about 4.5 SEK (Swedish kronor) per dollar, but since then it has reached a peak of over 7 SEK, and at current (2018) the situation should be around 6 SEK per dollar. The abbreviation for the Australian currency is AUD, and as an exchange rate it expressed as for an example 6.39 SEK/AUD. An interesting detail (that at least many Swedish tourists react to) is that all Australian banknotes are made of plastic. Australia was the first country to fully use plastic banknotes and after the success in the home country, plastic notes are now printed in many other countries.
The Australian Reserve Bank is independent from Government and Parliament and works towards a stable exchange rate for the Australian dollar, low unemployment and through its decisions it tries to promote continued economic prosperity for the country. One of its most important tasks is to set the country’s interest rate, and it takes place eleven times a year (the first Tuesday of each month except in January), and if you follow the news, this is a recurring feature of news reporting. Interest rates in Australia have fluctuated over the past few years from having been at 7% to steadily falling to below 2% in 2018.
The states ‘contribution to the Australian economy is shifting, and approximately 33% of the GDP comes from New South Wales, 24% from Victoria, 18% from Queensland, 14% from Western Australia, 6% from South Australia, 2% from Capital Territory, 1.5% from Tasmania and the smallest state Northern Territory with a population of only 233 000 people accounts for 1.5% of the GDP (2016). If the contribution in GDP would be based on population size, Western Australia alone would have the same gross state product per capita as Switzerland. The mining industry clearly has been entailed with a great prosperity in Western Australia.
International relations and national defence
Australia’s foreign and trade policy is based on protecting the country’s long-term prosperity and preserving its peace and security and Australia is an active member of the United Nations and various regional cooperation bodies. In matters of national defence, Australia is a close ally of the USA, and since 2000 it has tripled its aid to developing countries.
Australia has good relations with most countries and the large proportion of citizens born overseas makes one aware of their role as a citizen of the world; Australia was one of the 51 nations that co-founded the United Nations, and it was and is the thirteenth largest donor to UN’s regular and peacekeeping budgets. Australia runs an active diplomacy, a lot of work is done to establish and maintain international regulations and cooperation bodies to facilitate trade, international cooperation and human rights. Some of the international organizations Australia actively participate in are the UN, G20, WTO, EAS (East Asian Summit – a regional cooperation organisation), APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) and the British Commonwealth. Much of Australia’s defence policies are based (although not a member of NATO) on the cooperation pact with the USA and New Zealand, known as ANZUS. Since the second World Wars Australia has been involved in most of the wars the USA has been active in, from the Korean War, Vietnam and the Gulf War to Iraq, and most recently in Afghanistan.
Australia feel particularly allied with neighbouring country New Zealand and it is free for citizens to travel and move between the two countries.
In general, Australia has a good relationship to its northern neighbouring giant Indonesia, although it might have been better if it was not for the Indonesian assault in Dili (1991) and East Timor (1999) as well as noted terrorist attacks in 2002 and 2005 where many Australians lost their lives. Close cooperation in finding the guilty terrorists, as well as Australia’s very generous assistance following the tsunami disaster in December 2004, made the relationship stronger than it had been in a long time.
Over 60% of all Australian exports goes through Indonesian waters, and although an armed conflict between the countries is extremely unlikely, I suspect that the fact that Indonesia has a ten-fold greater population and a far greater military is behind Australia’s decision to invest heavily in its defence.
The Australian Defence Force consists of approximately 80,000 people (2017) distributed between the Navy (Royal Australian Navy), the Army (Australian Army) and the Air Force (Royal Australian Air Force). A whole 58,500 are full-time employees and 21,500 are reservists, all professionals since Australia do not have compulsory military service.
As a regional superpower, Australia has actively supported the authorities of East Timor, Papua New Guinea and other Pacific countries by repeatedly sending peacekeeping forces or exerted pressure in local conflicts to help the authorities maintain their national security and to avoid instability. As an example, following the coup d’état in Fiji 2009, relations between Australia and the new regime became chilly for some time. Australia has also been active as an advisor in countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen and Indonesia, mainly to support their judiciary system and to enhance the capacity to track down and fight international terrorism. Australian forces are (in 2019) active in areas such as; Afghanistan and Middle East maritime security/counter-piracy, border protection, East Timor, Egypt and Middle East peace process, Iraq, Solomon Islands and Sudan (defence.gov.au/review/docs/ops_fact_sheet.pdf). Australia is the non-NATO country that with its forces and resources contributed the most to the ISAF forces that was present in Afghanistan before it got disbanded in 2016.
