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Economy of Australia

Economy of Australia
Sydney's central business district, a major financial and business services hub.
Currency Australian dollar (A$ or AUD)
1 July – 30 June
Trade organisations
GDP $1.525 trillion (2014)[1]
GDP rank 12th (nominal) / 17th (PPP)
GDP growth
3.5% (September 2014)[2]
GDP per capita
$67,722 (2013)[1]
(5th, nominal; 10th, PPP)
GDP by sector
agriculture: 4%, industry: 27.3%, services: 68.8% (2012 est.)
3.0% (September 2014)[2]
0.331 (2009)[3]
Labour force
12.15 million (2012 est.)
Labour force by occupation
agriculture: 3.6%, industry: 21.1%, services: 75% (2009 est.)
Unemployment 6.4% (September 2014)[2]
Main industries
mining, industrial and transportation equipment, food processing, chemicals, steel[4][5][6]
Exports $258.8 billion (2012 est.)
Export goods
coal, iron ore, gold, meat, wool, alumina, wheat, machinery and transport equipment[4][5][6][8][9]
Main export partners
 China 29.5%
 Japan 19.3%
 South Korea 8.0%
 India 4.9% [10]
Imports $239.7 billion (2012 est.)
Import goods
machinery and transport equipment, computers and office machines, telecommunication equipment and parts; crude oil and petroleum products
Main import partners
 China 18.2%
 United States 11.6%
 Japan 7.8%
 Singapore 5.9%
 Germany 4.6%
 Thailand 4.2%
 South Korea 4.0% (2012)[11]
FDI stock
$329.1 billion (31 December 2010 est.)
$1.497 trillion (31 December 2012 est.)
Public finances
29.3% of GDP (2012 est.)[12][13]
$12.3 billion (2012–13 est.)[14]
Revenues $376.1 billion (2012–13)[15]
Expenses $376.3 billion (2011–13)[15]
Economic aid donor: ODA, $7.7 billion (2012)[16]
Standard & Poor's:[17]
AAA (Domestic)
AAA (Foreign)
AAA (T&C Assessment)
Outlook: Stable
Outlook: Stable
Outlook: Stable
Foreign reserves
$41.212 billion (March 2011)[20]
Main data source: CIA World Fact Book
All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars.
Throughout this article, the unqualified term "dollar" and the $ symbol refer to the Australian dollar unless as noted.

The economy of Australia is one of the largest capitalist economies in the world, with a GDP of US$1 trillion as of 2013.[21] Australia's total wealth is 6.4 trillion dollars.[22] In 2012, it was the 12th largest national economy by nominal GDP[23] and the 17th-largest measured by PPP-adjusted GDP, about 1.7% of the world economy. Australia is the 19th-largest importer and 19th-largest exporter. The Reserve Bank of Australia publishes forecasts of the economy quarterly.[24]

The Australian economy is dominated by its service sector, comprising 68% of GDP. The mining sector represents 10% of GDP; the "mining-related economy" represents 9% of GDP – the total mining sector is 19% of GDP.[25] Economic growth is largely dependent on the mining sector and agricultural sector (12% of GDP[26]) with the products to be exported mainly to the East Asian market.[27]

The Australian Securities Exchange in Sydney is the largest stock exchange in Australia and in the South Pacific[28] and ranks 9th in the world in terms of market capitalisation.[29] Australia is home to some of the largest companies in the world, including but not limited to, BHP Billiton, National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank, Rio Tinto Group, ANZ, Westpac, Telstra, Macquarie Bank, Woolworths and AMP – which also are the 10 largest companies in Australia.[30] The Australian dollar is the currency of the Commonwealth of Australia and its territories, including Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and Norfolk Island. It is also the official currency of the independent Pacific Island nations of Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu.

