Capital city: Canberra
Population: 23.5 million (ABS)
Government: Federal parliamentary democracy, constitutional monarchy
Currency: Australian dollar (A$, AUD)
Main languages: English
Main religions: Christianity, Buddhism, Islam
The Commonwealth of Australia is made up of six states: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia, and the island state of Tasmania. Each has its own constitution and the power to pass laws, although in the event of legal conflict state law is superseded by Commonwealth law. In addition, there are ten territories which have differing degrees of autonomy, but only two of them (the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory) are on the mainland.
Australians have a reputation for being very laid back, and the country’s naturally temperate weather and outdoor lifestyle certainly help to encourage a relaxed atmosphere which values good work/life balance. With a diverse mix of cultures from the indigenous aboriginal people to the early European settlers and the more recent Asian migrants, modern Australia is very much multicultural. This is reflected in the country’s pastimes, lifestyle and customs.
It is estimated that over 85% of people in Australia live within 50 kilometres of the coast, and the beach is certainly central to social life across the country. Surfing and other water sports are particularly popular, and the beach is also a great place to meet up with friends. Rightly considered to be sports-mad, Australians are characteristically active and sports clubs are easily found in most areas. Gym training, cycling and golf are among the top pastimes. Watching sport is also a cultural fixture, with the performance of the Australian cricket and rugby teams a particular source of national pride.
Food and drink
Think of Australian cuisine and immediately you get an image of beers and barbecues. It’s a stereotype, but the ‘barbie’ remains a cultural icon. Restaurants draw on the cosmopolitan nature of the population for influences and fusion cuisine is a growing trend. As such a large island nation, Australia produces a huge amount of seafood. Traditional ‘bush tucker’ influences are also becoming more mainstream, with kangaroo, emu and crocodile meat growing in popularity. Braver tourists may wish to sample a bogong moth or a witchetty grub, although in reality these are yet to catch on with modern Australians!
With every state home to vineyards, Australia is among the world’s top wine producers. It also has a real coffee culture, believed to originate from the large numbers of Greek and Italian immigrants who settled in Australia in the early part of the twentieth century.
Australia does not have an official language, but the vast majority of people speak English. However, census data from 2011 showed that only 76.8% of households spoke English as the sole language, again demonstrating the multicultural nature of the country. Mandarin, Italian and Arabic ranked among the most spoken minority languages. It is estimated that there were once over 400 aboriginal languages spoken in Australia, but just 15 survive in active use today.
Compared to British English, there are relatively few variations in the Australian accent. These differences tend to be dictated more by social factors than geography, although there are some regional characteristics too. Linguists categorise the Australian accent into three types:
- General – the most commonly occurring accent, typified by someone like Hugh Jackman
- Broad – widely spoken in rural areas, with Paul Hogan a good example
- Cultivated – less common among younger Australians; Geoffrey Rush speaks with a cultivated accent
True to its sunny reputation, the majority of Australia experiences temperate weather for most of the year. The north is warm virtually all the time, while the southern states are cooler in winter but rarely reach freezing temperatures. Surprisingly, Australia does have snowfall on higher ground in winter, meaning that there is skiing on offer in the mountainous areas of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.
Safety and security
Australia is generally a safe place, with low crime rates compared to other developed countries. Petty criminals such as pickpockets and thieves may target tourists, particularly in urban areas, so remain alert to the possibility.
The wildlife of Australia has a famously deadly reputation, with varieties of spiders, snakes, jellyfish and sharks all reported as capable of killing humans. In reality the risk from these creatures is very low – just make sure you follow advice when walking in the outback or swimming in the sea.
The extremes of Australian weather are probably a greater danger than its wildlife. In the heat of summer it’s important to stay hydrated, to carry water when travelling and to keep applying sun block. Wildfires are also a potential hazard in hot periods, while in the cyclone season from November to April the north of the country can also experience floods.
Schooling in Australia is governed by the individual states. Generally, education is compulsory for children aged from around 5 to 15, although some states require a further two years through to the age of 17. The compulsory period is divided into primary and secondary school, then students may choose to move on to education in universities or vocational training facilities. Educational standards are maintained through the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF).
The Australian academic year runs from January to December and is usually split into four terms. Government schools in each state have slightly different term dates, and private schools may also structure their academic year in a different way.
Sometimes referred to as tertiary education, Australian universities offer a complete range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Overseen by the national regulator TEQSA, but operating as independent institutions, they have a hugely cosmopolitan feel, with staff and students travelling from all over the world to live, work and study in Australia. With the prestigious Group of Eight institutions regularly featuring among the top ranked in the world, Australian universities are showing increasing ambition to compete with the best internationally.
Universities in Australia charge tuition fees, although some students are supported by Commonwealth grants. In 2014, the government announced a plan to remove the cap on tuition fees and enable true competition between universities. To pay their way, students generally apply for a government loan through the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP), and repay it through deductions to their wages after graduation.
