Australia, credit cards, discretionary expenditure, downturn, economic downturn, economy, education, employment, fiscal policy, GDP, gross domestic product, investment portfolio, monetary policy, mortgage, Queensland, recession, superannuation
(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone; written in 2009 but still relevant)
The downturn in the world economy has affected just about everyone. Here in Queensland, Australia, economic conditions have deteriorated but not to the extent seen in the US, Europe, and some Asian countries. This is probably because the state’s economic fundamentals are sound. However, being a small player, we are certainly not immune from what is happening in the major economies.
Initially, we thought we would ride out the economic slump and not go into recession ourselves. This forecast has now been revised, and Queensland and Australia may be heading toward a mild recession (update – it didn’t happen). Gross domestic product was steady in September quarter 2008 and fell 0.1% in December quarter. Queensland state final demand grew 0.6% and 0.3% respectively in these quarters. These figures are considerably better than in many countries. Consumer price growth is steady. Housing prices have only fallen slightly. The drought has broken. We haven’t had banking and insurance company collapses. However, unemployment is up and job advertisements are down.
The state and national economies are being boosted by monetary and fiscal measures. Australia’s Reserve Bank has reduced the cash rate from 7.25% to 3.25% since September 2008. On the fiscal side, cash hand-outs of $1,400 to pensioners in November 2008, and $900 to single income families as well as to most other taxpayers and for each child in March and April 2009, will boost the economy.
As in any downturn, there are winners and losers. With the slump in export markets to Asia, Queensland’s mining towns are doing it tough. More than 10,000 mining jobs have been lost in Australia since mid 2008, with perhaps a quarter to a third of these are in Queensland. Further losses are expected. Manufacturing and tourism are also suffering employment cuts. The retail industry varies. Public sector jobs can be attractive in bad times. A public servant with a mortgage will most likely be better off now than before the downturn. Job applications in government sectors such as police, health, fire and ambulance have increased significantly as people seek safe jobs.
There are a number of things people can do to help get through the recession. An important one is to pay off credit cards and to keep the balances as low as possible. Shop around for better deals on credit cards. Similarly, people with a mortgage should aim to pay it off as soon as they can. It’s amazing how much you can save by making half your monthly repayment each fortnight, or by paying off extra amounts from time to time. With low interest rates, now is the time to reduce that loan. Also, make sure your home loan offers good value.
Review your superannuation. Fund values have plummeted due to stock market and property price falls, and people now find themselves having to work another few years or even coming out of retirement. Some sources say to consider cash rather than super. Cash won’t fall in value like super can, but it won’t rise like super probably will when the economy picks up again. If you do prefer cash, good rates can still be obtained on a term deposit. It can be a good idea to build up a cash reserve in case you lose your job. And gold is always a good investment.
Look at your investment portfolio. In a downturn, the best companies to invest in are the so-called recession proof businesses such as those whose products or services are regarded as necessities or whose demand doesn’t fall off. These are usually food and drink manufacturers, including alcohol, as well as those making basic clothing, household goods, and cosmetics. Web businesses should see continued strong growth.
Reduce discretionary expenditure. In other words, don’t buy things you don’t have to buy. Eat out less. Keep the old car another year or two. Make do with your 20 or 30 changes of clothes. Cut back on movies and CDs. Buy books instead; these take longer to get through than a film and are often cheaper, especially if second-hand. Buying music online can be cheaper and easier than purchasing CDs. One of the anomalies of a recession is that you will want to spend less while the government wants you to spend more.
Consider your employment opportunities. Is the company you work for recession proof? There are various sectors of the economy where your job will be safer than other areas. Health care is always in high demand and won’t suffer because of a weak economy, especially with an aging population. Education services will continue their strong growth, with more people studying and for longer. In fact, a recession may be a good time to return to education and learn new skills. The need for police and other providers of emergency services will continue to grow. The energy industry will thrive, including alternative energy sources.
