Australia–United Kingdom relations

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Australia–United Kingdom relations
Map indicating locations of Australia and United Kingdom


United Kingdom
Diplomatic mission
Australian High Commission, LondonBritish High Commission, Canberra
Acting High Commissioner Stephen SmithHigh Commissioner Victoria Treadell

Exceptionally strong relations exist between the Commonwealth realms of Australia and the United Kingdom, marked by historical, cultural, institutional, extensive people-to-people links, aligned security interests, sporting tournaments (notably The Ashes), and significant trade and investment co-operation.


Australia and Britain share a sovereign, Charles III

In 1770, Royal Navy Lieutenant James Cook, during his first voyage to the Pacific, sailed along and mapped the east coast of Australia, which he named New South Wales and claimed for Great Britain.[1] Seventeen years later, following the loss of its American colonies in 1783, the British Government sent a fleet of ships, the First Fleet, under the command Arthur Phillip, to establish a new penal colony in New South Wales. A camp was set up and the flag raised at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788, and the British Crown Colony of New South Wales was formally promulgated on 7 February 1788. Further Crown Colonies were established in Van Diemen's Land (now known as Tasmania) in 1803; Swan River Colony (now known as Western Australia) in 1828; South Australia in 1836; Victoria in 1851; and Queensland in 1859. The six colonies federated in 1901 and the Commonwealth of Australia was formed as a Dominion of the British Empire.

Australia fought alongside Britain and its Allies in World War I, notably at Gallipoli (against the Ottoman Empire) and the Western Front. It fought with Britain and its allies again in World War II, protecting Britain's Pacific colonies from Imperial Japan.

Until 1949, Britain and Australia shared a common nationality code. The final constitutional ties between the United Kingdom and Australia ended in 1986 with the passing of the Australia Act 1986.

Formal economic relations between the two countries declined following Britain's accession to the European Economic Community in 1973. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom remains the second largest overall foreign investor in Australia. In turn, Australia is the seventh largest foreign direct investor in Britain.

Due to Australia's history as a colony of Britain, the two nations retain significant shared threads of cultural heritage, many of which are common to all English-speaking countries. English is the de facto language of both nations. Both legal systems are based on the common law.

Pom is a common nickname given by Australians to British people, said in jest without malice or prejudice, in a similar way to how British (and other) people call Australians Aussies, and refer to Australia as "Oz" or "down under" (a reference to the fact that Australia is notable for being entirely in the southern hemisphere).

In June 2021, the countries agreed on a historic free trade agreement, which was signed on 17 December 2021.[2][3]


Streams of migration from the British Isles to Australia played a key role in Australia's development, and the people of Australia are still predominantly of British or Irish origin (See: Anglo-Celtic Australians). According to the 2011 Australian Census, around 1.1 million Australians were born in Britain, despite the last substantial scheme for preferential migration from Britain to Australia ending in 1972.

Former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard was born in Barry, Vale of Glamorgan in Wales. The former leader of the Liberal Party of Australia and former prime minister Tony Abbott was also born in Britain, although to an Australian-born mother.

There is a population of around 100,000 Australians in Britain, especially in Greater London.[4]

In recent years there has been growing support for the idea of freedom of movement between the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand with citizens able to live and work in any of the four countries - similar to the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement between Australia and New Zealand.[5][6] The Australia–United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement includes increased freedom of movement between the two countries.[2][3]


4-engined plane flies over ship
Australian AP-3C Orion joins UK survey ship HMS Echo in the search for MH370

The two countries have a long history of close collaboration in military affairs. In modern times they are members of the AUSCANNZUKUS security cooperation including the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance with the US, Canada and New Zealand, and the Five Power Defence Arrangements with Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand. They also collaborate in ad hoc groupings like Combined Task Force 151 to counter piracy off Somalia, and the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in 2014. Australia shared the British honours system until 1975, and so four Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross in the Vietnam War despite Britain not participating. Australia created its own VC in 1991, made from the same block of metal as the British ones.

On 15 September 2021, the leaders of the U.S., the UK and Australia announced AUKUS a trilateral security partnership for the Indo-Pacific region that will "promote deeper information and technology sharing" and "foster deeper integration of security and defense-related science, technology, industrial bases, and supply chains". The partnership "will significantly deepen cooperation on a range of security and defense capabilities" including "to support Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy".[7] The long-term strategic goal is to help neutralize Chinese military expansion to the South. China has denounced the agreement as "extremely irresponsible".[8][9]

In March 2023, AUKUS announced a new class of nuclear-powered submarine would be built SSN-AUKUS based on a United Kingdom's submarine design that will incorporate technology from all three nations, including cutting edge US submarine technologies. The SSN-AUKUS class will be built and operated by both the UK and Australia.[10]


The contemporary political relationship between London and Canberra is underpinned by a robust bilateral dialogue at head-of-government, ministerial and senior officials level. As Commonwealth realms, the two countries share a monarch, King Charles III, and are both active members within the Commonwealth of Nations. In 2006, British Prime Minister Tony Blair became the first British head of government to address the Australian Parliament.