As in most countries, Australian universities offer a variety of bachelor, master and doctoral degrees (levels 7 to 10 of the AQF). However, it is quite common for students to enrol in a double or combined course at undergraduate level, leading to the award of two bachelor degrees. For information about the type of courses available, visit the MyUniversity website.
Research in Australia is currently the subject of a government push to raise standards. Led by the Australian Research Council (ARC), higher education will be expected to contribute to the development of a truly world class research environment. Significant budget has been set aside to attract and retain talented researchers from across Australia and worldwide to deliver on these ambitious goals.
As an alternative to university, young people can choose to take vocational qualifications when they finish school. These courses usually cover levels 1 to 6 of the AQF, although in some states it is possible to gain higher education qualifications through vocational training institutions. For more information about courses, visit the MySkills website.
Primary and secondary education
There are three main types of school available in Australia:
- State open schools – open to all students within their catchment area on a first-come, first-served basis
- State selective schools – open to a wider catchment subject to the completion of entry exams, although students on temporary resident visas may not attend
- Private schools – generally consist of fee paying independent or religious institutions
Government schools usually follow the Australian Curriculum, and although private schools are not obliged to implement it, many do use the same scheme as a framework.
Preschool and childcare options
Australia has a good choice of care provision for children below school age. For more information on finding and funding childcare, visit the mychild.gov.au website.
Australia is considered to have one of the best standards of living in the world with a relatively low price tag, although costs have increased in recent years and some expats are surprised to find that their spending power is not as great as they had anticipated. As in most countries, the larger cities such as Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Adelaide are more expensive than rural areas. However, the backpacker tradition remains strong in Australia and there are always bargains to be found.
With no shortage of space available, accommodation in Australia is predominantly detached housing or bungalows, although there are more apartments and flats (known as units) in the cities. For academic jobs, many universities provide accommodation for international staff, but this is less common in other industries. Most expats rent property at least for a short period. Costs vary across the country, but as a guide median weekly asking rents range from:
- A$250 (≈£139.22) to A$550 (≈£306.28) per week for units
- A$310 (≈£172.63)to A$700 (≈£389.81) per week for a house
Source: www.globalpropertyguide.com (accessed May 2014)
If your move to Australia becomes long-term or permanent, you may wish to purchase a property. Like many countries, Australia has suffered a house price dip in recent years, but prices are beginning to recover. As well as direct sales, property auctions are quite common in Australia, so contact a local estate agent to find out more about buying property in your area.
While rents can be freely negotiated between landlords and tenants, most Australian states have restrictions on how many weeks’ rent can be requested in advance or as a deposit. Letting agents will be able to advise you on the law in each state. Once a rental cost is agreed, it cannot be changed without the tenant’s consent within the first 12 months.
Council rates are charged to cover the cost of local services such as waste disposal and road maintenance. The way they are calculated depends on the state, but typically it is based on the value of the property.
On top of your accommodation and rates, you will need to budget for utilities including water, gas, electricity, telephone and internet. Again, utility supply varies from state to state. In some areas there is only one supplier available, but in others there are several companies providing services. If you have several options, use a website like youcompare.com.au to shop around for the best deal.
Australia no longer has a TV licence system. There are several networks broadcasting free to air channels, while paid cable and satellite services are also available. To compare cable packages, visit the Compare Today website.
Healthcare and medical costs
Healthcare in Australia is available through the Medicare scheme. Funded by a combination of private contributions, government subsidy and a PAYG levy on workers’ earnings, it gives Australian citizens, permanent residents and visitors from countries with reciprocal care agreements access to a range of primary services. The Medicare levy is a fixed percentage for much of the population, although low-income workers may be eligible for discounted rates. Higher earners may also be required to pay a surcharge to their Medicare levy.
Although the standard of care is good, Medicare does not cover all healthcare services, so make sure you check what you are entitled to. Private health insurance can also be arranged in Australia and usually covers a wider range of services. The government may offer rebates to people who are eligible for Medicare but also hold private cover.
Australian shops cater for a wide and diverse consumer base ranging from locals to tourists, and choice is excellent, particularly in the major cities. Prices are not as low as they once were, particularly not for international brands, but healthy competition between retailers means that shopping around really pays off.
Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a value-added tax that is typically charged on goods and services in Australia. The current rate of GST is 10%, and prices may be quoted with or without GST included so make sure you check any quotes carefully.
