Economy - overview: Australia has a prosperous Western-style capitalist economy, with a per capita GDP at the level of the four dominant West European economies; its developed market economy is dominated by its services sector (65% of GDP), yet it is the agricultural and mining sectors (7% of GDP combined) that account for the bulk (58%) of Australia's goods and services exports. Rich in natural resources, Australia is a major exporter of agricultural products, minerals, metals, and fossil fuels. Commodities account for 57% of the value of total exports, so that a downturn in world commodity prices can have a big impact on the economy. The government is pushing for increased exports of manufactured goods, but competition in international markets continues to be severe. Australia's comparative advantage in primary products is a reflection of the natural wealth of the Australian Continent and its small domestic market; 19 million people occupy a continent the size of the contiguous United States. The relative size of the manufacturing sector has been declining for several decades, and now accounts for just under 12 percent of GDP.
Australia commenced a basic reorientation of its economy more than 16 years ago and has transformed itself from an inward looking, import-substitution country to an internationally competitive, export-oriented one. Key reforms include unilaterally reducing high tariffs and other protective barriers; floating the Australian dollar exchange rate; deregulating the financial services sector-- including a decision in late 1992 to allow liberal access for foreign bank branches; rationalizing and reducing the number of trade unions; efforts to restructure the highly centralized system of industrial relations and labor bargaining; better integrating the State economies into a national federal system; improving and standardizing the national infrastructure; and privatizing many government-owned services and public utilities.
The ultimate goal is for Australia to become a competitive producer and exporter, not just of traditional farm and mineral commodities, but of a diversified mix of value-added manufactured products, services, and technologies. While progress has been made on this economic reform agenda--such as in opening the telecommunications market to competition--much remains to be done, particularly in the domestic arena.
While the near-term outlook is for continued economic expansion, Australia's longer term prospects depend heavily on continued fundamental economic reform. There is a general consensus among the major political parties, management, and labor on the necessary features of this reform but significant divergence of views on the methods, pace, and degree of change required.
Australia recorded economic growth over 1999 of 4.3%, founded for the third year running on strong domestic demand--thanks to a combination of low interest rates, low inflation, and rising asset prices. The economy is expected to downshift a gear over 2000-2001, as the composition of growth in gross domestic product moves away from domestic demand to exports and fiscal stimulus. The fiscal boost mentioned stems from the Australian Government's reform of the taxation system (to take effect in July 2000), granting substantial cuts in personal income tax in exchange for the introduction of a broad-based consumption tax.
GDP: purchasing power parity - $416.2 billion (1999 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 4.3% (1999 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $22,200 (1999 est.)
GDP - composition by sector:
services: 71% (1998 est.)
Population below poverty line: NA%
Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: 2.5%
highest 10%: 24.8% (1989)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 1.8% (1999 est.)
Labor force: 8.9 million (December 1999)
Labor force - by occupation: services 73%, industry 22%, agriculture 5% (1997 est.)
Unemployment rate: 7.5% (1999)
revenues: $90.73 billion
expenditures: $89.04 billion, including capital expenditures of $NA (FY98/99 est.)
Industries: mining, industrial and transportation equipment, food processing, chemicals, steel
Industrial production growth rate: 1.5% (1999 est.)
Electricity - production: 186.387 billion kWh (1998)
Electricity - production by source:
fossil fuel: 89.85%
other: 1.8% (1998)
Electricity - consumption: 173.34 billion kWh (1998)
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (1998)
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (1998)
Agriculture - products: wheat, barley, sugarcane, fruits; cattle, sheep, poultry
Exports: $58 billion (f.o.b., 1999 est.)
Exports - commodities: coal, gold, meat, wool, alumina, iron ore, wheat, machinery and transport equipment
Exports - partners: Japan 20%, EU 14%, ASEAN 11%, US 10%, South Korea, NZ, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China (1998)
Imports: $67 billion (f.o.b., 1999 est.)
Imports - commodities: machinery and transport equipment, computers and office machines, telecommunication equipment and parts; crude oil and petroleum products
Imports - partners: EU 24%, US 22%, Japan 14%, ASEAN 12% (1998)
Debt - external: $222 billion (1999)
Economic aid - donor: ODA, $1.43 billion (FY97/98)
Currency: 1 Australian dollar ($A) = 100 cents
Exchange rates: Australian dollars ($A) per US$1 - 1.52068 (January 2000), 1.5497 (1999), 1.5888 (1998), 1.3439 (1997), 1.2773 (1996), 1.3486 (1995)
Fiscal year: 1 July - 30 June