U.S. Department of State Background Note
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Australia's aboriginal inhabitants, a hunting-gathering people generally referred to today as Aboriginals and Torres Straits Islanders, arrived more than 40,000 years ago. Although their technical culture remained static--depending on wood, bone, and stone tools and weapons--their spiritual and social life was highly complex. Most spoke several languages, and confederacies sometimes linked widely scattered tribal groups. Aboriginal population density ranged from one person per square mile along the coasts to one person per 35 square miles in the arid interior. When Capt. James Cook claimed Australia for Great Britain in 1770, the native population may have numbered 300,000 in as many as 500 tribes speaking many different languages. The aboriginal population currently numbers 455,031, representing about 2.3% of the population. Since the end of World War II, the government and the public have made efforts to be more responsive to aboriginal rights and needs.
Immigration has been a key to Australia's development since the beginning of European settlement in 1788. For generations, most settlers came from the British Isles, and the people of Australia are still predominantly of British or Irish origin, with a culture and outlook similar to those of Americans. However, since the end of World War II, the population has more than doubled; non-European immigration, mostly from the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America, has increased significantly since 1960 through an extensive, planned immigration program. From 1945 through 2000, nearly 5.9 million immigrants settled in Australia, and about 80% have remained; nearly three out of every 10 Australians are foreign-born. Britain and Ireland have been the largest sources of post-war immigrants, followed by Italy, Greece, New Zealand, and the former Yugoslavia.
Australia's humanitarian and refugee admissions of about 12,000 per year are in addition to the normal immigration program. In recent years, refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia have comprised the largest element in Australia's refugee program.
Although Australia has scarcely more than three people per square kilometer, it is one of the world's most urbanized countries. Less than 2.5% of the population lives in remote or very remote areas.
Much of Australia's culture is derived from European roots, but distinctive Australian features have evolved from the environment, aboriginal culture, and the influence of Australia's neighbors. The vigor and originality of the arts in Australia--films, opera, music, painting, theater, dance, and crafts--are achieving international recognition.
Australian actors such as Nicole Kidman, Rachel Griffiths, Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Paul Hogan, Hugh Jackman, and Heath Ledger have achieved enormous popularity in the United States. Australian movies and directors such as Peter Weir and Philip Noyes, the conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, and singers such as Olivia Newton-John, children's musicians The Wiggles, AC/DC, Dame Joan Sutherland, Dame Nellie Melba, and Kylie Minogue, also are well known.
Australia has had a widely respected school of painting since the early days of European settlement, and Australians with international reputations include Sidney Nolan, Russell Drysdale, Pro Hart, and Arthur Boyd. Writers who have achieved world recognition include Thomas Keneally, Colleen McCullough, Nevil Shute, Morris West, Jill Ker Conway, Peter Carey, Robert Hughes, Germaine Greer, and Nobel Prize winner Patrick White.
Australia was uninhabited until stone-culture peoples arrived, perhaps by boat across the waters separating the island from the Indonesia archipelago more than 40,000 years ago. Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and English explorers observed the island before 1770, when Captain Cook explored the east coast and claimed it for Great Britain (three American colonists were crew members aboard Cook's ship, the Endeavour).
On January 26, 1788 (now celebrated as Australia Day), the First Fleet under Capt. Arthur Phillip landed at Sydney, and formal proclamation of the establishment of the Colony of New South Wales followed on February 7. Many but by no means all of the first settlers were convicts, many condemned for offenses that today would often be thought trivial. The mid-19th century saw the beginning of government policies to emancipate convicts and assist the immigration of free persons. The discovery of gold in 1851 led to increased population, wealth, and trade.
The six colonies that now constitute the states of the Australian Commonwealth were established in the following order: New South Wales, 1788; Tasmania, 1825; Western Australia, 1830; South Australia, 1836; Victoria, 1851; and Queensland, 1859. Settlement had preceded these dates in most cases. Discussions between Australian and British representatives led to adoption by the British Government of an act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia in 1900. Since Federation, the Commonwealth Government has established two self-governing territories: the Northern Territory, 1978; and the Australian Capital Territory (where the national capital, Canberra, is located), 1989.
