Red kangaroos in the Northern Territory
Australia is both the world's smallest continent and the sixth largest country with a land area of 7,682,300 square kilometres (2,966,152 square miles). It is comparable in size to the 48 contiguous although it has less than one tenth the population, with the distances between cities and towns easy to underestimate. Australia is bordered to the west by the Indian Ocean, and to the east by the South Pacific Ocean. The Tasman Sea lies to the southeast, separating it from , while the Coral Sea lies to the northeast. , and are Australia's northern neighbours, separated from Australia by the Arafura Sea and the Timor Sea.
Australia is highly urbanised with most of the population heavily concentrated along the eastern and south-eastern coasts. Most of the inland areas of the country are semi-arid. The most-populous states are and , but by far the largest in land area is .
Australia has large areas that have been deforested for agricultural purposes, but many native forest areas survive in extensive national parks and other undeveloped areas. Long-term Australian concerns include salinity, pollution, loss of biodiversity, and management and conservation of coastal areas, especially the Great Barrier Reef.
As a large continent a wide variation of climates are found across Australia. Most of the country receives more than 3,000 hours of sunshine a year. Generally, the north is hot and tropical, while the south tends to sub-tropical and temperate. Most rainfall is around the coast, and much of the centre is and . The daytime maximum temperatures in the tropical city of rarely drop below 30°C (86°F), even in winter, while night temperatures in winter usually hover around 15-20°C (59-68°F). Australian winters tend to be milder than those at similar latitudes in the northern hemisphere, and snow never falls in most parts of the country. Temperatures in high altitude areas of some southern regions can drop below freezing in winter (and sometimes even in the summer) and the Snowy Mountains in the South East experiences metres of winter snow. Parts of have a temperature range very similar to , and it is not unheard of for snow to fall in the summer in some mountainous regions of the state.
As Australia is in the southern hemisphere the winter is June–August while December–February is summer. The winter is the dry season in the tropics, and the summer is the wet. In the southern parts of the country, the seasonal temperature variation is greater. The rainfall is more evenly distributed throughout the year in the southern parts of the East Coast, while in the rest of the south beyond the , the summers are dry with the bulk of the rainfall occurring in winter.
Australia has a prosperous Western-style capitalist economy, with a per capita GDP with other advanced economies.
The service industries, including tourism, education, and financial services, account for the majority of the Australian Gross Domestic Product – about 69%. Within the service sector, tourism is one of the most important industries in Australia, as it provides employment, contributes $73 billion to the economy each year and accounts for at least 11% of total exports.
Primary industry - mining and agriculture - has accounted for most of Australia's exports in recent decades. Iron Ore and Coal are by far the largest exports, along with wheat, beef and wool. The mining sector is extremely sensitive to global demand for iron ore, with events in the Chinese and Indian economies having direct impacts.
Australia has a comprehensive social security system, and a minimum wage higher than the United States or the United Kingdom. Due to a lack of supply, tradesmen are extremely well-paid in Australia, often more so than white collar professionals.
Australia has a multicultural population practising almost every religion and lifestyle. Over one-quarter of Australians were born outside Australia, and another quarter have at least one foreign-born parent. The most multicultural cities are Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. All three cities are renowned for the variety and quality of global foods available in their many restaurants, and Melbourne especially promotes itself as a centre for the arts, while Brisbane promotes itself through various, multicultural urban villages. Adelaide is known for being a centre for festivals as well as German cultural influences, while Perth is known for its food and wine culture, pearls, gems and precious metals as well as the international fringe arts festival. Smaller rural settlements generally still reflect a majority Anglo-Celtic culture often with a small Aboriginal population. However, virtually every large Australian city and town reflects the immigration from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific that occurred after World War II and continued into the 1970s; in the half century after the war Australia's population boomed from roughly 7 million to just over 20 million people.
Parliament House in Canberra
Australia has a federal system of government, with eight state and territory governments and a national government. Laws vary slightly from state to state, but are for the most part fairly uniform.
The national parliament is based on the British Westminster system, with some elements being drawn from the American congressional system. At the federal level it consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives. Each Member of the House of Representatives (colloquially known as a Member of Parliament (MP)) represents an electoral division, with more populous states having more electoral divisions and hence, more MP's. On the other hand, similar to the US Senate, each Australian state has an equal number of senators, with 12 senators being directly elected by the people in each state, and 2 senators each from the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory. The Prime Minister is head of the national government, and is the leader of the political party (or coalition of parties) which has the most Members in the House of Representatives.
Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is also Queen of Australia and the head of state, and is represented in Australia by the Governor-General. As recently as 1975, the Governor-General was able to dismiss the incumbent government and then-Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, although this proved highly controversial and by convention now rarely exercises powers without ministerial advice. A referendum to change Australia to a republic was defeated in 1999 (the idea to replace the Queen with a political appointee wasn't to the liking of most Australians). Republicanism in Australia remains a regular conversation point, albeit low on the list of real priorities.
State and territory governments are organised similarly to the national government with a state parliament serving as the legislature and the Premier (Chief Minister in the territories) serving as the head of the state government. There is also an additional Governor for each state serving as the Queen's representative in a mostly ceremonial role.
The two major political parties in Australia are the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party, which operates in coalition with the National Party (referred to as just the "Coalition"). There are smaller parties such as the Greens, as well as independents. The Liberal Party is a centre-right conservative party, with the term liberal referring to a free market economy.