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Country Profile

Area: 7,682m sq km
Population: 22.7 million
Capital city: Canberra
People: 98% of the population are of European or Asian descent
Languages: Mainly English with some other European, indigenous and Asian languages
Religion(s): Majority Christian with Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and other minorities; in the 2006 Census, 18.7% of the population defined themselves as having “no religion”. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution.
Currency: Australian Dollar (A$)
Major political parties: The main national political parties are the Australian Labor Party (ALP), Liberal Party, National Party, and the Australian Greens. The Liberal and National Parties are in coalition at the national level, and in most states; in Queensland, they merged in 1998 to form the Liberal National Party, while in the Northern Territory they merged in 1975 to form the Country Liberal Party.
Government: The Australian Constitution of 1901 established a federal system of government. Under this system, powers are distributed between a federal government (the Commonwealth) and the six States. Two Territories - the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory - have more limited powers; there are also a number of offshore territories, of which the most significant are Norfolk Island and the Australian Antarctic Territory. The Parliament is at the heart of the Australian government. The Parliament consists of The Queen (represented by the Governor-General) and two Houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives. Australia is thus a constitutional monarchy, a federation and a parliamentary democracy.
Head of State: Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II
Governor-General: HE Ms Quentin Bryce AC became the 25th Governor General on 5th September 2008.
Prime Minister: The Hon Julia Gillard MP (Leader Australian Labor Party)
Foreign Minister: Vacant. The Hon Kevin Rudd MP resigned on 21 February
Membership of international groups/organisations: The United Nations (UN), the Commonwealth, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), theASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), East Asia Summit(EAS), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the Group of 20 (G20), the Major Economies Forum (MEF).

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Key Economic indicators

GDP: A$1.2 trillion
GDP growth: Year to June 2011: 1.4 per cent - 2011 forecast: 1.8 per cent (IMF)
Inflation (CPI): 2.8% (year to June 2010)
Unemployment: 5.1% (September 2010)
Aid and development: The 2010-11 overseas development assistance (ODA) budget is A$4.4bn (US$3.7bn), representing 0.33% of GNI. The government is committed to raising this to 0.5% of GNI by 2015-16.
Exchange rates: (19 December 2011): Aus$/US$0.997 Aus$/£0.6419


Australia's status as an advanced market economy is reflected in its membership, since 1971, of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It is the 13th largest economy in the world by nominal GDP (the 18th largest when GDP is adjusted to take account of purchasing power). In 2009, it was the world's 21st biggest exporter and 23rd biggest importer. Per capita GDP is comparable with European economies such as the UK and Germany.

The Australian economy is diversified, with the service sector (including tourism, education, financial services and information and communications technology (ICT)) accounting for 68% of GDP. Exports are dominated (57%) by minerals and agricultural products. Though these sectors directly account for only 10% of GDP, strong growth in minerals exports, primarily to Asian markets, has played a key role in Australia’s near two decades of continuous economic expansion and in its weathering of the global financial crisis of 2008-09. Key agricultural exports include coal, iron ore, gold, aluminium, liquefied natural gas (LNG) meat, wheat and wool.

Australia navigated the global financial crisis in better shape than most other advanced economies. Its economy proved resilient, thanks in part to fiscal and monetary stimulus measures, the strength of the banking sector, and continued Chinese demand for Australian minerals. Despite the worst global financial and economic crisis in 75 years, when most advanced economies contracted, the Australian economy not only continued to grow, but grew steadily, with GDP growing by 1.4 per cent in 2009, compared to a 3.2 per cent contraction among advanced economies.

Citing growing signs of weakness in Australia and abroad, the IMF in September cut its growth forecast for 2011 to 1.8 per cent (from 3 per cent) and for 2012 to 3.3 per cent (from 3.5 per cent).