- Rent on 1-bedroom apartment in city centre – A$1,795.59 (≈£1,005.17) per month
- Rent on 1-bedroom apartment outside city centre – A$1,324.63 (≈£741.53) per month
- Price of apartment in city centre – A$7,610.52 (≈£4,260.38) per square metre
- Price of apartment outside city centre – A$5,045.46 (≈£2,824.46) per square metre
- Loaf of bread – A$2.93 (≈£1.64)
- Milk (1 litre) – A$1.56 (≈£0.87)
- Bottled water (1.5 litre) – A$2.66 (≈£1.49)
- Draught beer (0.5 litre) – A$6.50 (≈£3.64)
- Packet of cigarettes – A$19.00 (≈£10.64)
- Petrol (1 litre) – A$1.52 (≈£0.85)
- Cinema ticket – A$17.50 (≈£9.80)
Source: www.numbeo.com (accessed May 2014)
Budgeting and savings
If you are looking to save while you are in Australia, keep an eye on the Savings Guide website for budgeting and money saving tips. Although not yet a comprehensive resource, Money Saving Aussie may also help you find the best deals on utilities and other regular expenses.
The majority of roads in Australia are well-maintained and of excellent quality, and driving can be a great way to see some of the country’s natural beauty. However, in some areas of the Outback driving can become difficult as roads may revert to gravel tracks, so 4×4 vehicles are recommended if you want to explore these places. Distances are usually given in kilometres, and in Australia you drive on the left-hand side of the road.
If you hold a driving licence issued in another country, you are usually allowed to drive on it for three months as a visitor, although you may be required to provide an International Driving Permit or English translation of your documentation first. However, as the law varies from state to state, you should contact the relevant Road and Traffic Authority before driving in Australia, particularly if you are planning a road trip or driving tour across several states.
Taxis can be found in virtually every town and city across Australia. Legitimate licensed taxis are clearly marked and the driver’s photo ID should be displayed in the cab. Although useful for short hops, taxis are usually metered so for longer journeys it is often cheaper to travel by coach or train. For a rough guide to prices, visit the Taxi Fare Calculator website.
Coach services such as those provided by Greyhound Australia remain a popular and fairly cheap means of intercity travel. Particularly popular with backpackers and other tourists, they are quite a sociable way of getting around.
An extensive railway network connects virtually all the major and minor towns across Australia. Although the trains are generally considered modern, punctual and comfortable to travel on, many people are surprised to find that the network is not yet high speed – leading to lengthy journey times for such a vast continent. However, the railways remain a popular and often scenic way to travel. To book tickets for a journey, contact the local service operator.
Australia is home to two of the world’s most famous train routes. The Indian Pacific line from Sydney to Perth, and the Ghan railway from Adelaide to Darwin cut through the heart of the continent, and are considered tourist destinations in their own right.
The sheer size of Australia makes flying the standard method of travel between state capitals. Although costs are not as low as a few years ago, healthy competition between domestic carriers means there are bargains to be found. To find the best deal, try a comparison website such as Flight Centre, but remember to check the price direct with the operator too before you book. International flights to destinations around the world are also available from most of the state capitals.
Other ways to get around
Most towns and cities in Australia have an efficient public transport infrastructure. Depending on the location, these may include buses, ferries, monorails, light railways and trams. If you are planning to visit Tasmania, the Spirit of Tasmania passenger ferries run nightly between Melbourne and Devonport and offer an alternative to flying.
According to the National Employment Standards (NES), full-time workers in Australian are supposed to work a maximum of 38 hours per week, although they may be asked to work a reasonable number of hours above this. Typical office hours are Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, but most organisations take a pragmatic approach to working hours when they can and will try to accommodate the needs of their employees.
Holiday entitlement is also defined by the NES. Most full-time workers are entitled to a minimum of 4 weeks of paid annual leave, and shift workers may receive an additional week. Sick leave, community service leave and long service leave are also available to many employees in Australia, however casual workers and those outside the national workplace scheme are not covered by all of these regulations. More information is available through the Fair Work Ombudsman website.
Australia has seven fixed national public holidays each year. The government of each state also has the power to declare further holiday dates, some of which are common to several states and some that are unique. A full list of public holidays by state is available on the australia.gov.au website.
National public holiday dates
New Year’s Day: 1 January
Australia Day: 28 January
Good Friday: 19 April
Easter Monday: 22 April
Anzac Day: 25 April
Christmas Day: 25 December
Boxing Day: 26 December
Visas and eligibility to work
Australia is a very popular destination for working tourists and also incentivises the long-term immigration of workers whose professions are on the Skilled Occupation List, a list of trades considered to have a skill shortage in Australia. However, people of most nationalities need a visa to visit, live or work in the country. Australia has a large number of different types of visa, so visit the Department of Immigration and Border Protection website to find out which is appropriate for you.
The Australian tax year runs from July to June. To work in Australia it is best to apply for a Tax File Number. Although not compulsory, this unique number will enable you to correctly pay tax and receive any benefits you may be entitled to. Income tax is usually collected through a Pay As You Go (PAYG) system which deducts your contribution directly from your wages. Taxation levels depend on your earnings and residency status.
