Australia fared better than much of the rest of the world during the 1990s. While its economy was relatively weak, it didn't suffer the same social unrest that wracked much of the world. Australia was fortunate in that the country's natural resources were still relatively untouched, a definite asset during the early years of the 21st century. Australia courted foreign investment, with many other countries turning to them to supply much-needed resources.
The collapse of the United States in 2008 was a severe blow to the Australian economy. The US had become one of Australia's biggest trading partners over recent years, with Australian minerals and oil being in high demand. The collapse of the US economy and government left Australian companies without one of their biggest markets. The degeneration of much of Asia, especially china into myriad smaller states served to eliminate most of the country's remaining markets. Most Australian companies were unable to compete with the megacorporations of Japan for increasingly rare markets, and simply folded. The Australian economy all but collapsed by 2015.
A desperate Australian government turned to Japan for help. Japanese megacorporations were invited into Australia, incited by relatively untouched mineral resources, vast areas arable land for crops and a large supply of cheap labor in the form of the nation's legions of the unemployed.
The social disparity that had become so common in the megacorp-dominated cities of Asia and America also came to Australia, but in a different way. With the growing corporate domination in the cities, the nation's rural areas were allowed to wither. Save for agricultural communities (many of which were effectively owned by the megacorps), rural Australia became a wasteland dying towns, shrinking populations, unemployed drifters and vicious gangs who lived off raiding what little remained. This seemed to suit the corporations fine; the outback became a dumping zone for Corporate Australia's unwanted. In effect, the outback had become like a Zero Zone in an American city, only on a much larger scale.
Today, Australia is effectively divided into two "zones" of habitation. The first consists of the arable land along the coasts and inland, including the Australian Capital Territory, which holds the majority of the population. This are consists a fertile crescent of land extending from northern Queensland to eastern South Australia, along with the south-west of Western Australia, and small patches along the northern edge of the Northern Territory. Several other areas, such as the mining city of Kalgoolie and the Cape York and Maralinga spaceports are also considered to be in this area, despite their remote locations.
Sydney remains the nation's largest city, home to 5 million of the nation's 23 million people. Melbourne holds another 5 million, with the other major population centers being in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth and smaller coastal cities, like Townsville and Newcastle. To preserve valuable arable land, Australia's cities have grown "upwards" rather than outwards, as a result, much of the population live in massive arcologies. The Australian dream of the "quarter acre block" has been largely replaced with the reality of a hole-in-the-wall apartment in a major arcology.
Corporations effectively own many of the smaller rural towns, the local population being employees of the company. Usually, a town will be geared towards a specific industry, such as farming or mining. The local law enforcement consists of corporate security forces, who mainly serve to protect the town from outside threats.
Most of the rest of Australia is effectively one big Zero Zone. The people of outback Australia are left to do pretty much as they like, just so long as they don't interfere with corporate activities. As a result, the outback has become divided between poor farmers who struggle to get by, and marauding gangs who prey on the weak and defenseless. In return, some outback citizens have formed vigilante groups to fight back against the raiders. Often the two groups are hard to tell from one another. Occasionally a gang will attempt to raid a corporate town; these attacks are usually dispatched with ruthless efficiency by corporate security forces.
Apart from the free city of Alice Springs, there are no major cities in the Outback. Few towns have populations beyond several thousand, and many have only a few hundred. Often, smaller towns without any resources to fall back on will be completely abandoned; such ghost towns dot the outback.
The Australian capital is Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory. The official language of Australia is English, however there are sizable Greek, Italian, Turkish, Lebanese, and Vietnamese-speaking portions of the population. Japanese is the closest thing Australia has to a secondary language, being used by the higher-ranking members of the country's larger corporations.
The division of Australia into Corporate and Zero zones provided a de-facto solution to one of the country's longer-standing social issues. The Australian government effectively handed much of the outback over to the Aboriginal population, and encouraging many to return to their traditional tribal lands. Of course, in the outback Zone, actual ownership of the land is rarely recognized.
Australia is the only country in the world to accord equal human rights to Replicants and Clones. While seemingly a progressive move, there are several reasons. Firstly, it means that Repicants pay taxes; something the impoverished Australian government doesn't mind at all. Secondly, it means the Megacoporations have less reason to employ them; the cost of hiring and training personnel from Australia's large pool of available labor is far cheaper then creating a replacing.
However, Replicants are still considered to be "second class citizens" by many, and a known replicant will often be the subject of discrimination. (And some pubs are famous for "No replicants" rules) Still, the situation is far better than in the rest of the world.
Current Status Australia is relatively safe and stable for the time being. The occasional conflict will occur when an exploitable resource is discovered in the outback. Usually, a megacorp will send in their own forces to drive off any undesirables, then lay claim to the resource and a nearby town. The population are put to work for the company; if they don't like it, they are driven off and replaced with corporate personnel.
The biggest external threats to the country are the fractured nations of Southeast Asia to the north. Australia's rich resources are a tempting target to many of the more impoverished nations and their militaries. Some feel that an invasion from the north is inevitable.
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