In the end, how well you cope with a recession is largely up to you. Review your expenditure, loans, credit cards, job, investments, and superannuation, and do what is best for you. When the economy picks up, which it will, keep reviewing these things. Remember that as a general rule, the longer the boom times last, the bigger the eventual downturn. Plan accordingly.
Abel Tasman, Aborigines, Adelaide, Australia, Australian Colonies Government Act, Australian Constitution, Brisbane, bush fires, Captain James Cook, climate, currency, desert, drought, economy, education, federation, floods, geography, gold, government, Great Artesian Basin, Great Barrier Reef, Great Dividing Range, history, Hobart, industries, language, Melbourne, people, Perth, rainfall, religion, Sydney, taxation, temperature, Western Shield, White Australia Policy, Willem Janszoon, World War I, World War II
(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)
Here are some essential facts about Australia for those who live in the country, intend to move there or are thinking of moving there, or want to visit the country. The facts presented here are divided into several broad categories: geography, climate, history, government, the people, and the economy.
Australia is located to the south of eastern Asia, between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world’s sixth largest country after Russia, Canada, the United States, China, and Brazil, with a land area of nearly three million square miles. The country is entirely surrounded by sea, has over 21,000 miles of coastline, and is usually regarded as a continent. It is the oldest, flattest, and driest country. Most of Australia is desert or semi-desert, although forests cover eighteen per cent of the country. Due to Australia’s age, climatic extremes, and isolation, much of the country’s fauna and flora is unique. More than four-fifths of its mammals and plants and nearly half of its birds are not found elsewhere.
The largest geographical feature is the Western Shield, basically the desert area covering much of Western Australia, Northern Territory, and South Australia. To its east is the Great Artesian Basin, extending through much of Queensland and New South Wales. The Great Dividing Range runs along the eastern side of the country from northern Queensland to Tasmania. Australia’s highest point, Mount Kosciusko, at 7,310 feet, is part of the range. The 1,200 mile long Great Barrier Reef lies off the Queensland coast.
The name “Australia” comes from the Latin “australis”, which means “southern”. Stories of a great southern land go back to Roman days, where people thought that something had to exist down there in order to balance the world. “Australia” was first used in the English language in 1625. The name wasn’t commonly used until the 1810s. In 1824, the British government declared that the continent should be called Australia.
Australia’s large size and latitudinal span means it has a wide variety of climatic conditions, including tropical, temperate, alpine and arid. Most of Western Australia, South Australia, and Northern Territory, and a large part of New South Wales and Queensland, is desert or semi-arid. The desert areas receive less than ten inches of rain a year, while the semi-arid areas receive 10-20 inches. Temperatures can reach 110-120 degrees by day in summer, but can fall below 30 degrees on winter nights in some places.
A tropical climate can be found along the northern and north-eastern coastal areas. Rainforests dominate these regions, where average rainfall is as high as 160 inches a year. Most of the rain falls in the summer months. These areas can be quite hot, with summer average maximums of up to 95 degrees. The tropical belt is often subject to cyclones, flooding, and drought.
The temperate zone extends in a band from inland of Brisbane, south through New South Wales, most of Victoria, all of Tasmania, and part of South Australia. Most of Australia’s major cities are located in this area. Summers are warm and winters mild. Moderate levels of rainfall are spread throughout the year. Weather extremes can be experienced in this region, including temperatures over 100 degrees, drought and flooding. Bush fires are a hazard in this region.
A small area of south-east New South Wales is regarded as having an alpine climate. Temperatures in this mountainous area frequently fall to 10-20 degrees overnight in winter. Good snowfalls suitable for skiing are usually received in the colder months.
The Australian Aborigines migrated to the continent from India and south-east Asia up to 50,000 years ago, when Australia and Asia were more or less linked by land bridges. In pre-European times, they were hunter-gatherers living in small groups of 25-50 people. At the time of European settlement, an estimated 300,000 Aborigines lived in all parts of Australia.
