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Australia approaches in 2001 the centenary of the birth of its nationhood with a sharpened sense of place and identity. It has been in the past a nation more conscious of its origins as a European settlement than of its setting in the Asia-Pacific Region. Now, with 151 nations represented among its population of 18 million, it is one of the most diverse of the world’s nations and its economic ties are increasingly with the Asia-Pacific region.

The egalitarian spirit which has marked Australian democracy since the establishment of the first colonial legislatures has enabled Australians to handle the challenge of cultural diversity with a minimum of tension and conflict. The sense of experiment that pushed the young nation into the exploitation of its considerable resources has now produced a new drive towards manufacturing and services and their export into the region.

Both these trends have created a social and economic climate which is increasingly drawing Australia and its region together in a developmental partnership. Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is a concept conceived in Australia and now embracing 18 nations. International organisations are increasingly turning towards Australia as a headquarters for their activities in the region. Attracted by highly competitive conditions in communications, living conditions and office space, more than 100 international companies have now established regional headquarters and management operations in Australia.

Fundamental changes in economic conditions have produced a new export culture based on a more flexible workforce and a more efficient infrastructure. The motor vehicle industry, for example, has been extensively restructured through a government-industry strategy which reduced the number of manufacturing companies from five to four and the number of world class models it produced from 13 to six. The program also provides incentives for export, and the industry has responded with a program that will take projected exports to 40 000 vehicles in 1996. More than half of these will come from the Toyota Motor Corporation Australia Limited, which has spent more than $400 million in developing the first new motor plant in Australia in 30 years. It will now export vehicles to six Middle East countries on behalf of the worldwide corporation as well to South-East Asia.

Restructuring their economy has not turned Australians away from their enjoyment of life. Sport has flourished in a continent where outdoor activities are possible all year, and Australia has a deserved reputation for community participation in all forms of sport. It is one of only three countries to take part in every Olympic Games since their inception. Melbourne, capital of the State of Victoria, hosted what became known as "the friendly games" in 1956. Sydney, Australia’s oldest and largest city, will play host to the world for the 2000 Olympics and the Paralympic Games.

Australia is now an increasingly popular location for international tourists. More than 3.5 million entered the country in 1994. Many visited more remote areas, particularly the Great Barrier Reef in north Queensland and the spectacular Ayer’s Rock in central Australia, now know by its Aboriginal name of Uluru.

The many changes that have taken place in Australia in the past half century have produced a vibrance and sense of exploration that will take it into the 21st century with confidence and enthusiasm.

This document has been prepared by Australia's International Public Affairs branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The help received from Australian government departments, associated organisations and other authorities is gratefully acknowledged. Information is current to April 1995. Money values are in Australian currency, weights and measures in Metric.