Australia maintains a High Commission in London. The United Kingdom, in turn, maintains a High Commission in Canberra.

In September 2012, the UK and Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding on diplomatic cooperation, with the intention of extending the scheme to include Australia and New Zealand.

After the UK voted to leave the European Union in July 2016, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull phoned British Prime Minister Theresa May to float the idea of a free trade agreement between the two nations post-Brexit. Australia was one of the first nations to publicly express interest in such an agreement after the vote. The Australian Prime Minister has also suggested that an immigration and commercial accords could be negotiated with the two nations and New Zealand.[11][12] Proposed closer ties and preferential visa access between Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada named CANZUK has been argued for by numerous individuals in both countries for several years.



Following the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union, Australia and the UK opened negotiations on signing a bilateral free trade agreement. The Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement was signed on 17 December 2021.[13][14] It was the first free trade agreement signed completely anew since Brexit.[15] The agreement was ratified by the UK on the 24 March 2023.[16] Prior to the King's Coronation, the Prime Ministers of Australia and the United Kingdom agreed that the FTA would enter force on 31 May 2023.[17][18]

In July 2023, the United Kingdom has signed the agreement to acceed to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade bloc of which Australia is a founding member.[19]


London celebrates England's victory in the 2005 Ashes cricket series

Australia excels in many sports that originate in England, and the two countries enjoy a close sporting rivalry. The rivalry is typified by their Test cricket series for The Ashes; there were ticker-tape parades when England won the 2005 series after 18 years of Australian domination. The finest moment of the England rugby union team was beating Australia to win the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Sydney; their rugby league counterparts have been far less successful. The two countries usually vie for leadership of the medal table at the Commonwealth Games. In 2014 England came top with 174 medals and Australia second with 137 medals. Melbourne golfer Peter Thomson is the second-most successful at The Open Championship with 5 wins. The two share a similar rivalry at the Olympic Games: throughout the latter half of the 20th century, Australia was the more successful, finishing above Britain at all but three Olympic Games between 1956 and 2012, the nadir occurring in 1996 when Australia finished in 7th place and Great Britain finished in 36th place.[20][21][22] Australian tennis players have been particularly successful in the men's doubles at Wimbledon with pairings such as Mark Woodforde and 9-time winner Todd Woodbridge; Rod Laver, John Newcombe and Margaret Court all won multiple singles titles at Wimbledon but no British player has won the Australian Open since 1934.


There is a long history of cultural exchange between the two countries, and Australians often use Britain as a stepping-stone to international success, whether these are artists such as Barry Humphries or businessmen such as Rupert Murdoch who controls flagship newspapers such as The Times and has a large stake in pay-TV company BSkyB. Australian soap operas became particularly popular in the late 1980s and 1990s, with Neighbours commanding British daily audiences of 19 million in 1990[23] although this declined to 5 million by 2007, still nearly ten times the Australian audience.[23] Soap alumni such as Kylie Minogue, Dannii Minogue and Jason Donovan have continued to have successful careers in music and on the stage in Britain, while Neighbours has even been held responsible for introducing the rising inflection to England.[24] Australian comedians have thrived in the UK, from Clive James to Adam Hills and Tim Minchin. Academic Germaine Greer played a leading role in British gender politics after the publication of The Female Eunuch in London in 1970. Vassilie Trunoff led tours of his native Australia as ballet master of what became the English National Ballet. In autumn 2013, the Royal Academy held a major survey of Australian art.[25]


Monthly value of Australian merchandise exports to the United Kingdom (A$ millions) since 1988
Monthly value of UK merchandise exports to Australia (A$ millions) since 1988

The City of London has been funding the development of resources in Australia since colonial times, and Anglo-Australian companies have become some of the biggest multinational mining companies such as Rio Tinto and BHP. The oil industry in Australia started with Commonwealth Oil Refineries, a collaboration between the Australian government and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later BP). Ties are strong in the media industry; Rupert Murdoch's involvement in British newspapers and BSkyB is mentioned above, but Fremantle has gone the other way to acquire and merge Crackerjack Productions with the creators of Neighbours.