Australia is a member of the WTO. The country has also entered into free trade agreements with ASEAN, Chile, New Zealand, Japan and the United States.[31] The ANZCERTA agreement with New Zealand has greatly increased integration with the Economy of New Zealand and in 2011 there was a plan to form an Australasian Single Economic Market by 2015.[32]


  • History 1
    • 20th century 1.1
      • Economic liberalisation 1.1.1
      • Early 1990s recession 1.1.2
    • Mining boom 1.2
    • Global financial crisis and Australia's resilience 1.3
  • Overview 2
    • Regional differences 2.1
    • Taxation 2.2
  • Employment 3
    • States and territories ranked by unemployment rates 3.1
  • Sectors 4
    • Industry 4.1
      • Mining 4.1.1
      • Manufacturing 4.1.2
      • Agriculture 4.1.3
    • Services 4.2
      • Finance 4.2.1
      • Tourism 4.2.2
      • Media 4.2.3
      • Education 4.2.4
      • Logistics 4.2.5
  • Infrastructure 5
    • Energy 5.1
  • Trade and economic performance 6
    • Australian national debt 6.1
    • Chinese investment 6.2
    • Trade agreements 6.3
    • Australia's balance of payments 6.4
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


Annual percentage growth in real (chain volume) GDP per capita since 1961

20th century

Australia's average GDP growth rate for the period 1901–2000 was 3.4% annually.

Economic liberalisation

From the early 1980s onwards, the Australian economy has undergone a continuing economic liberalisation. In 1983, under Prime Minister Bob Hawke, but mainly driven by Treasurer Paul Keating, the Australian dollar was floated and financial deregulation was undertaken.

Early 1990s recession

The early 1990s recession came swiftly after the Black Monday of October 1987, resulting from a stock collapse of unprecedented size caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to fall by 22.6%. This collapse, larger than the stock market crash of 1929, was handled effectively by the global economy, and the stock market began to quickly recover. However, in North America, the lumbering savings and loans industry was facing decline which eventually led to a savings and loan crisis which compromised the wellbeing of millions of Americans. The following recession thus impacted the many countries closely linked to the United States, including Australia. Paul Keating, who was Prime Minister at the time, famously referred to it as "the recession that Australia had to have."[33] During the recession, GDP fell by 1.7 per cent, employment by 3.4 per cent and the unemployment rate rose to 10.8 per cent.[34] Despite this, there was a beneficial reduction in inflation.

Mining boom

The establishment of a mining industry continued the high level of economic growth in the post-war period. The opportunities for large profits in pastoralism and mining attracted considerable amounts of British capital, while expansion generally was supported by enormous government outlays for transport, communication and urban infrastructures, which also depended heavily on British finance. As the economy expanded, large-scale immigration became necessary to satisfy the growing demand for workers, especially after the end of convict transportation to the eastern mainland in 1840. Australia's mining operations secured continued economic growth and Western Australia itself has benefited strongly from mining iron-ore and gold from the 1960s and 1970s which fueled the rise of suburbanisation and consumerism in Perth, the capital and most populous city of WA as well as other regional centres. Australia's economy grew at an average annual rate of 3.6% for over 15 years, well above the OECD average of 2.5%.[35]

Global financial crisis and Australia's resilience

The World Bank expected Australia's GDP growth rate to be 3.2% in 2011 and 3.8% in 2012.[36] The economy expanded by 0.4% in the fourth quarter of 2011, and expanded by 1.3% in the first quarter of 2012.[37][38] The growth rate was reported to be 4.3% year-on-year.[39]


  • World Bank Trade Summary Statistics Australia 2012
  • Quick Reference Tables for the World Bank's 2005 data
  • Tariffs applied by Australia as provided by ITC's Market Access Map, an online database of customs tariffs and market requirements.

External links

  • Macfarlane, I. J. (1998). "Australian Monetary Policy in the Last Quarter of the Twentieth Century". Reserve Bank of Australia Bulletin, October 1998
  • OECD Factbook 2006 (Gini coeffcients) OECD Factbook 2006 pdf
  • Parham, Dean. (2002). "Microeconomic reforms and the revival in Australia’s growth in productivity and living standards". Assistant Commissioner – Productivity Commission, Canberra Conference of Economists Adelaide, 1 October 2002 (Adobe Acrobat *.PDF document)
  • Some statistics on this page have been drawn from publications of the Australian Bureau of Statistics.