Rich in natural resources, Australia has a largely affluent society and an open and innovative economy, resulting in growing foreign investment over the past decade. Australia continues to be a strong advocate of increased trade liberalisation in the World Trade Organisation and plays an active role in global trade talks. Australia’s largest export market is China, followed by Japan, the Republic of Korea, India, the United States, and the UK.

Strong political, economic and cultural links to the UK make Australia a more significant market for UK exports than its comparatively small population might suggest. The UK is Australia’s fifth largest two-way trading partner, worth A$22.6 billion in 2010. British investment in Australia increased A$34 billion in 2009 to reach A$499 billion, making the UK the country’s second biggest foreign investor after the US. And it is second largest foreign direct investor, worth with A$63 billion, or 14.5 per cent of the total. Despite the global economic slowdown, UK foreign direct investment into Australia increased by A$1.8 billion in the year to December 2009.

The UK sells more to Australia than to India or China, and Australia is the UK’s 5th largest market for goods outside the EU. Agriculture, mining, oil and gas, environment and green technology, financial and professional services, information and communication technology, biotechnology, education, creative and media, marine, railways, food and drink, recreation and leisure, defence, and aerospace are all sectors identified as offering significant opportunities for British companies.

The UK is also a major partner for Australia’s trade in services. In 2009, it was Australia’s third largest market for services exports, worth A$4.2 billion, and second largest source for services imports, worth A$4.9 billion. Trade in services between the two countries contracted modestly due to the global financial crisis, but is expected to rebound in 2010. On both sides, recreational travel remains the strongest contributor to services trade.

Global Trade

Australia’s trade policy is geared to increasing economic activity, liberalising trade and maximising access for Australia in the international market place. Australia is an active player in the WTO, in particular on agriculture. Australia is actively pursuing regional and bilateral free trade agreements, which, it hopes, will deliver stronger trade and economic growth. FTA's have been completed with the US, Singapore, Thailand, New Zealand, Chile and ASEAN, and negotiations are underway with China, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Pacific islands (through the Pacific Agreement on Closer economic Relations) and the Trans Pacific Partnership. Further bilateral FTA's with India and Indonesia are also under consideration.

Historical perspective

In 1768 the British Admiralty instructed Captain James Cook to begin a search for the 'Great South Island' first reached by Dutch sailors in the early 17th century. The crew of The Endeavour subsequently landed at Botany Bay in April 1770 and claimed the island for the British. The government decided that, following the loss of Britain’s American colonies, Botany Bay should become the new destination for British convicts under sentence of transportation. On 26 January 1788 the First Fleet, sailing under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, reached Australia (26 January is celebrated annually as Australia Day). A penal colony was also established in Van Diemen’s Land (later renamed Tasmania). In total more than 168,000 convicts were transported. But free settlers were also attracted to Australia by its agricultural potential and, from the 1850s, the discovery of gold. Exploration and expansion followed and by the 1890s, calls for the colonies of New South Wales, Western Australia, Tasmania and Victoria to federate became increasingly strong. Australia became a nation on 1 January 1901.

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In 1768 the British Admiralty instructed Captain James Cook to begin a search for the 'Great South Island' first reached by Dutch sailors in the early 17th century. The crew of The Endeavour subsequently landed at Botany Bay in April 1770 and claimed the Island for the British. King George III decided that Botany Bay should become the destination for British convicts under sentence of transportation and on 26 January 1788 the first fleet, sailing under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, reached Australia (26 January is celebrated annually as Australia Day). In total more than 168,000 convicts were transported and the discovery of gold in the 1850s also began to attract free settlers. Exploration and expansion followed and by the 1890s, calls for the colonies of New South Wales, Western Australia, Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) and Port Phillip (Now Victoria) to federate had became increasingly strong. Australia became a nation on 1 January 1901.
BBC News Country Timeline: Australia (

