The traditional underpopulation of Australia is fading, thanks to a positive demographic trend that continued throughout the second half of the century. 20th: at the 1996 census there were 17,889,100 residents, which in 1998, according to a UN estimate, had risen to 18. 520. 000. The average density remains very low (just over 2 residents / km ²), but sufficient critical mass has now been reached to guarantee a vital internal market for a large part of the productions. Australia maintains a positive population growth rate (13 ‰ annual average in the period 1990 -97), albeit slightly down in recent years. The increase is mainly due to the surplus of births (14, 1 ‰ in 1996) over deaths (6.9 ‰); On the other hand, the share due to immigration has been reduced, almost zero from European countries, while that from South and East Asia is, by traditional political choice, contained within modest limits: overall, immigration in the 1990s involved 75,000 ÷ 85. Approximately 000 people per year.
The profound discrepancy that characterizes the human occupation of the Australian territory remains, nor is it conceivable that it could, in the future, change fundamentally: about three quarters of the total population live in the three eastern states of Queensland, Victoria and especially New Wales of the South and, in particular, in the maritime belt which also hosts the main urban centers. Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, in continuous growth in their respective metropolitan areas, together welcome almost 9 million residents, and it is not surprising that the urban population of the country reaches 85 % of the total (1997), especially since Adelaide and Perth they have largely exceeded one million residents.
Constant population growth is reducing the structural difficulties of Australia’s economy. Always linked to the production of mining and agricultural raw materials, the Australian economy continues to be based mainly on the production, on the one hand, of iron, bauxite, coal, hydrocarbons (and various other useful minerals) and, on the other, of meat., wool and cereals. By virtue of a series of refinements in extraction methods, primary processing, land and sea transport, Australian mineral products today compete competitively in markets around the world, including European ones, even if the majority of exports concern, of course, Southeast Asia and Japan: Asian countries absorb about 60% by value of Australian exports and supply about 40% of imports. Other productions (iron and steel, engineering, chemicals) have also begun to be exported since the 1980s, while a consumer goods industry has developed (which now accounts for about a third of exports): the latter is affected by competition from countries Asian (mainly Japan) and North American ones, however it has been able to progress equally, at least in some sectors (motor vehicles, paper, food, rubber, plastics), thanks to the fact that the increase in population and spending capacity have made mass production convenient, thus allowing the achievement of those economies of scale in the past precluded by the modesty of local consumption. On the other hand, the to.
According to Smber, the industry workers were, in 1975, the 33, 7 % of the total labor force, 27, 6 % in 1985 and just 22, 5 % in 1996 ; while, at the same time, the employees in the tertiary sector were, on the same dates, 59, 4 %, 66, 2 % and 72, 4 % (agricultural employees also decreased, but in a much more contained way, settling on 5, 1 % in 1996). The productivity of the sectors seems to be increasing sharply for industry, but not so much for services; however, the growth of the economy as a whole marked positive trends throughout the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s.
The process of outsourcing was combined with that of privatization and further liberalization of the Australian economic system, in line with the trends of other Western-type economies: between the end of the 1980s and the mid-1990s, a substantial series of credit companies, many manufacturing enterprises, the national airline and so on.
Among the less positive consequences of the ongoing process, it should be noted the increase in the unemployment rate (8, 7 % in 1997, since which was not unlike the one that exists in other industrialized countries) and above all the consequent worsening conditions of life of a substantial part of the Australian population (over 2 million Australians in 1994lived below the poverty line), aggravated by a restrictive economic policy that hit the less well off. Furthermore, the Australia went through a non-positive financial phase, with a sharp increase in the budget deficit (progressively, in recent years, in the process of being reabsorbed) and a certain inflationary tension, also kept under control, so much so that the inflation rate has risen again. low values (2.6 % in 1996).
With all this, per capita GDP reached (1997) $ 20,540 per year. Overall, the Australian economy retains, and indeed has strengthened, its potential, and the negative episodes recorded in the early 1990s are rather due to unfavorable economic phases. From this point of view, it is also necessary to underline the relative vulnerability of the economic structure to particular phenomena, sometimes linked to the dynamics of international commodity markets, sometimes of internal origin. We can recall the crisis that threatens the mining and livestock sectors since (1993) the traditional property rights claimed by the Aboriginal communities of Australia (definitively confirmed in 1996): in the areas of residual settlement of the aborigines (mainly in the Northern Territory) huge mineral resources have been put in value, while the systematic exploitation of natural pastures has been underway for some time. These activities were carried out considering the land as res nullius and therefore without additional costs for the entrepreneur; making the aboriginal communities the holders of specific property rights, which entrepreneurs interested in the exploitation of the land must compensate, will increase costs to the point (according to some) that economic activity is no longer profitable.
Another extra-economic phenomenon, but with heavy repercussions, is the water crisis which periodically worsens throughout the area of the great artesian basin, where the water table is constantly reducing and the salinization of the land is increasing: when the of rainwater is below average, the extraction of the aquifer increases and the environmental limits of Australian agriculture and livestock become evident. Still other events have been able to provoke dangerous conjunctures: such as sudden increases, which cyclically affect the population of wild rabbits (over 200 millions of animals, a plurisecular plague for Australian agriculture) and, at the same time, that of carnivores (in turn dangerous for livestock); or like the effects of the catastrophic fire that struck the outskirts of Sydney in the austral summer of 1994, destroying about 4000 km ² of forests, fields, houses and productive settlements.
The perspective in which the to. is that of strengthening the advanced tertiary sector that allows it to assume a position of reference for the countries of South-East Asia.
The country’s efforts in the political-diplomatic field have been going in the same direction for some time now, in an attempt to enhance the geopolitical position and to make the to. the pole of an integrated development area of the South Pacific, distinct from, if not opposed to, that of the North Pacific over which Japan and the United States compete for hegemony. The increased commitment of cooperation that the Australia has been unfolding since the Eighties towards the countries of South-East Asia is particularly significant, in terms of both territorial and demographic effects, since the Australia it seems to have chosen the path of collaboration also to prevent the demographic pressure originating from those countries from becoming unsustainable, forcing it to open up more widely to Asian immigration.
The good neighborly relations maintained with Indonesia, for example, have resulted in the rapid delimitation of the respective bands of exclusive competence over marine waters and the continental shelf, even at the cost of neglecting certain diplomatic implications deriving from the condition of the Indonesian regions of Irian Jaya and East Timor (for which the international community accuses Indonesia of serious violations of human rights). However, the Australian application for entry into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was not (1997) accepted. In the states of the Indochinese Peninsula, the Australian economic commitment grew strongly during the 1990s, bringing the country to the top of foreign investors; while with regard to the southern Pacific area (in agreement with New Zealand), the Australia is carrying out a policy both of support and penetration in the economic field, and of protection in the political-international field, as was evident on the occasion of the resumption of French nuclear tests in the Pacific (1995 – 96), to which the Australia it opposed it like the other states in the region.
Although relations with the United States and Europe are not, on the whole, in question, the evolution of Australian geopolitics seems to aim not only to increase and differentiate its political-economic relations, but also to progressively oust the external powers from the area. of the Pacific, taking the lead in development.