The first European sighting of Australia was by Dutchman Willem Janszoon, who saw Cape York Peninsula in the country’s north-east in 1606. Other early explorers included Dutch navigator Abel Tasman, who chartered the Tasmanian coastline in 1642, and William Dampier from England, who mapped the western and north-western coasts. The best known explorer was Englishman Captain James Cook, who tracked the east coast of Australia in 1770 and claimed it for England.
European settlement of Australia started in 1788 when a convict colony was set up at Port Jackson, where Sydney now stands. Another convict colony was established along Tasmania’s Derwent River in 1803, which became Hobart. The first free settlers came to Australia in the 1790s. Over the coming decades, they spread to most parts of the continent. Other colonies were set up at Brisbane in 1824, Perth in 1829, Melbourne in 1835, and Adelaide in 1836. The last two didn’t use convict labour. Convicts continued to be brought to Australia until 1840 in New South Wales, 1853 in Tasmania, and 1868 in Western Australia.
Gold was discovered in Victoria and New South Wales in the 1850s, Queensland from the 1860s and Western Australia in the 1890s. People came in their hundreds of thousands to seek their fortune. Victoria’s population exploded from 77,000 to 540,000 in two years from 1851 to 1853. The population of Australia grew from 430,000 in 1851 to 1.7 million in 1871.
The six states of the continent became a country, the Commonwealth of Australia, on 1 January 1901, after a majority of voters in a majority of states voted that the previously separate colonies unite as one. New social legislation before World War I included women getting the vote in 1902, a basic wage in 1906, age and invalid pensions in 1909 and 1910 respectively, free and compulsory education around 1910, and a maternity allowance in 1912.
Australia sent 330,000 troops to Europe during World War I (1914-1918) to fight with the British. However, conscription was defeated in two referendums. In World War II (1939-1945), Australian troops fought in the Middle East from 1940 to 1942, and in the Pacific region from 1942 after Japan entered the war. Australia ended most of its constitutional links with the United Kingdom in 1942.
Aboriginal people were given the vote in 1967 after a referendum in which over ninety per cent of Australia’s population supported the move. The nation’s White Australia Policy, which was one of the Commonwealth’s first pieces of legislation in 1901, was finally wound back and abolished in 1973.
Remaining constitutional ties with the United Kingdom were cut with the introduction of the Australia Act in 1986. A referendum in 1999 rejected a move for Australia to become a republic by less than five per cent of the vote.
Initially, the Australian colonies were under British rule. Self-government was achieved in 1850 with Britain passing the Australian Colonies Government Act. This gave the colonies considerable independence, including the right to amend their constitutions and impose tariffs.
Since 1901, Australia has been a constitutional democracy. The federal government is divided into three branches: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The legislator is the Commonwealth Parliament, which comprises the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Queen. The executive consists of the prime minister and the other federal ministers. The judiciary is the federal courts, including the High Court of Australia.
The House of Representatives or lower house has 150 seats spread evenly around Australia on a population basis, within tolerances. The Senate or upper house has 76 senators, with each state having twelve and each territory having two. An election on 24 November 2007 saw the Labor Party swept to victory over the Liberal-National Coalition, with Kevin Rudd becoming prime minister. Unlike in some countries, voting is compulsory in Australia.
Section 51 of the Australian Constitution sets out the powers of the federal government. These include trade and commerce with other countries, external affairs, income tax, defence, currency, immigration, marriage and divorce, bankruptcy, and pensions, among others. Any area not in the Constitution rests with the states and territories, which includes hospitals, education, public transport, roads, police, state courts, and local government.
Australia has six states, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania, and two main territories, Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory. The national capital is Canberra, within the ACT. There are also a number of minor internal and external territories. Australia has 673 local councils in charge of planning, local roads and traffic, rubbish collection, water, local laws and regulations, and so on.
The population of Australia in early 2008 was about 21 million. This includes around ninety per cent who originated from Europe, six per cent from Asia, and over two per cent who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. About 14 million Australians were born in the country. Other main countries of birth are England, New Zealand, China, Italy, and Vietnam.