The relationship is supported through the Australian British Chamber of Commerce in Australia and Australian Business in the UK based in the Australia Centre in London.

Science and engineering[edit]

The two countries jointly operated the Anglo-Australian Observatory until 2010 including the Anglo-Australian Telescope and UK Schmidt Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales. The Anglo-Australian Joint Project set up Woomera Test Range in South Australia in 1946 to test missiles such as Blue Steel; more recently it has been used to test the BAE Systems Taranis, a prototype unmanned combat aircraft.

Opinion polls[edit]

According to a 2020 poll by YouGov, Australia is the third most positively perceived country by the British, with 79% having a favourable view. It ranked behind fellow commonwealth members Canada and New Zealand, which 80% viewed positively.[26] A 2020 poll by the Lowy Institute suggests that the United Kingdom is the second most positively viewed country by Australians, behind Canada.[27]

Sister Cities[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "European discovery and the colonisation of Australia". Australian Government: Culture Portal. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Commonwealth of Australia. 11 January 2008. Archived from the original on 16 February 2011.
  2. ^ a b "UK and Australia in first post-Brexit trade deal". BBC News. 15 June 2021. Archived from the original on 15 June 2021. Retrieved 15 June 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Australia signs UK free trade deal, scrapping import tariffs and opening British jobs market". ABC News Australia. 17 December 2021. Retrieved 19 December 2021.
  4. ^ "Born Abroad – Australia". BBC News. 7 September 2005. Retrieved 17 October 2007.
  5. ^ "Australians and New Zealanders should be free to live and work in UK, report says". 3 November 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  6. ^ "Commonwealth Freedom of Movement Organisation". CFMO. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  7. ^ Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison; Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson; President of the United States of America Joseph R. Biden (16 September 2021). "Joint Leaders Statement on AUKUS". Prime Minister of Australia (Press release). Archived from the original on 27 September 2021. Retrieved 25 September 2021. This article contains quotations from this source, which is available under a Attribution 4.0 International licence.
  8. ^ See "Aukus: UK, US and Australia launch pact to counter China" (BBC, 16 September 2021) online
  9. ^ See also "AUKUS: The Trilateral Security Partnership Between Australia, U.K. and U.S." (U.S. Dept of Defense, 2023) online
  10. ^ This article contains OGL licensed text This article incorporates text published under the British Open Government Licence v3.0: Ministry of Defence; Defence Nuclear Organisation (14 March 2023). "The AUKUS Nuclear Powered-Submarine Pathway: A Partnership for the Future" (PDF). p. 7. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  11. ^ "Brexit: Turnbull says Australia keen on early free trade deal with Britain after first talks with May". ABC News. ABC News. 17 July 2016. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  12. ^ "UK offered Brexit free trade deal with Australia". BBC News. 17 July 2016. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  13. ^ "Australia signs UK free trade deal, scrapping import tariffs and opening British jobs market". ABC News Australia. 17 December 2021. Retrieved 19 December 2021.
  14. ^ "UK and Australia sign world-class trade deal". GOV.UK. 17 December 2021.
  15. ^ "Britain Signs Its First Major Post-Brexit Trade Deal With Australia". The New York Times. 15 June 2021. Retrieved 26 November 2023.
  16. ^ "UK Parliament approves trade agreement with Australia". Gov.Au. 24 March 2023.
  17. ^ "UK, New Zealand, Australia tout trade before Charles's coronation". Al Jazeera. 5 May 2023.
  18. ^ "Landmark post-Brexit trade deals to come into force this month driving economic growth across the UK". GOV.UK. 5 May 2023.
  19. ^ "'A significant milestone for UK trade': Britain signs deal to join £12trn Indo-Pacific trading block". Sky News. 16 July 2023. Retrieved 16 July 2023.
  20. ^ Bennett, Charles. "2012 Olympics: Why Britain vs. Australia Is a Better Rivalry Than U.S. vs. China". Bleacher Report.
  21. ^ "Olympic medal tally spat between Britain and Australia revives spirit of Ashes". The Daily Telegraph.
  22. ^ COLMAN, MIKE (20 August 2016). "How the Olympics turned from Ashes to smashes".
  23. ^ a b "Five wins Neighbours soap fight". BBC News. 18 May 2007. Retrieved 22 August 2014.
  24. ^ "The unstoppable march of the upward inflection?". BBC News. 11 August 2014. Retrieved 22 August 2014.
  25. ^ Royal Academy of Arts; Australia; 21 September — 8 December 2013; This exhibition is now closed
  26. ^ "New Zealand is Britons' favourite country | YouGov".
  27. ^ Kassam, Natasha. "Report". Lowy Institute Poll 2020.