Australia - Future trends

Australia's well rounded economy is likely to see continued growth in both the near and distant future. The country's importance as a leading supplier of minerals and agricultural products, its increasing presence in financial services and specialized technology industries, and its growing appeal as a tourism destination all hold great promise. The diversity of the Australian economy, its many trading partners, and its peaceful democratic political system all help stabilize economic conditions and encourage new investment. The Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s slowed Australia's exports, particularly of minerals, but is unlikely to have any long-term effects on the overall economy. Australia's economy is a careful balance of free market policies with close regulation of key economic sectors, combined with extensive social services programs. Australia's standard of living is assured of remaining one of the world's highest.

The Australian economy will have to increasingly address environmental and Aboriginal issues. Environmental damage caused by mining and agriculture, especially, have come under frequent media attack. Current issues include soil erosion caused by overgrazing, urbanization, and poor farming practices; increases in soil salinity largely due to farming practices; depletion of fresh water supplies, again largely due to farming and urbanization; and coastal damage, especially around the Great Barrier Reef on the Queensland coast, caused by shipping and extensive tourism. Mining impacts on the environment, such as the release of toxic substances, tend to be more localized. Mining and agricultural enterprises are becoming more responsive to environmental issues, but there is still room for improvement. Australia only recognized the potential land claims of its Aboriginal population in the 1990s, placing it far behind the political history of indigenous-settler relations in other countries such as New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. The Mabo and Wik High Court decisions of the 1990s recognized that Aboriginal title to land may still exist and that it can overlap with pastoral and mining leases. The implications of these decisions have not yet been worked out. They will probably have no major impact on the Australian economy as a whole but will give Aboriginal people a greater voice in managing natural resources on their traditional lands.

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