The economic development of Australia is closely related to the mining industry. The first boom was triggered by gold discoveries in Victoria and New South Wales in the mid-19th century.
The importance of gold mining has since declined; nevertheless, Australia is still one of the largest gold producers in the world (2018: 312.2 t; around 9% of world production). After the Second World War, intensive exploration led to the discovery of new deposits, including of iron ore, bauxite, coal, natural gas, crude oil, uranium, diamonds and sands with heavy minerals (rutile, zircon, ilmenite, monazite), and triggered a strong development in mining. Australia is the world’s largest bauxite producer (2018: 75 million t; around a quarter of world production). The largest deposits are near Weipa on the Cape York Peninsula (Queensland), in the Darling Range (Western Australia) and on the Gove Peninsula (Northern Territory). Before being exported, the raw material becomes the intermediate product alumina or further processed aluminum. In a global comparison, Australia ranks first in the production of lead, iron, zinc, uranium, nickel, silver and copper.
In the state of Western Australia 70% of the gold, 97% of the iron ore (Pilbara region) and most of the nickel ores are mined. The uranium mining focused on mines in the area of the Alligator River (Northern Territory) and South Australia (Olympic Dam). Deposits of non-ferrous metal ores (lead, zinc, copper) can be found, often in connection with silver, in western New South Wales (Broken Hill, Elura) and in western Queensland (in the Mount Isa region). The heavy mineral sands required for white color pigments (titanium dioxide) are mainly mined on the coasts of southwest Australia. The country also has abundant diamond fields. The largest open pit mine in the world for rough diamonds (mainly for industrial purposes) was the Argyle Mine in Western Australia (to close in 2020). The rich deposits of opals and sapphires are important for the jewelry industry. Large quantities of hard coal (especially in Queensland and New South Wales) and lignite (especially in Victoria) are stored in Australia. In connection with climate change, coal mining has come under fire as a major CO 2 emitter. The country’s oil reserves are estimated at 400 million tons. The largest sales markets for mining products are the Asian industrialized countries and the USA.
With its rich energy reserves, Australia is one of the few net energy exporters in the OECD group of countries. The main exports are coal and uranium as well as increasingly liquid natural gas and light crude oil. Heavy crude oil is imported. Around half of the demand for crude oil can be met from our own resources; Production reached 15.2 million t in 2018 (mainly in the north-western shelf area and in Bass Strait). The most important energy sources are coal (63% of electricity generation), natural gas (21%) and renewable energies (6%). The use of solar energy is easily possible in Australia due to the high solar potential; especially farms in remote areas use solar cells. The use of wind energy is also increasing rapidly. The weak network infrastructure is problematic, with the result that power outages occur again and again in remote areas. Australia has no nuclear power plants.
Over three quarters of the workforce are employed in the service sector. The healthcare and retail sectors in particular tie up a large number of workers. Finance and business services are of great economic importance. The service sector is mostly concentrated in Sydney.
Due to the unique natural spaces, the wide, often untouched landscapes, the long coasts and the archaic cultural traditions of the Aborigines, Australia has a rich tourist potential. The tourism became one of the most important and dynamic service sectors. In 2017, 8.7 million foreign guests visited the country, mostly from New Zealand, China and the USA. Popular travel destinations are Sydney, Melbourne, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Cairns and the country’s numerous national parks, which are particularly suitable for nature-based tourism.
The well-developed transport system is characterized by the huge distances, by the concentration of the population in the coastal areas, especially in the east, south-east and south-west, as well as by the island location (great importance of coastal and maritime shipping). There is little railroad access to Australia. In addition to the state railways, there are also private railways, mainly operated by mining companies and sugar factories. The states of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia have their own state railways (each with different gauges), which mainly lead from the main ports inland. Continuously navigable routes only exist in the southern and eastern coastal areas, from Brisbane via Sydney to Melbourne and from Sydney via Broken Hill to Perth (the only east-west connection). A continuous north-south connection has existed since 2004 from Darwin via Alice Springs to Adelaide.
With (2016) 561 cars per 1,000 residents, as a country located in Oceania according to countryaah.com, Australian society is one of the most heavily motorized in the world. Aviation is particularly important for traffic between the large urban regions and in the sparsely populated outback. There are 12 international airports of which Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth are the main ones. There are also around 160 regional airports as well as numerous smaller airfields and a large number of take-off and landing sites. 97 seaports serve coastal and overseas shipping. The main ports are Sydney, Newcastle, Port Kembla, Melbourne, Geelong, Whyalla, Kwinana, Brisbane and Fremantle; after cargo handling, the iron ore export port of Port Hedland (Western Australia) comes first.