The superannuation system, often simply referred to as ‘super’, is the primary form of retirement pension provision for workers in Australia. Most workers over the age of 18 who receive a monthly wage of over A$450 are entitled to compulsory super contributions from their employer. These contributions must be at least 9.25% of your earnings, and can be topped up by voluntary contributions. Some workers are also eligible for government contributions, while people on a low income may be able to claim the means-tested Age Pension when they retire.
Benefits in Australia are administered by the Department of Human Services. Foreign nationals may be entitled to some benefits, depending on their work, visa type and residency status.
Through the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, the Australian government has pledged to:
- Eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities
- Promote acceptance of the principle that people with disabilities have the same rights as all members of the community
- Ensure as far as practicable that people with disabilities have the same rights to equality before the law as other people in the community
These commitments may include compelling employers to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to meet the specific needs of disabled workers. For more information on disability rights in Australia, visit the Australian Human Rights Commission website.
Company structures in Australia tend to be less driven by hierarchy, so distinctions between senior and managerial staff and the rest of the team can be less clear than in other countries. While managers will ultimately be responsible for decisions, it is common to seek the opinions of the rest of the team before making them. Teamwork is valued very highly, and staff members of all levels are regularly asked for input in meetings and strategy reviews. Respect is gained through contribution and achievement rather than rank or status, so it is important to treat everyone equally and encourage people to take the initiative.
Australians tend to communicate in a direct and informal manner, regardless of position. Although discussions are generally brief and matter of fact, Australians can be very receptive to new approaches and ideas. Managers appreciate directness, pragmatism and flexibility, and will expect their staff to challenge where necessary to achieve the common goal. Strong opinions are respected, even when they are not agreed with. Workers respond positively to respect and encouragement from their bosses and like to be managed in a fair and honest way, with the feeling that they are given space to work.
Australians are generally regarded as friendly and approachable, and these traits are evident in their informal approach to work. Colleagues are almost always on first-name terms and job titles are rarely used, although if in doubt it’s usually best to wait and see how you are introduced. Generally communication is informal and humour is appreciated, although you should remain polite within this relaxed tone.
Personal relationships are valued by Australian business people and introductions can get you a long way. They like to work by recommendation and referral, so making a good first impression is important, and giving out sound referrals can be a good way to build your own reputation. Networking is key and socialising outside work can be a great way to do this, but make sure you are self-aware in these environments as many Australians don’t appreciate one-upmanship.
Despite the tendency for informality, Australian business letters are written in a formal style. For emails, follow the same formality guides as you would face-to-face, starting formal until you establish a relationship. As a conversation builds you can always soften your tone, perhaps replacing the greeting ‘Dear’ with ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’ and ‘Kind regards’ with ‘Take care’ or ‘Speak soon’.
Despite the more casual nature of Australian business dealings, the dress code remains relatively formal in many areas. Men typically wear a suit and tie, and women a suit or dress. However, the warm climate makes it important to strike a balance between appearance and comfort, and some businesses, particularly those in warmer areas, allow more casual attire. If in doubt, speak to your colleagues to find out what is acceptable.
In a business environment most Australians exchange quick but firm handshakes with everyone present at the beginning and end of a meeting, although it is perhaps less common for two women to shake hands. Often people are introduced by first names or progress to them very rapidly. Business cards may be exchanged but they are not essential and there is no formal process.
Punctuality is important as Australians like to get on with business and keep things brief. If you are running late, call to apologise so that your contacts can continue to use their time productively until you arrive.
Meetings in Australia are usually focused for efficiency and may have a clear structure or agenda. However, small talk before and after is commonplace. Sport is usually a good topic to begin with! The business discussions will be quite open and informal in tone, and tend to get straight to the point. Because of this, negotiations can proceed quite quickly. Presentations should be kept short, leaving plenty of time for questions. Avoid giving too much detail as Australians prefer to ask about the areas they are particularly interested in.
Australians dislike people trying to set themselves apart from the group, so always try to engage with people at a level they are comfortable with. Class distinctions are to be avoided, so try not to comment on accents or other things which might relate to social status. The past treatment of the aboriginal people can also be a taboo topic. Modern Australia considers itself proudly multicultural, with migrant workers, students and travellers from around the world all integrating into society with few difficulties.
Almost all business in Australia is conducted in English, but visitors should be aware that Australian English can be idiomatic and differs somewhat from the British and American forms. Sometimes referred to as ‘Strine’, Australian English can be quite colourful, mixing aboriginal words, rhyming slang and abbreviations. It is very common to hear Australians abbreviating names or words by adding ‘-ie’ or ‘-o’ after the first syllable – for example ‘Robbo’, ‘brekkie’ or ‘journo’.
Oboh obioma Paschal says
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