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See also

However, as Australia's CAD is almost entirely generated by the private sector, as outlined in Professor John Pitchford's 'Consenting Adults Thesis' in the early 1990s, there is an argument that the CAD is not a significant issue. Historically, Australia has relied on overseas capital to fill the gap between domestic savings and investment, and many of these investment opportunities could not have been pursued if Australia did not have access to foreign savings. This suggests that Australia's apparently low savings level and CAD are not necessarily a significant problem. As long as the investment that is being funded by overseas capital inflow generates sufficient returns to pay for the servicing costs in the future, the increase in foreign liabilities can be viewed as sustainable in the longer term.[110]

There are other factors that have contributed to the extremely high current account deficit in Australia such as lack of international competitiveness.[109]

Dependent upon commodities, the Australian government has endeavoured to redevelop the Australian manufacturing sector. This initiative, also known as microeconomic reform, helped Australian manufacturing to grow from 10.1% in 1983–1984 to 17.8% in 2003–2004.[108]

In trade terms, the Australian economy has had persistently large current account deficits (CADs) for more than 50 years.[35][107] One single factor that undermines balance of payments is Australia's narrow export base.

Australia's current account as a proportion of GDP since 1959
Australia's current account (in $M) since 1959

Australia's balance of payments

FTA (Free Trade Agreement) effective[106]
  • FTA with New Zealand (effective January 1983)
  • FTA with Singapore (effective July 2003)
  • FTA with United States (effective January 2005)
  • FTA with Thailand (effective January 2005)
  • FTA with Chile (effective March 2009)
  • FTArea with AANZFTA (ASEAN, New Zealand) (effective January 2010)
  • FTA with China (effective November 2014)
FTA (Free Trade Agreement) negotiation

Trade agreements

There is substantial export to China of iron ore, wool, and other raw materials and over 120,000 Chinese students study in Australian schools and universities. China is the largest purchaser of Australian debt.[105] In 2009, offers were made by state-owned Chinese companies to invest 22 billion dollars in Australia's resource extraction industry.[105]
The Signing of the China-Australia Free-Trade Agreement, signed November 2014, has the potential to drastically increase Chinese Investments as agriculture and services become more lenient..

Chinese investment

The price of housing in terms of median incomes has been highlighted by a recent demographic survey with Australian capital city residential housing being among the most expensive in the world. A long drought and its impacts on retail food costs and export volumes of crops and meat and the possible impacts of climate change on agriculture has also been of concern.

Australian household finances – debt and interest

Australia's current account deficit for the 2007–08 financial year was up 4% to $19.49 billion (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics), the absence of a successful export-oriented manufacturing industry, an Australian property bubble, and high levels of net foreign debt owed by the private sector. Professor Steve Keen has written extensively about consumer/household indebtedness and the level of home prices relative to income. Increasing levels of government debt triggered by federal government spending are an emerging public policy issue.

Australian national debt

In the late 19th century, Australia's economic strength relative to the rest of the world was reflected in its GDP. In 1870, Australia had the highest GDP per capita in the world due to economic growth fuelled by its natural resources. However, as Australia's population grew rapidly over the 20th century, its GDP per capita dropped relative to countries such as the US and Norway. However, the Australian economy has been performing nominally better than other economies of the OECD and has supported economic growth for over 20 consecutive years.[103] According to the Reserve Bank of Australia, Australian per capita GDP growth is higher than that of New Zealand, US, Canada and The Netherlands.[104] The past performance of the Australian economy has been heavily influenced by US, Japanese and Chinese economic growth.

