For at least 40,000 years before the first British settlement in the late 18th century,Australia was inhabited by indigenous Australians, who spoke languages grouped into roughly 250 language groups. While Captain James Cook is credited with Australia's European discovery in 1770, a Portuguese possibly first sighted the country, while the Dutch are known to have explored the coastal regions in the 1600s.

After the European discovery of the continent by Dutch explorers in 1606, Australia's eastern half was claimed by Great Britain in 1770 and initially settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales from 26 January 1788, when the First Fleet sailed into Botany Bay under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip. By the 1830s the number of free settlers was increasing. Transportation of convicts to the eastern colonies was abolished in 1852 and to the western colonies in 1868.

The population grew steadily in subsequent decades; the continent was explored and an additional five self-governing crown colonies were established. 

On 1 January 1901, the six colonies federated, forming the Commonwealth of Australia.


Australia follows a Westminster system of government and law inherited from the British who originally colonised the country.

Australia is a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom as its head of state, which is why Australia's national flag comprises the Union Jack (along with the Commonwealth Star and the Southern Cross).

There are two main political parties and a number of minor parties, which make up the Commonwealth Parliament. Each state and territory also has its own government.

Since Federation, Australia has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system that functions as a federal parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy comprising six states and several territories.

Australia has three levels of government – the federal Australian Government, the governments of the six states and two territories, and around 700 local government authorities. Australia has been a nation with a single national government since 1 January 1901. Although it is divided into states and territories which have their own state governments, they are all united as one The Queen appoints the Governor-General of Australia as her representative on the advice of the elected Australian Government. The Governor-General appoints ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister. Australia’s system of government is based on the liberal democratic tradition, which includes religious tolerance and freedom of speech and association.

The Australian Constitution sets out the functions of the Australian Government, such as foreign relations and trade, defence and immigration. States and territories are responsible for matters not assigned to the federal government.

There are two major political groups that usually form government, federally and in the states: 

the Australian Labor Party ( , and the Coalition which is a formal grouping of the Liberal Party ( and its minor partner, the National Party ( 

This majority party or coalition becomes the government, decided at an election by Australian citizens. The other major political party or coalition is called ‘the opposition’.