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Factfile on Australia as it goes to the polls

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The following are key facts about Australia, the only country in the world that is also a continent, where voters went to the polls on Saturday.

GEOGRAPHY: Australia is the world's sixth-largest country after Russia, Canada, China, the United States and Brazil. With vast deserts at its centre, tropical wetlands in the north, and arable coastal regions, it comprises five percent of the world's land area.

AREA: Mainland Australia covers 7.69 million square kilometres (three million square miles) and is about twice the size of the European Union.

POPULATION: Despite its land mass, Australia's population is only 23 million. Most live in coastal cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. Indigenous people account for about 3.0 percent of the population.

CAPITAL: Canberra

RELIGION: Sixty-one percent of Australians describe themselves as Christian (the majority Catholics or Anglicans) while 22.3 percent have no stated religion. Buddhists account for 2.5 percent and Muslims 2.2 percent.

HISTORY: Britain settled Sydney in 1788 as a penal colony, dispossessing the Aboriginal inhabitants.

-- The prospect of farmland and the gold rush of the 1850s encouraged free settlers to make the long voyage and by the turn of the 20th century Australia had a population of 3.8 million.

-- In 1901, the six states which made up the colony joined together in the Commonwealth of Australia with the British monarch as head of state.

-- Australia suffered drought and depression in the 1920s and 1930s but after World War II welcomed migrants from Europe and elsewhere and the nation prospered on the back of exports such as wheat and wool.

-- A push for Australia to reject ties to the British monarchy failed at a referendum in 1999. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd supports the country becoming a republic. Rival Tony Abbott, a monarchist, has said such a change will not happen "at least in our lifetimes".

POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS: Australia has a Westminster-style bicameral parliament. The party that wins the most seats in the House of Representatives at a national election names the prime minister and forms a government.

- The lower house has 150 seats, while the upper house, the Senate, has 76. The September 7 general election will put the House of Representatives and half the Senate seats into play.

- The ruling Labor party currently holds 71 seats in the lower house, the opposition Liberal-National Coalition holds 72, while independents and Greens hold seven seats.

- Australia is one of the few countries in the world where voting is compulsory for all citizens aged 18 or over.

ECONOMY: Australia's economy has enjoyed a decade-long mining boom thanks to soaring demand from Asia for its major exports of coal, iron ore and other minerals. But it is now starting to unwind and a transition is under way towards non-mining drivers of growth.

- The Reserve Bank of Australia forecasts the economy will expand 2.5 percent in the 12 months to June 30, 2014.

CURRENCY: Australian dollar.

MILITARY: The Australian Defence Force has 57,994 permanent staff, of which 29,697 are in the army, 14,243 in the airforce and 14,054 in the navy.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130906/factfile-australia-it-goes-the-polls