In the second half of the 20th century, Australian trade shifted away from Europe and North America to Japan and other East Asian markets. Regional franchising businesses, now a $128 billion sector, have been operating co-branded sites overseas for years with new investors coming from Western Australia and Queensland.[102]

Australian exports in 2006.
Australia Export Treemap by Product (2012) from Harvard Atlas of Economic Complexity

Trade and economic performance

The Australian economy is dependent on imported crude oil and petroleum products, the economy's petroleum import dependency is around 80% – crude oil + petroleum products.[101]

Australian renewable power plants




University attendance in Australia is expensive, particularly in comparison to other developed nations such as the New Zealand, Canada, France and the United Kingdom.[100]

In the Catholic education accounts for the largest non-government sector.

In 2004, the average educational acquirement of the adult population in OECD countries was 11.9 years. This is based on the duration of formal educational programmes. Australia ranked relatively highly in the study, with the population recording slightly over 12 years in education, ranking similarly to many European countries such as Sweden, Ireland and Poland. Australia was, however, outperformed by Canada, Germany and the United States—which all measured close to 14 years in education.[99]

School attendance is compulsory in Australia, from the age of 5 up until approximately 16 (although it varies between each state and territory).[97] Australia also has an adult literacy rate that was estimated to be 99% in 2003.[98]


In 2011–12, Australia was ranked 30th out of 179 countries in accordance to press freedom. Media is a strong industry in Australia, with Fairfax Media and News Corporation representing two of the countries largest media companies.


In the financial year 2010–11, the tourism industry represented 2.5% of Australia's GDP, at a value of about $35 billion to the national economy – equivalent to $94.8 million a day to the Australian economy.[96] Domestic tourism is a significant part of the tourism industry, and was responsible for 73% of the total direct tourism GDP.[96] The 2010–11 financial year saw a record number of overseas arrivals in the financial year, with 5.9 million short-term visitor arrivals to Australia (588 extra visitors a day).[96] Tourism employed 513,700 people in Australia in 2010–11, of which 43.7% were part-time. Tourism also contributed 8.0% of Australia's total export earnings in 2010–11.[96]

Monthly short-term arrivals in Australia since 1991


Between 1991 and 2013, 36,720 mergers and acquisitions with a total known value of US$2,040 billion with the involvement of Australian firms have been announced.[94] In the year 2013, 1,515 transactions valued at US$78 billion had been announced which was a decrease in terms of numbers (−18%) and value (−11%) compared to 2012. The largest takeover or merger transaction involving Australian companies was the 2007 takeover of the Coles Group by Wesfarmers, totalling A$22 billion.[95]

Australia's four 'Big Banks' are among the 'World's 50 Safest Banks' as of April 2012.[93] The four largest banks in Australia are also known as the "Big Four".


IT related jobs (such as computer system design and engineering) are defined as Professional, Scientific and Technical Services by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations of Australia. IT job creation occurs mostly in the state capital cities of Australia.[92]


Agriculture contributes 3% of Australia's GDP at the farm gate and when value-added processing beyond the farm is included this figure rises to 12%.[26] 60% of farm products are exported. Irrigation is an important and widespread practice for a country where many parts receive low rainfall.


The manufacturing industry in Australia has declined from 30% of GDP in the 1960s to 12% of GDP in 2007.[91]


Australia's Argyle mine is the second largest diamond mine in the world estimated to produce 12.6 million carats in 2014, worth over $500 million. Argyle is known for producing some of the worlds most valuable fancy pink and red diamonds.

Coal is mined primarily in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. 54% of the coal mined in Australia is exported, mostly to East Asia. In 2000/01, 258.5 million tonnes of coal was mined, and 193.6 million tonnes exported. Coal provides about 85% of Australia's electricity production.[88] In fiscal year 2008/09, 487 million tonnes of coal was mined, and 261 million tonnes exported.[89] Australia is the world's leading coal exporter.[90]

Australian energy resources and major export ports map



Gross operating profits across all industries since 1994 ($millions/quarter)


Rank States Unemployment rate (ABS, August 2013)
1  Tasmania 8.3%[80]
2  South Australia 6.8%[81]
3  Queensland 6.0%[82]
4  New South Wales 5.9%[83]
5  Victoria 5.7%[84]
6  Northern Territory 5.5%[85]
7  Western Australia 5.0%[86]
8  Australian Capital Territory 3.7%[87]