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Foreign policy

Australia maintains close ties with Europe and North America, and has a history of active engagement throughout Asia and the Pacific. Australia has long-standing security and intelligence relationships with the US and UK. In 2011 Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the development of a White Paper titled "Australia in the Asian Century". Gillard said that Australia would seek a peaceful rules-based Asia, effective regional institutions, with "space for a rising China, and a robust US-Australia alliance". Australia supports continued US strategic engagement in Asia as an essential contribution to regional stability and prosperity and their bilateral relationship is underpinned by the recent announcement during President Obama’s visit of US troop deployment plans in Northern Australia. In recent years Australia has worked hard diplomatically to strengthen its links with the EU and in October 2008 the EU-Australia Partnership Framework was launched. Close engagement with its Asian neighbours is a high priority in Australian foreign and trade policy. The Australian Government pays particular attention to building a strategic economic partnership with China and is engaged in negotiating a Free Trade Agreement. In 2007 Australia hosted the APEC Summit in Sydney. Australia has established human rights dialogues with China, Vietnam and Burma.

Australia is seeking election as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council from 2013.


In its immediate neighbourhood Australia is helping to restore sound governance and political stability to the Solomon Islands through its primary role in RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands), Timor-Leste as the largest contributor to Operation Astute (in support of the UNMIT mission) and Papua New Guinea through the bilateral Defence Cooperation Programme. It currently has approximately 685 Australian Defence Force (ADF) and Australian Federal Police (AFP) personnel deployed in these three countries.

Further afield, Australia deploys up to 1550 ADF personnel in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Stabilisation and Assistance Force (ISAF).This deployment is primarily in Oruzgan Province with the focus on mentoring Afghan security forces and assisting with reconstruction.

Australia withdrew its combat troops from Iraq in mid 2008 and now only has two officers to provide local security for the Australian Embassy. In summary, approximately 3,300 ADF personnel are deployed overseas to protect Australia and its national interests, with a further 400 involved in maritime protection around its coastline. Approximately 300 AFP personnel are deployed overseas and across Australia’s external territories.

The Defence White Paper published on 2 May 2009 set out the future size and force structure of the ADF. This was amplified by the publication on 1 July 2009 of the Defence Capability Plan (DCP), which set out the Department’s equipment spending plans over the coming four year Forward Estimates period. The funding for this programme (A$104bn) will be supplemented by the Defence Strategic Reform Programme (SRP), which envisages savings of A$20bn over the next 10 years. The February 2010 publication ‘The Strategic Reform Programme – Making it Happen’ set out some changes to the DCP and the Budget for FY 2010-11 confirmed both the Government’s commitment to defence and the key importance of the SRP’s cost reduction plans in enabling a reasonably ambitious budget.

In September 2011 the second UK-Australia Defence Policy Talks and the Strategic Dialogue meeting were held in London at 3* level, setting the top level context and framework for the UK-Australian defence and foreign policy relationship.


The relationship between our respective Armed Forces remains stronger than ever, particularly as a result of recent and ongoing deployment operations together. Following the drawdown of ADF personnel from Iraq, both countries remain strongly committed to operations in Afghanistan, where the ADF contribution continues to be capped at 1,550. There is also a significant personnel exchange programme backed up by numerous mutual training and educational opportunities that continue to be reviewed and expanded upon. The UK and Australia are members of the Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA – UK, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand) and the America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (ABCA) Interoperability Programme, and routinely exercise together under one of these two agreements. Australia continues to be an important market for UK defence exports.

Climate change

Australia is the 15th largest emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for 1.48% of total global emissions. On a per capita basis, it is the world's largest emitter (excepting small oil-based economies such as the Gulf States), producing more greenhouse gases per head than even the United States. This reflects, in part, its reliance on coal-fired power stations for electricity. Between 1990 and 2006, Australia's emissions grew by over 21% (source: World Resources Institute).

Australia signed the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in 1997, but declined to ratify it until after the election of the new Labor government in 2007 With the passage of the Clean Energy Future package through the Senate on 8 November, Australia becomes only the second country outside the EU to legislate a statutory, economy-wide emissions trading scheme. The legislation establishes a fixed price on carbon from July 2012, transitioning to a fully-fledged economy-wide emissions trading scheme in 2015. Australia is investing substantial sums in research and development in solar energy and carbon capture and storage (CCS), and hosts the Global CCS Institute.