The first federal Parliament was opened at Melbourne in May 1901 by the Duke of York (later King George V). In May 1927, the seat of government was transferred to Canberra, a planned city designed by an American, Walter Burley Griffin. The first session of Parliament in that city was opened by another Duke of York (later King George VI). Australia passed the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act on October 9, 1942, which officially established Australia's complete autonomy in both internal and external affairs. Its passage formalized a situation that had existed for years. The Australia Act (1986) eliminated the last vestiges of British legal authority.
The Commonwealth government was created with a Constitution patterned partly on the U.S. Constitution, although it does not include a "bill of rights". The powers of the Commonwealth are specifically defined in the Constitution, and the residual powers remain with the states. Proposed changes to the Constitution must be approved by the Parliament and the people, via referendum, in order to take effect.
Australia is an independent nation within the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state and since 1973 has been officially styled "Queen of Australia." The Queen is represented throughout Australia by a governor general and in each state by a governor.
The federal Parliament is bicameral, consisting of a 76-member Senate and a 150-member House of Representatives. Twelve senators from each state are elected for 6-year terms, with half elected every 3 years. Each territory has two senators who are elected for 3-year terms. The members of the House of Representatives are allocated among the states and territories roughly in proportion to population. In ordinary legislation, the two chambers have coordinate powers, but all proposals for appropriating revenue or imposing taxes must be introduced in the House of Representatives. Under the prevailing Westminster parliamentary system, the leader of the political party or coalition of parties that wins a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives is named prime minister. The prime minister and the cabinet wield actual power and are responsible to the Parliament, of which they must be elected members. General elections are held at least once every 3 years; the last general election was in October 2004.
Each state is headed by a premier, who is the leader of the party with a majority or a working minority in the lower house of the state legislature (Queensland is an exception, with a unicameral parliament). Australia's two self-governing territories have political systems similar to those of the states, with unicameral assemblies. The territories are headed by Chief Ministers who are the leader of the party with a majority or a working minority in the territories' legislature. Australia's 673 local councils assist in the delivery of services such as roads maintenance, sewage and the provision of recreational facilities.
At the apex of the court system is the High Court of Australia. It has general appellate jurisdiction over all other federal and state courts and possesses the power of constitutional review.
Principal Government Officials
Governor General--Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Michael Jeffery
Prime Minister--John W. Howard
Deputy Prime Minister--Mark A.J. Vaile
Foreign Minister--Alexander Downer
Defense Minister--Brendan J. Nelson
Ambassador to the United States--Dennis Richardson
Ambassador to the United Nations--Robert Hill
Australia maintains an embassy in the United States at 1601 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202-797-3000), and consulates general in New York (212-351-6500), San Francisco (415-536-1970), Honolulu (808-524-5050), Los Angeles (310-229-4800), Chicago (312-419-1480) and Atlanta (404-760-3400).
Australia's advanced market economy is dominated by its services sector (72% of GDP), yet it is the agricultural and mining sectors (8% of GDP combined) that account for the bulk (52%) of Australia's exports. Australia's comparative advantage in the export of primary products is a reflection of the natural wealth of the Australian continent and its small domestic market; 21 million people occupy a continent the size of the contiguous United States. The relative size of the manufacturing sector has been declining for several decades, but has now steadied at around 10% of GDP. Australia currently enjoys a record-high terms-of-trade (TOT) that is 30% above its long-run average, reflecting the rise in global commodity prices created by booming demand in China and the drop in prices for imports for manufactured goods, mainly from China
Since the 1980s, Australia has undertaken significant structural reform of its economy and has transformed itself from an inward-looking, highly protected and regulated marketplace to an open, internationally competitive, export-oriented economy. Key economic reforms included unilaterally reducing high tariffs and other protective barriers to free trade, floating the Australian dollar, deregulating the financial services sector, including liberalizing access for foreign banks, increasing flexibility in the labor market, reducing duplication and increasing efficiency between the federal and state branches of government, privatizing many government-owned monopolies, and reforming the taxation system, including introducing a broad-based Goods and Services Tax (GST) and large reductions in income tax rates.