States and territories ranked by unemployment rates

The accuracy of official unemployment figures has been brought into question in the Australian media due to discrepancies between the methods of different research bodies (Roy Morgan versus the ABS), differing definitions of the term 'unemployed' and the ABS' practice of counting under-employed people as "employed".[78][79]

Data released in mid-November 2013 showed that the number of welfare recipients had grown by 55%. In 2007 228,621 Newstart unemployment allowance recipients were registered, a total that increased to 646,414 in March 2013.[77]

[76] The percentage of Australians who were either unemployed or underemployed was estimated to be 17.5% (2.1 million), while over 2 million workers, or about 40% of the Australian workforce, were estimated to be in part-time or casual employment.[75] According to

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the unemployment rate in September 2013 was 5.8%. The youth unemployment rate (15 to 24 years) was 11.6% and the teenage unemployment rate (15- to 19 years) was 27.6%.[74]

The number of job vacancies (thousands) since 1979
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate since 1978


In 2000, a goods and services tax (GST) was introduced, similar to the European-style VAT.

Local governments (called councils in Australia) have their own taxes (called rates) to enable them to provide services such as local road repairs, local planning and building management, garbage collection, street cleaning, park maintenance services, libraries, and museums. Councils also rely on state and federal funding to provide infrastructure and services such as roads, bridges, sporting facilities and buildings, aged care, maternal and child health, and childcare.

Consequently, Australia has one of the most pronounced vertical fiscal imbalances in the world: the states and territories collect just 18% of all governmental revenues but are responsible for almost 50% of the spending areas. Furthermore, the centralisation of revenue collection has allowed Canberra to force state policy in areas well beyond the scope of its constitutional powers, by using the grants power (s.96) to mandate the terms on which the states spend money in areas over which the it has no power (such as spending on education, health and policing).

Since the Second Uniform Tax Case, a number of other political and legal decisions have centralised fiscal power with the Commonwealth. In Ha vs. New South Wales (1997), the High Court found that the Business Franchise Licences (Tobacco) Act 1987 (NSW) was invalid because it levied a customs duty, a power exercisable only by the Commonwealth (s.90). This decision effectively invalidated state taxes on cigarettes, alcohol and petrol. Similarly, the imposition of a Commonwealth goods and services tax (GST) in 2000 transferred another revenue base to the Commonwealth.

The Second Uniform Tax Case (Victoria v Commonwealth (1957)) reaffirmed the court's earlier decision and confirmed the power of the federal government's power to make s. 96 grants conditionally (in this case, a grant made on the condition that the recipient state does not levy income tax).

The states rejected Canberra's regime and challenged the legislation's validity in the First Uniform Tax Case (South Australia v Commonwealth) of 1942. The High Court of Australia held that each of the statutes establishing Commonwealth income tax was a valid use of the s. 51(ii) power, in which Latham CJ noted that the system did not undermine essential state functions and imposed only economic and political pressure upon them.

The states effectively lost the ability to raise income tax during the Second World War. In 1942, Canberra invoked its Constitutional taxation power (s. 51 (ii)) and enacted the Income Tax Act and three other statutes to levy a uniform income tax across the country. These acts sought to raise the funds necessary to meet burgeoning wartime expenses and reduce the unequal tax burden between the states by replacing state income taxes with a centralised tax system. The legislation could not expressly prohibit state income taxes (s. 51(ii) does not curtail the power of states to levy taxes) but the federal government's proposal made localised income tax extremely difficult politically. The federal government offered instead compensatory grants authorised by s. 96 of the Constitution for the loss of state income (State Grants (Income Tax Reimbursement) Act 1942).

Besides receipts of funds from the federal government, states and territories have their own taxes, in many cases as sightly different rates. State taxes commonly include payroll tax levied on businesses, a poker-machine tax on businesses that offer gambling services, land tax on people and businesses that own land and most significantly, stamp duty on sales of land (in every state) and other items (chattels in some states, unlisted shares in others, and even sales of contracts in some states).