Many Australians donate to charitable causes. In 2015-16 it was estimated that over 80% of the adult population donated a total of $12.5 billion to charities and non-profits organisations (philanthropy.org.au/tools-resources/fast-facts-and-stats/). Although Australia is only the thirteenth largest economy, it was forecasted that Australia would end up at sixth place among the OECD countries in terms of aid in 2015-2016, but with a trend of less households donating (although the total amount per donation increased slightly), Australia ended up in a twelfth-place year 2017 in terms of aid.
Australia’s foreign aid and international relief work are mainly focused on the neighbouring region where two-thirds of the world’s poor live and where 22 out of Australia’s 24 closest countries are classified as developing countries. The whole region is one of the most vulnerable to natural disasters. Cyclones, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis have in recent years claimed hundreds of thousands of casualties and Australia’s military and aid organisations are actively helping countries in the region to prepare for and to manage natural disasters. Work has been undertaken to secure supplies of drinking water in jungle regions, thousands of schools have been built, there has been campaigns to eradicate malaria and measles and Australia has in various ways assisted developing countries in building up their own authorities and legal systems (several of the small states in the Pacific Ocean northeast of Australia are small and vulnerable and the political situation often unstable). Neighbouring country Papua New Guinea is the largest recipient of Australian foreign aid.
Here are some common Australian symbols that you will likely encounter during your trip to the country. We start with the most common flags (click on the image for a larger version).
- Territorial flag: Australian Capital Territory
- Territorial flag: Northern Territory
- State flag: Western Australia
- State flag: Queensland
- State flag: New South Wales
- State flag: South Australia
- State flag: Victoria
- State flag: Tasmania
- Federal flag: Australia
- Federal flag: Torres Strait Islander
- Federal flag: Aboriginal
The Australian flag is blue, white and red and has three elements. In the upper left corner is the British Union Flag (Union Jack) in memory of the country’s British roots. Below the Union Jack is the Federation Star or the Commonwealth Star which is a seven-pointed star, one point for each of the six original states and one for the territories and any other future state. On the right-hand side of the flag is the constellation and national symbol called the Southern cross.
The Australian Aboriginal flag is black, red and yellow. It too has three elements, and the most common interpretation of the colours is that the upper black part represents the Aboriginal people, the lower red part symbolizes earth and the spiritual connection the Aboriginal people have to the country, and the yellow circle represents the sun.
The second native group, the Torres Strait Islanders, also have their own flag. It is green, blue, black and white, where the green stripes represent the country, the blue ribbon representing the sea and the black lines representing the peoples who live on the islands of the Torres Straits. The centre has a white star (representing the five major island groups) and a traditional headdress from the region.
In addition to these three country flags, each state and territory has its own unique flag. In town halls and official buildings throughout Australia the federal flag is often swaying side by side with the respective state’s flag.
The Commonwealth Coat of Arms is the formal symbol of the Commonwealth of Australia. It represents national unity and is used to identify the authority and property of the Australian Government, the Australian Parliament and Commonwealth courts. The shield in the middle represents the six states and the federation between them, and it is held up by two native animals, a kangaroo from the left and an emu from the right, and above the shield is the golden Commonwealth Star with its seven points. In the background is the national floral emblem, the golden wattle, which is a small tree with clear yellow flowers from the acacia family.
Australia’s national floral emblem, the golden wattle, is a low tree that blooms in late winter and spring with fragrant and fluffy golden, bright yellow flowers. Australia’s national colours, green and gold, comes from that very tree. In most international games, the Australian national team plays in green-yellow uniforms.
The national anthem called Advance Australia Fair was written in 1878 by Peter Dodds McCormick and became the official anthem in 1984 after competing against songs like Waltzing Matilda, Song of Australia and the former national anthem God Save the Queen. The song has been somewhat jokingly criticized by some politicians and Australian profiles – for example in 2001 when Senator Sandy Macdonald claimed that the song is so extremely boring that the nation risks singing itself to sleep every time the song is performed, and that the music is dull and the text so old-fashioned and complicated that no one understands it.