Australia has always operated a large migration program. Since the end of Word War II, around seven million migrants have arrived in Australia. Most immigration in the post-war years was from the United Kingdom and Europe. In more recent decades, the emphasis has shifted to Asian countries. Migrants come to Australia as skilled workers, business people, family members of previous migrants, and refugees.
More than 85 per cent of Australians live in urban areas. The major cities and their populations are Sydney (4.3 million), Melbourne (3.7 million), Brisbane (1.8 million), Perth (1.5 million), Adelaide (1.1 million), Gold Coast (520,000), Newcastle (500,000), Canberra (330,000), Geelong (210,000), Hobart (205,000), Wollongong (190,000), and Townsville (165,000). Most of Australia’s population lives in an arc from Brisbane to Adelaide.
The official language of Australian is English. About eighty per cent of people speak only English. The next major languages are Chinese (spoken by 2.3 per cent of the population), Italian (1.6 per cent), Greek (1.3 per cent), and Arabic (1.2 per cent). Australian Aboriginal languages are the main language for around 50,000 people or 0.25 per cent of the population. About 260 Aboriginal languages were spoken throughout Australia before white settlement. Only about seventy survive, with about fifty of these in danger of disappearing.
Australians are free to choose their religion, and also whether to have one at all. About 26 per cent are Catholic and nineteen per cent are Anglican. There are many smaller Christian religions. The main non-Christian religion is Islam, with about 340,000 Muslims living in Australia, or nearly two per cent of the population. There are smaller numbers of Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews. At the 2006 census, nineteen per cent of people didn’t have a religion, while twelve per cent chose not to state their religion.
Attendance at school is compulsory from age six to fifteen. Among adults, 99 per cent are literate. More than half of the population has a vocational or tertiary qualification. Australia has 38 universities, and a technical and further education system. The country has the highest ratio of international to local tertiary students in the world.
Three-quarters of the population live in a separate house, with a further nine per cent living in a semi-detached or terrace house or townhouse, and fourteen per cent live in a flat, unit or apartment.
Australia has a market economy with a large private sector and relatively small government sector. Traditionally, the major industries were agriculture, mining, and manufacturing. However, over eighty per cent of the labour force now work in services, such as retail trade, banking, education, tourism, and government services. Agriculture and mining are still important as they account for 65 per cent of exports.
Gross domestic product was $645 billion in 2006, ranking Australia seventeenth in terms of economic output. Growth is quite strong at about four per cent per annum. Inflation is relatively low at around three per cent and unemployment is about four per cent, down from double digits only a decade ago.
Australia has a goods and services tax of ten per cent. Residents pay no income tax on the first $6,000 of annual personal income, and then fifteen cents in the dollar up to $30,000, then thirty cents up to $75,000, then forty cents up to $150,000, and then 45 cents for amounts above $150,000. A Medicare levy of 1.5 per cent is added to these rates. State taxes include stamp duty, land tax, and payroll tax. Local governments charge a rate on property owners.
Australia’s currency was converted from pounds to a decimal system using dollars on 14 February 1966. Coins range in value from five cents to two dollars, and notes from five dollars to 100 dollars. The exchange rate with the US dollar has hovered around 90 to 95 cents in the early months of 2008.
All in all, Australia is a great place to live, with a good climate, prosperous economy, and few of the tensions that exist in many parts of the world. Australia came sixth in the Economist’s quality of life index in 2005 and third in the United Nations’ Human Development Index in 2007.
councilors, crime, death, divorce, earnings, education, employment, income, industries, life expectancy, men, occupations, politics, Scotland, Scottish Crime Survey, Scottish Parliament, teachers, unemployment, women, workforce
(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)
Women have long had inferior status in Scotland, just as they did in practically all societies until quite recently. Factors such as Scottish machismo, Calvinism, militarism, and laborism meant that women were largely confined to domestic duties and reproduction. Men, on the other hand, dominated public life and paid employment. But women are now making rapid inroads in the workforce, income levels, elected political offices, and other areas.