Taxation in Australia is levied at the federal, state, and local government levels. The federal government raises revenue from personal income taxes and business taxes. Other taxes include the goods and services tax (General Service Tax), excise and customs duties. The federal government is the main source of income for state governments. As a result of state dependence on federal taxation revenue to meet decentralised expenditure responsibilities, Australia is said to have a vertical fiscal imbalance.

Quarterly taxation revenue ($millions) since 1959.


Much of the economic growth in Australia is attributed to areas of the country where mining- and resource-based industries and services are mostly located. Western Australia and the Northern Territory are the only states that have economic growth.[57][58][59] During 2012 and 2013 Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria have had recessions.[57][60][61][62][63][64] The Australian economy is characterised as a "two-speed economy".[65][66][67][68][69][70][71] From June 2012 to March 2013 Victoria has had a recession. In 2012 the Government of Victoria cut 10% of all jobs in the public service.[72][73]

Regional differences

The services sector has grown considerably, with property and business services in particular growing from 10% to 14.5% of GDP over the same period, making it the largest single component of GDP (in sectoral terms). This growth has largely been at the expense of the manufacturing sector, which in 2006–07 accounted for around 12% of GDP. A decade earlier, it was the largest sector in the economy, accounting for just over 15% of GDP.[56]

In the past decade, one of the most significant sectoral trends in the economy has been the growth (in relative terms) of the mining sector (including petroleum). In terms of contribution to GDP, this sector grew from around 4.5% in 1993–94, to almost 8% in 2006–07.

Rich in natural resources, Australia is a major exporter of agricultural products, particularly wheat and wool, minerals such as iron ore and gold, and energy in the forms of liquified natural gas and coal. Although agriculture and natural resources constitute only 3% and 5% of GDP, respectively, they contribute substantially to export performance. Australia's largest export markets are Japan, China, South Korea, India and the US.[55]

Inflation has typically been 2–3% and the base interest rate 5–6%. The service sector of the economy, including tourism, education and financial services, constitutes 69% of GDP.[53] Australian National University in Canberra also provides a probabilistic interest-rate-setting project for the Australian economy, which is compiled by shadow board members from the ANU academic staff.[54]

The emphasis on exporting commodities rather than manufactures has underpinned a significant increase in Australia's terms of trade during the rise in commodity prices since 2000. Australia's current account is about 2.6% of GDP negative: Australia has had persistently large current account deficits for more than 50 years.[35]

According to the 2011 Credit Suisse Global Wealth report, Australia has a median wealth of US$222,000 ($217,559), the highest in the world and nearly four times the amount of each US adult.[40] The proportion of those with wealth above US$100,000 is the highest of any country – eight times the world average.[40] Average wealth was $US397,000, the world's second-highest after Switzerland.[52]

Australia's per-capita GDP is higher than that of the UK, Germany, and France in terms of purchasing power parity. Per Capita GDP (PPP) Australia is ranked fifth in the world (IMF 2011). The country was ranked second in the United Nations 2011 Human Development Index and sixth in The Economist worldwide quality-of-life index 2005.[50][51] Australia's sovereign credit rating is "AAA", higher than the United States of America.

Australia's annual inflation rate (percentage change in CPI) since 1949.


Despite various global recessions, Australia has recorded 21 years of consistent economic growth with no recessions.[49]

Australia was identified by the Credit Suisse Research Institute as the nation with the second-highest average wealth per adult in 2013.[47] According to a report released in October 2013, the nation's poverty rate increased from 10.2 per cent to 11.8 per cent, from 2000/01 to 2013.[47][48]

[46] Conversely, Philip Lowe, a senior Reserve Bank official has said that the Australian economy appears to be doing "pretty well".[45][44] in October 2012, warned that there is risk of recession in Australia in 2013.Societe Generale in August 2012, and Deutsche Bank [43]

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