Science and Innovation

Australia has a strong S&I community. With only 0.3% of the world’s population it accounts for 2.9% of the world’s scientific publications and 2.5% of the global medical research. With one third of all Australian scientific publications having at least one overseas co-author, Australia can be classed as very outward looking. The USA is Australia’s largest scientific partner but it also has strong scientific relationships with China and India (Source: DIISR).

Traditionally Australia’s research strengths have been in the areas of science best complementing its natural resources and geographical endowments, for example: engineering/technology sciences, agricultural and environmental sciences and the biological and earth sciences. However Australia also has a solid presence in emerging fields such as photonics and biotechnology.

International Organisations

Australia has always been committed to the UN and other multilateral organisations and is currently seeking election to the United Nations Security Council in 2012 for the term 2013-14. In 2004, Australia chaired the UN Commission on Human Rights. It is a strong supporter of the Commonwealth and hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth in October 2011.

Australia's relations with the UK

The UK and Australia have a close and long-standing relationship, which continues to flourish. Political, defence and intelligence relationships are excellent, while in the fields of law, education, medicine, and science & innovation the two countries share know-how and similar institutions.

Bilateral ties are exemplified by double taxation agreements and mutual access to health services. There is a long tradition of co-operation on international affairs. In 2001, Australia celebrated its Centenary of Federation. To mark the Centenary, the UK made a substantial contribution to an Australian-British project to build a monument at Magna Carta Place in Canberra as a tribute to our shared history and Britain's legacy of parliamentary democracy. In March 2006 the second UK-Australia Leadership Forum was held in Canberra to coincide with Prime Minister Blair's visit to Australia. The Dialogue brought together leaders from public and private sectors from both countries to discuss current issues of relevance to the relationship. In January 2011 Australia hosted the third Australia - UK Ministerial consultations (AUKMIN) where Foreign and Defence Ministers from both countries discussed contemporary global issues.

UK Australia people facts

Since June 2009 all UK passports from Australia are issued from the Regional Passport Processing Centre (RPPC) in New Zealand. The RPPC issues approximately 90000 UK passports a year with 65000 going to Australia.

Further details on acquiring UK passports can be found at: (


More than 95% of visits to the UK from Australia are visa free. In the 12 months between April 2008 and April 2009, the British High Commission in Canberra issued 27,584 visas, a fall of 10% or 3,173 on the previous year largely because of the global economic downturn. Of these, about 13,000 were a combination of working holidaymaker and Tier 5 YMS visas, 2,800 ancestry visas, 1,300 settlement visas, 1,800 work permits, 800 students and 2,000 highly skilled visas.

Travel to the UK:
In 2009, approximately 430,800 Australians visited the UK (Source: ABS) compared with 418,400 in 2008.

Travel to Australia:
In 2009, approximately 670,800 Britons visited Australia (Source: ABS) compared with 668,200 in 2008. 40,182 Britons were granted working holidaymaker visas for Australia in 2008-09, compared with 34,145 in 2007-08 (source: DIAC). The total number of Britons entering Australia for any purpose in 2008/09 and from any country was 1,285,975 (source: DIAC). Most visits to Australia are trouble–free. 378 British nationals required consular assistance in Australia in the period 1 April 2009 – 31 March 2010 for the following types of incidents: 77 deaths; 42 hospitalisations; and 124 arrests, for a variety of offences. During this period lost or stolen passports were by far the most frequent problem encountered by British nationals in Australia (980 cases).

Britons Immigrating to Australia:
In 2008-09, 21,545 Britons immigrated to Australia. Of these, 15,803 were 'skilled' migrants and 4, 219 were 'family' migrants (Source: DIAC). In addition, several thousand more (probably around 7,000 or so) applied for settlement while they were already within Australia. The figures on settlement are broadly consistent with the previous year. 21,070 Britons were '457' temporary skilled migrants in 2008-09, making the UK the largest source of 457 visa holders.