Australia is now in its 16th year of uninterrupted economic expansion and enjoys a higher standard of living than any G7 country other than the United States. Australia's economic standing in the world is a result of a commitment to best-practice macroeconomic policy settings including the delegation of the conduct of monetary policy to the independent Reserve Bank of Australia, and a broad acceptance of prudent fiscal policy where the government aims for fiscal balance over the economic cycle. The Australian Government has zero net debt and, through the "Future Fund", is building a net asset position to deal with future liabilities resulting from an aging population. The Australian economy is expected to grow at around 3.5% in 2007.
Two issues, national infrastructure and climate change, currently dominate thinking about economic policy in Australia. The Australian economy is booming and is operating at close to capacity with unemployment at a 32-year low of 4.2%. Both the federal and state governments have recognized the need to invest heavily in water, transport, ports, telecommunications, and education infrastructure to expand Australia's supply capacity. Australia may be coming out of the severe drought conditions it has experienced over the last 5 years, and above-average rainfall has been predicted for 2007. This should somewhat reduce the intense economic and political pressure on governments to build dams, water-recycling facilities, and desalination plants in drought-affected cities such as Brisbane, Canberra, and Perth.
The second significant issue is climate change. A recent report commissioned by the Prime Minister recommended a domestic carbon emissions trading scheme. It also recommended that Australia take an active role in developing a future global carbon emissions trading system. Regardless of the outcome of the federal election due in late 2007, Australia is now committed to adopting a domestic carbon trading system in the 2010-2012 timeframe.
The Australia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) entered into force on January 1, 2005. The AUSFTA marks the first FTA the U.S. has concluded with a developed economy since the U.S.-Canada FTA in 1988. Australia has also completed FTAs with Singapore and Thailand and is pursuing other FTAs, including with China and Japan. A burgeoning trade relationship marked by ongoing, multi-billion dollar resource export contracts and rising manufactured imports has driven FTA negotiations with China. Parallel efforts are underway with Malaysia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Australian Government has restated its commitment to achieving high-quality FTAs with economies in the Asia-Pacific.
Australia has been active participant in international affairs since World War I and since then has fought beside the United States and other Allies in every significant conflict to the present day. In 1944, it concluded an agreement with New Zealand dealing with the security, welfare, and advancement of the people of the independent territories of the Pacific (the ANZAC pact). After the war, Australia played a role in the Far Eastern Commission in Japan and supported Indonesian independence during that country's revolt against the Dutch (1945-49). Australia was one of the founders of both the United Nations and the South Pacific Commission (1947), and in 1950, it proposed the Colombo Plan to assist developing countries in Asia. In addition to contributing to UN forces in Korea--it was the first country to announce it would do so after the United States--Australia sent troops to assist in putting down the communist revolt in Malaya in 1948-60 and later to combat the Indonesian-supported invasion of Sarawak in 1963-65. The U.S., Australia and New Zealand signed the ANZUS Treaty in 1951, which remains Australia's only formal security treaty alliance. Australia also sent troops to assist South Vietnamese and U.S. forces in Vietnam and joined coalition forces in the Persian Gulf conflict in 1991, in Afghanistan in 2002, and in Iraq in 2003.
Australia has been active in the Australia-New Zealand-U.K. agreement and the Five-Power Defense Arrangements--successive arrangements with Britain and New Zealand to ensure the security of Singapore and Malaysia.
