Australia is a wealthy country with a market economy, a relatively high GDP per capita, and a relatively low rate of poverty. In terms of average wealth, Australia ranked second in the world after Switzerland in 2013, and the nation's poverty rate increased from 10.2 per cent to 11.8 per cent, from 2000/01 to 2013.
Ranked third in the Index of Economic Freedom (2010), Australia is the world's twelfth largest economy and has the fifth highest per capita GDP (nominal) at $66,984. The country was ranked second in the United Nations 2011 Human Development Index and first in Legatum's 2008 Prosperity Index. All of Australia's major cities fare well in global comparative livability surveys; Melbourne reached first place on The Economist's 2011 and 2012 world's most livable cities lists, followed by Sydney, Perth, and Adelaide in sixth, eighth, and ninth place respectively. Total government debt in Australia is about $190 billion.
Australia was the only advanced economy not to experience a recession due to the global financial downturn in 2008–2009. However, the economies of six of Australia's major trading partners have been in recession, which in turn has affected Australia, significantly hampering its economic growth in recent years. From 2012 to early 2013, Australia's national economy grew, but some non-mining states and Australia's non-mining economy experienced a recession.
In May 2012, there were 11,537,900 people employed (either full- or part-time), with an unemployment rate of 5.1%. Youth unemployment (15–24) stood at 11.2%.
Over the past decade, inflation has typically been 2–3% and the base interest rate 5–6%. 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 account for only 3% and 5% of GDP respectively, they contribute substantially to export performance. Australia's largest export markets are Japan, China, the US, South Korea, and New Zealand.
Australia is an outstanding producer of primary products. The country is self-sufficient in almost all foodstuffs and is a major exporter of wool, meat, dairy products, and wheat. Wool has been a staple of the economy since the colonial period, and it was important to the development of agriculture as the country’s largest industry. Manufacturing grew rapidly between the 1940s and 1970s, and mining became a leading sector in the economy during the 1960s. In recent decades, the value of exports from the manufacturing and mining sectors has exceeded that of the agricultural sector. This is due in part to increased demand among Australia’s principal trading partners, particularly Japan, for mineral ores, to fluctuating demand on world markets for agricultural products, and to fierce competition from heavily subsidized agricultural producers in the United States and Europe. An increasing focus on services and high-tech industries has also helped to diversify and modernize the Australian economy.
In 2013 the estimated annual federal budget was a total of A$398.3 billion. According to Swan the budget was being impacted by both global economic uncertainty and the high Australian dollar. It features significant spending on disability services and a school improvement program. In an unusual step the election year budget contains 10-year forward estimates for the school and disability programs in an attempt to ensure funding is available. The budget was described as big spending but low taxing.
Under the Australian constitution, government regulates relations between employers and employees. Workers receive unemployment and sickness benefits, compensation for job-incurred injuries, basic wages and marginal awards, and general social and health benefits. A basic, or minimum, wage was established by law in 1907. In 2013 the minimum wage in Australia was about A$ 16 an hour.
The unit of currency in Australia is the Australian dollar, divided into 100 cents and coined in 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1, and $2 pieces (A$1.54 equals U.S.$1; 2003 average). The Australian dollar is freely traded on international currency markets.
Despite the great expansion in mining and manufacturing after 1940, the prosperity of much of the country continues to reflect the historical importance of livestock raising and crop farming. Unlike most of its closest international competitors, Australian agriculture does not rely on government subsidies and protection.
The livestock industry was established in the early days of settlement, when the first Spanish merino sheep were introduced from South Africa. The industry was a significant factor in Australian economic and historical development. Nonetheless, Australia remains the world’s largest wool producer and exporter, particularly of fine merino types. Australia usually produces more than 25 percent of the world’s yearly output of wool.
Although only 6 percent of the total area of Australia is under crop or fodder production, this acreage is of great economic importance. Wheat crops occupy about 50 percent of cultivated acreage, and barley, grain sorghum, oats, rice, maize, and grain lupines occupy about 27 percent. The bulk of the wheat crop is grown in the southeastern and southwestern regions of the country. Many types of fruit are grown, including grapes, oranges, apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, and a wide array of tropical fruits, including bananas and pineapples.
The mining industry, long an important factor in the social and economic growth of Australia, continues to hold great promise for the future development of the country. The gold discoveries of the 1850s were responsible for the first big wave of free immigration and for the settlement of some inland areas. The mining sector has expanded significantly since the 1970s, with major discoveries of iron ore, petroleum, coal, and natural gas. Today, Australia is self-sufficient in most minerals of economic significance, and in several cases is among the world’s leading producers. The minerals industry in general is the country’s largest export earner, and the country is a leading supplier of mineral resources to international markets.
Tourism grew rapidly in the late 20th century, and it now represents one of the most dynamic sectors in the Australian economy, accounting for more than 500,000 jobs in the late 1990s. The strong growth in domestic tourism has tapped the expanding range of attractions in each state and territory—amusement and theme parks, zoos, art galleries and museums, certain mines and factories, national parks, historic sites, and wineries. Some of the most popular attractions are Queensland’s spectacular Great Barrier Reef, the Northern Territory’s Kakadu National Park, and the famous beach resorts in the Brisbane, Cairns, and Sydney regions.