Australia: Doing business in Australia

Last Updated: 13 February 2015
Article by Catherine Logan

Whether you live here or outside Australia, this simple and helpful publication will help you understand the protocols of doing business in Australia.

From Australian facts and figures through to a detailed description about how the Australian legal system works, the guide is your one-stop shop, introducing you to all things business and Australia. If you want more detailed information or guidance, please contact one of our offices, conveniently located in several locations throughout Australia and also in Shanghai, China.

Here are the topics we cover in the guide:

  • Australian facts and figures
  • The Australian legal system
  • Business structures and corporate regulation
  • Foreign investment
  • Taxation
  • Government incentives and assistance
  • Intellectual property
  • Customs, trade and transport
  • Privacy and freedom of information
  • Property, environment and native title
  • Dispute resolution
  • About Hunt & Hunt

Australian facts and figures


The Australian continent has a land mass of 7,692,024 square kilometres and its topography is the lowest, flattest and (except for Antarctica), the driest of all continents. It consists of two land masses: the greater one known as mainland Australia and a smaller island known as Tasmania.

Australia is situated in the southern hemisphere. The land is bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the east, the Southern Ocean to the south and the Indian Ocean to the west. The Timor and Arafura seas are to the north and the nearest neighbouring country, Papua New Guinea, is separated from Australia's northernmost point, Cape York, by the Torres Strait. To the south, Bass Strait lies between Wilsons Promontory, the southernmost tip of the mainland, and the island of Tasmania.


Over one-third of the continent of Australia lies north of the Tropic of Capricorn and is therefore within the tropical zone. The remaining two-thirds of the continent are in the temperate zone. Australia experiences a wide range of climatic conditions. However, its insular position and lack of significant natural features such as high mountain ranges make it less vulnerable to extreme climate conditions.


Despite being the sixth largest nation, Australia has a relatively small population. The population of Australia, for historic, climatic and economic reasons, is concentrated mostly in capital cities and other major cities, mainly on the south and east coasts of the continent. Australia is, if not the most, amongst the most urbanised countries in the world. Approximately 70% of the population live in the six state capital cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart, as well as in the cities of Darwin in the Northern Territory and Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory. Australia's population is currently 23.7 million of which approximately 4.6 million live in Sydney and 4.4 million live in Melbourne.


Due to immigration, especially since 1945, about one in four of Australia's population was born overseas in a wide range of birth places, and. one in eight people were born in Asia. There is therefore a wide diversity of ethnic groups, particularly in the major capital cities, and a multilingual workforce.


The majority of Australia's manufacturing plants are situated in the capital cities, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney.

Australia is very reliant on international trade for its economic wellbeing and a substantial proportion of Australia's agricultural and mineral production is exported. Australia is a major world exporter of a range of commodities including coal, iron ore, bauxite, uranium, alumina, manganese, liquefied natural gas, mineral sands, wool, meat, wheat and sugar. Imports, particularly of capital equipment, play a vital role in the country's economic development. Personal travel services is Australia's number one import, closely followed by crude petroleum and motor vehicles. Australia's principal trading partner for exports is China. Its principal trading partner for imports is also China, followed by the United States, and Japan.

Australia has a large road and rail network with approximately 42,000 kilometres of track in the railway system. Because of the large distances involved, air transport is used throughout the country. The telecommunications industry in Australia has been de–regulated and there are now a number of operators, the principal operators being Telstra and Optus. Australia has a national satellite system.


The Commonwealth of Australia is a constitutional democracy. It is a federation of six states, consisting of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, as well as two internal territories (Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory) and a number of minor external territories. There is a Federal Government, and in addition, every state and internal territory has its own government.

A written constitution sets out the powers of the Federal Parliament. The states have given the Commonwealth the power to collect income tax and this is the principal source of federal government revenue. The states also have constitutions which set out the powers of their respective state parliaments.

Federal Parliament consists of two Houses, a 148 member House of Representatives (the Lower House) and a 76 member Senate (the Upper House) and sits in Canberra, the capital city of Australia located within the ACT. The Prime Minister is the leader of the majority party and the Cabinet ministry is drawn from the majority or opposition party. Elections are held at maximum intervals of three years and voting is compulsory for all citizens aged 18 years or over. At each election all Lower House seats are contested but only half the Senate seats are contested.

State Parliaments also consist of two Houses, with the exception of Queensland, which has a one House legislature, as do the parliaments of the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. As with the Federal Parliament, the party or coalition elected to hold a majority of seats in the lower house forms the government of the State or Territory. The Premier of a State is the leader of the majority party in government.

There is another level of government, namely Local Government, which exists throughout Australia and which may consist of city, municipal and shire councils, and county councils. These bodies are empowered to pass ordinances or regulations relating to their responsibilities; for example, construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, water, sewerage and drainage systems, health and sanitary services, planning approvals and supervision of building and construction, but they do not have power to pass legislation directly. In practice, the whole of Australia comes within one or more Local Government jurisdictions.

Therefore in setting up business or investing in Australia a variety of Federal, State, Territory and Local Government laws and regulations may need to be considered.


Australia's capital city is Canberra, which is located in the Australian Capital Territory. It is approximately 306 kilometres south – west of Sydney and 653 kilometres north – east of Melbourne.

English is the official language of Australia. Australia's currency is the Australian Dollar (A$, or AUD), which is divided into 100 cents. Australia employs the metric system of measurement.


The Reserve Bank of Australia ("RBA") is Australia's central bank. It has two broad responsibilities – monetary policy and the maintenance of financial stability, including stability of the payments system. The RBA's powers are vested in the RBA Board and the Payments System Board, both of which are chaired by the Governor of the Reserve Bank. In carrying out its responsibilities, the Bank is an active participant in financial markets and the payments system. It is also responsible for printing and issuing Australian currency notes.

As well as being a policy–making body, the RBA is a large financial institution which provides selected banking and registry services to Federal and State Government customers and to some overseas official institutions. Its assets, which include Australia's holdings of gold and foreign exchange, exceed A$100 billion. The bank is wholly owned by the Australian Government, to which its profits accrue.


Australia has four major banks that dominate the Australian retail banking market:

  1. Australia and New Zealand Banking Group ("ANZ");
  2. National Australia Bank ("NAB");
  3. Commonwealth Bank of Australia ("CBA"); and
  4. Westpac Banking Corporation ("Westpac").

All have dedicated teams that assist foreign companies wanting to do business in Australia.

Most of the global banks such as HSBC, Citibank and ING Bank have a presence in Australia. Global investment banks such as Deutsche Bank, UBS and JP Morgan have strong operations in Australia, and there are a number of domestic investment banks as well.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Catherine Logan
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