One of the drafters of the UN Charter, Australia has given firm support to the United Nations and its specialized agencies. It was a member of the Security Council in 1986-87, a member of the Economic and Social Council for 1986-89, and a member of the UN Human Rights Commission for 1994-96 and 2003-2005. Australia takes a prominent part in many other UN activities, including peacekeeping, nonproliferation and disarmament negotiations, and narcotics control. Australia also is active in meetings of the Commonwealth Regional Heads of Government and the Pacific Islands Forum, and has been a leader in the Cairns Group--countries pressing for agricultural trade reform in World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations--and in founding the APEC forum. In 2002, Australia joined the International Criminal Court.
Australia has devoted particular attention to relations between developed and developing nations, with emphasis on the ten countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the island states of the South Pacific. Australia is an active participant in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which promotes regional cooperation on security issues, and was invited to the East Asia Summit as an inaugural member in 2005. In September 1999, acting under a UN Security Council mandate, Australia led an international coalition to restore order in East Timor upon Indonesia's withdrawal from that territory. In 2006, Australia again participated in an international peacekeeping operation in East Timor. Australia led a regional mission to restore law and order in Solomon Islands in 2003 and again in 2006.
In 2006, the government committed to doubling Australia's official development assistance to $4 billion a year by 2010. Australia budgeted $2.48 billion ($A2.95 billion) as official development assistance in FY 2006-2007, and has budgeted $2.66 billion ($A3.16billion) in 2007-2008. The Australian aid program is currently concentrated in Southeast Asia (Papua New Guinea--PNG--is the largest-single recipient) and the Pacific Islands. In 2004, Australia commenced a 5-year $0.8 billion ($A1.1 billion) Enhanced Cooperation Program (ECP), which involved government officials working alongside their PNG counterparts. The future of the program was called into question in 2005, however, when ECP immunity provisions for Australian officials were successfully challenged in the PNG high court. Selected aid flows are allocated to Africa, South Asia, and reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq. Contributions to multilateral organizations and other expenses account for about one-third of the foreign assistance budget.
The Australia, New Zealand, United States (ANZUS) security treaty was concluded at San Francisco on September 1, 1951, and entered into force on April 29, 1952. The treaty bound the signatories to recognize that an armed attack in the Pacific area on any of them would endanger the peace and safety of the others. It committed them to consult in the event of a threat and, in the event of attack, to meet the common danger in accordance with their respective constitutional processes. The three nations also pledged to maintain and develop individual and collective capabilities to resist attack.
In 1985, the nature of the ANZUS alliance changed after the Government of New Zealand refused access to its ports by nuclear-weapons-capable and nuclear-powered ships of the U.S. Navy. The United States suspended defense obligations to New Zealand, and annual bilateral meetings between the U.S. Secretary of State and the Australian Foreign Minister replaced annual meetings of the ANZUS Council of Foreign Ministers. The first bilateral meeting was held in Canberra in 1985. At the second, in San Francisco in 1986, the United States and Australia announced that the United States was suspending its treaty security obligations to New Zealand pending the restoration of port access. Subsequent bilateral Australia-U.S. Ministerial (AUSMIN) meetings have alternated between Australia and the United States. The 21st AUSMIN meeting took place in Washington, DC, on December 12, 2006.
The U.S.-Australia alliance under the ANZUS Treaty remains in full force. Defense ministers of one or both nations have joined the annual ministerial meetings, which are supplemented by consultations between the U.S. Combatant Commander, Pacific and the Australian Chief of Defense Force. There also are regular civilian and military consultations between the two governments at lower levels.
ANZUS has no integrated defense structure or dedicated forces. However, in fulfillment of ANZUS obligations, Australia and the United States conduct a variety of joint activities. These include military exercises ranging from naval and landing exercises at the task-group level to battalion-level special forces training to numerous smaller-scale exercises, assigning officers to each other's armed services, and standardizing, where possible, equipment and operational doctrine. The two countries also operate joint defense facilities in Australia.