UK Population in Australia:
The number of British-born people in Australia rose slightly between 2001 and 2006 to 1.04m (Source: Australian Census 2006). Of these, 245,000 receive British State pensions (Source: DWP).

Child Migrants

Child Migrants were British children in care who were sent, under government approved schemes, to certain Commonwealth countries (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Rhodesia - now Zimbabwe). These schemes can be traced as far back as 300 years ago and continued until the 1960s. A House of Commons Health Select Committee visited Australia in June 1998 in connection with its inquiry into the welfare of former child migrants. The Committee's report, in July 1998, detailed the stories of many child migrants who had endured physical and sexual abuse, systematic punishment, and separation from siblings. The British Government responded in December 1998, offering increased funding to the Child Migrants Trust to enable child migrants to visit relatives in the UK. The Government set up a database containing details of child migrants and a website. The Child Migrants Trust has now completed this work. In June 2000 the Australian Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee agreed to hold an inquiry into the child migration scheme. The Committee published a report on 30 August, entitled 'Lost Innocents: righting the Record', which contained 33 recommendations - some for the British Government. The Australian Government responded in 2002 by announcing a package of measures worth A$3.7 million (about £1.3million) to provide practical support and assistance to former child migrants to Australia. In February 2010, the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a formal apology to child migrants, which was echoed during several ceremonies across Australia.

Frozen Pensions

The UK pays about 800,000 pensions overseas. In those countries where no bilateral agreement exists to up-rate pensions, including Australia, they are frozen at the time of migration. 205,000 UK pensioners live in Australia. Of these, 70% qualify for an Australian aged pension, either through residency in Australia, or under the former bilateral social security agreement. In those cases the Australian government pays the difference between the UK frozen rate pension and the Australian aged pension. Australia abrogated the Bilateral Social Security Agreement in 2001. Existing British pensioners in Australia are not affected; but future British pensioners immigrating to Australia will have to complete the standard 10 years residence before qualifying for an Australian aged pension. Australian pensioners in the UK will be similarly affected. The abrogation also affects entitlements for those travelling between the two countries to welfare payments such as unemployment and invalidity benefits.

2009-2011 Ministerial Visits

Australian Ministerial Visits to the UK

-- The Hon Kevin Rudd MP, then Minister for Foreign Affairs, visited London from 11 to 12 June 2011.

-- The Hon Julia Gillard MP, Prime Minister, visited London from 28-29 April 2011.

-- The Hon Kevin Rudd MP, then Minister for Foreign Affairs, visited London from 27-28 April 2011.

-- The Hon Catherine King MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, and Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure and Transport, visited London from 2 to 4 May 2011.

-- Senator the Hon Mark Arbib, Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness, Minister for Sport, Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development, visited London from 3 to 6 December 2010.

-- The Hon Anthony Albanese MP, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, visited London from 3 to 4 November 2010.

-- Australia's Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Mr Ric Smith AO PSM, visited the UK from 26 to 29 January 2010, from 24 to 25 April 2010, from 8 to 9 June 2010 and from 15 to 17 October 2010.

-- The Hon Tony Abbott MP, Leader of the Opposition, visited London from 2 to 8 October 2010.

-- Senator the Hon John Hogg, President of the Senate, visited the UK from 17 to 23 April 2010 and led a delegation to the UK from 10 to 13 July 2010.The Hon Stephen Smith, Minister for Foreign Affairs visited London in February 2010.

-- The Hon Kevin Rudd, then Prime Minister and the Hon Wayne Swan, Treasurer visited in April 2009 for the G20.

-- The Hon Martin Ferguson, Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism, visited in October 2009.

-- The Hon Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, visited in October 2009.

-- The Hon Stephen Smith, Minister for Foreign Affairs, visited in October 2009.