In politics, after the 2011 election, 34% of the members of the Scottish Parliament were women, about the same as 2007 although down from 39% in 2003. These percentages are much higher than in the UK Parliament where 14% of members for Scottish constituencies are women and 86% are men. In the European Parliament, 29% of members from Scotland were women and 71% were men after the 2006 election. At local government level in Scotland, 22% of councilors were women in 2003, as were 19% of local council leaders and 13% of local authority chief executives in 2007. A third of people appointed in 2006 to non-departmental public bodies in Scotland and 17% of their chairpersons were women.
Traditionally, men have far outnumbered women in the Scottish workforce, but this gap has steadily narrowed in recent decades. The difference in employment rates between men and women has decreased from 20% in 1984 to just 5% in 2006. Far more women than men work part-time, accounting for 41% of employed women and 10% of employed men in 2006. Unemployment is higher for men. Over the year to December 2009, the male unemployment rate rose from 5.2% to 7.0%, while the female rate increased from 1.8% to 2.5%, on the basis of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants.
Men still dominate industries in Scotland such as construction (where 89% of the 2004 workforce were male), energy and water supply (82%), agriculture (75%), manufacturing (73%), and transport (72%). However, women are more numerous in public administration, education and health (72%), distribution and hotels (56%), and banking (51%). In 2006, occupations where women comprised the majority of workers included personal services (85%), administrative and secretarial positions (81%), and sales and customer service jobs (71%). By contrast, skilled trades were overwhelmingly male (92%), as were process workers (86%), while 64% of managers and senior officials were men.
Women still earn less income than men but the gender pay gap is narrowing. In 2007, women received 85% of male earnings based on average hourly pay of full-time workers. In 1970, this figure was only 54%, rising to 72% by 1998, 77% by 2003 and 81% by 2005. The gender earnings ratio differs between industries and occupations. In education, women on average got 91% of what men earned in 2005. In manufacturing, it was just 68%. For professional occupations, women received 86% of male earnings, while for process workers, the figure was 70%.
Despite imbalances in favor of men in the workforce and in income, women in Scotland are more educated than their male counterparts. Girls stay at school longer than boys and gain better qualifications. Women outnumber men at higher education and further education institutions. In 2004-05, 57% of further education students were women and 43% were men. Women made up 93% of primary school teachers and 59% of secondary school teachers in 2005, although only 81% of head teachers at primary schools were women and 21% at secondary schools.
Life expectancy for women in Scotland was 79.5 years in 2005, higher than the 74.5 years for men, although the gender longevity gap has narrowed slightly. Cancer is the major cause of death for both sexes. Men are more likely to succumb to coronary heart disease and women to stroke. Women suffer more from anxiety and depression, although men are more likely to take their own lives. More men are overweight or obese, increasing from 56% of the male population in 1995 to 65% in 2003. For women, the figure has risen from 47% to 60% over the same period.
Women were more likely than men to be the victims of crime, while men were more likely to be the offenders. Almost 20% of women and 8% of men have had threats of force by a current or previous partner, according to the 2000 Scottish Crime Survey. In 2005, about 85% of domestic abuse victims were women and 15% were men. Some 44% of women felt unsafe walking alone at night in 2003, compared with just 18% of men. In 2004-05, 6% of males and just 1% of females had a charge proved against them.
Men and women are now treated equally in divorce. Until 1964, income, savings, properties and other assets of the partners were regarded as separate, which greatly advantaged men. Assets accumulated during marriage are now considered to be equally shared for divorce and inheritance purposes. On the death of a family member or friend, women have only recently attended the gravesite. In certain remote areas, post-burial gatherings can still be a male-dominated, extended alcoholic ritual.
In general, there remains room for improvement in the status of women compared with men in Scotland. Men still dominate public life as well as professional and managerial positions in the workforce. Areas such as engineering, construction, manufacturing, and transport have far more men, while those such as office work, personal care, and social work are largely female. On average, women earn about 85% of what men earn. In education and health, the status of women is better than that of men, while women are catching up in most other areas.