-- The Hon Kevin Rudd, then Prime Minister visited in March/April 2009.

-- The Hon Anthony Albanese, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, visited in April 2009

-- The Hon Stephen Smith, Minister for Foreign Affairs, visited April 2009.

-- The Hon Wayne Swan, Treasurer, visited in March/April 2009 to participate in the G20 Finance Ministers.meeting.

British Ministerial Visits to Australia:
-- Prime Minister David Cameron, Foreign Secretary William Hague,Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Lord Howell and Trade and Investment Minister Lord Green attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting - October 2011.

-- Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Jeremy Browne - September 2011.

-- Defence Secretary Liam Fox and Foreign Secretary William Hague for AUKMIN - January 2011.

-- Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Howell - August 2010.

-- UK Special Envoy for Sri Lanka, Desmond Browne - November 2009.

-- Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Defence and Security, Baroness Taylor, as Guest of Government - October 2009.

-- Then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Rt Hon Chris Bryant - August 2009.

-- Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Rt Hon James Purnell MP - May 2009.

-- Then Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles - April 2009.

-- Attorney General, Baroness Scotland - February 2009.

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Australia occupies the whole of the island continent of the same name and lies between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Although the country's land mass is half as big again as that of Europe, most of Australia is empty. The population is predominantly concentrated in the south eastern coastal cities of Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide. The interior of the country - the Outback - is comprised of sparsely populated semi-desert and tropical wetlands.

UK Trade and Investment Country Profile: Australia (

UK Trade and Investment Country Profile: Australia (

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The 43rd Australian Parliament was sworn in by the Governor-General on 28 September 2010, after a general election was held on 21 August resulting in a hung Parliament. The Australian Labor Party (ALP), led by Julia Gillard, formed a minority government, with the support of three independent MPs and the one Green party MP. The 43rd Australian Parliament has introduced a number of Parliamentary reforms and includes the first Indigenous Member of Parliament.

Members of the House of Representatives (Lower House) serve three-year terms. Senators serve fixed six-year terms (from 1 July). It is usual to hold a full House of Representatives and a half-Senate election simultaneously every three years.


The federal Australian Labor Party's election victory in November 2007 saw wall-to-wall Labor governments across Australia until a closely fought State election in August 2008 saw the Western Australian Liberal Party form a government with support from the National Party and an independent, led by Colin Barnett. In March 2009, Anna Bligh led the Queensland Labor Party to a third successive election victory.

David Bartlett was re-elected Premier of Tasmania, leading a Labor-Greens coalition after a closely fought election in March 2010. Ted Baillieu, Liberal Party, was sworn in as Victoria’s Premier in December 2010, following 11 years of Labor Governments.. Barry O’Farrell, Liberal Party, was elected as Premier of NSW following the March 2011 state election. Jay Weatherill replaced Mike Rann, as leader of the Labor Party and South Australia’s Premier in October 2011.

The Liberal Party currently hold power in three of eight states and territories.

Indigenous Aboriginal Community

The treatment of the indigenous Aboriginal community (2.4% of the population) has challenged successive Australian governments. A central point of the Labor Government’s 2007 election campaign was to address the challenges facing the indigenous population. On the first day of the new Australian Parliament in February 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology on behalf of the government to Australia’s indigenous population for the treatment of the 'Stolen Generation' (government-backed schemes between 1920 and 1970 to remove Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their parents and place them with white families).

Republic Debate

In a constitutional referendum held on 6 November 1999, Australia voted to remain a constitutional monarchy (55% to 45%). Voters were offered a choice between the status quo and the republican model approved by the 1998 Constitutional Convention: a President appointed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Republicans wanting a directly elected president formed an unlikely coalition with monarchists to defeat the referendum. Despite the result, there is extensive republican sentiment in Australia. The Australian Labor Party supports a republic. Tony Abbott, leader of the opposition, is a well known supporter of the Monarchy.

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Last Updated: February 2012

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