Following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Australian Prime Minister Howard and U.S. President George Bush jointly invoked the ANZUS Treaty for the first time on September 14, 2001. Australia was one of the earliest participants in Operation Enduring Freedom. Australian Defense Forces participated in coalition military action against Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Australian military and civilian specialists are participating in the training of Iraqi security forces and the reconstruction of Iraq. Australian Special Forces redeployed to Afghanistan to help provide security for the country's September 18, 2005 elections. Based on growing defense commitments, Australia decided to increase the Australian Army from 26,000 to 30,000 over the next several years. This will enable the reestablishment of two infantry battalions, as well as enabling troops, such as a new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) unit.
After a review in 2000 of Australia's future defense needs, the government made a commitment to increase defense spending by an average of 3% a year for the next 10 years. The Australian Defense Force numbers about 51,000 active duty personnel. The government plans to increase this to 57,000 within the next decade. The Royal Australian Navy's (RAN) front-line fleet currently includes 12 frigates, including 4 of the Adelaide class and 7 Australian-built ANZAC class, with 1 more scheduled for delivery. The last of six submarines of the new, indigenous Collins class was commissioned in March 2003. In August 2004, Australia selected the Aegis Combat Control System for its three air warfare destroyers (AWD), which will start coming into service in 2013. In June 2007, Australia selected the Spanish F-100 as the hull design for the AWD. The F/A-18 fighter, built in Australia under license from the U.S. manufacturer, is the principal combat aircraft of the Royal Australian Air Force, backed by the U.S.-built F-111 strike aircraft. In October 2002, Australia became a Level III partner in the U.S.-led Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. The F-111 strike aircraft are scheduled to exit service by 2010 and will be replaced by 24 Boeing F/A-18F Superhornet fighters as an interim strike capability until Australia completes its projected buy of up to 100 JSF aircraft beginning in 2013 and running through 2020. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) took its first delivery of a planned buy of 4 Lockheed C-17 strategic airlift aircraft in December 2006. In addition, Boeing will provide the Commonwealth of Australia's RAAF with an Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) system based on the Next-Generation 737-700 aircraft as the airborne platform. Recent U.S. sales to the Royal Australian Army include the M1A1 AIM tank, as well as Hellfire and JAVELIN munitions.
The World War II experience, similarities in culture and historical background, and shared democratic values have made U.S. relations with Australia exceptionally strong and close. Ties linking the two nations cover the entire spectrum of international relations--from commercial, cultural, and environmental contacts to political and defense cooperation. Two-way trade reached almost $25 billion in 2005-2006. More than 456,000 Americans visited Australia in 2006.
Traditional friendship is reinforced by the wide range of common interests and similar views on most major international questions. For example, both countries sent military forces to the Persian Gulf in support of UN Security Council resolutions relating to Iraq's occupation of Kuwait; both attach high priority to controlling and eventually eliminating chemical weapons, other weapons of mass destruction, and anti-personnel landmines; and both work closely on global environmental issues such as slowing climate change and preserving coral reefs. The Australian Government and opposition share the view that Australia's security depends on firm ties with the United States, and the ANZUS Treaty enjoys broad bipartisan support. Recent Presidential visits to Australia (in 1991, 1996 and 2003), a Vice Presidential visit in February 2007, and Australian Prime Ministerial visits to the United States (in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006) have underscored the strength and closeness of the alliance.
The bilateral Australia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) entered into force on January 1, 2005. This comprehensive agreement, only the second FTA the U.S. had negotiated with a developed nation, substantially liberalizes an already vibrant trade and investment relationship. The AUSFTA also creates a range of ongoing working groups and committees designed to explore further trade reform in the bilateral context.
Both countries share a commitment to liberalizing global trade. They work together very closely in the World Trade Organization (WTO), and both are active members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
A number of U.S. institutions conduct scientific activities in Australia because of its geographical position, large land mass, advanced technology, and, above all, the ready cooperation of its government and scientists. In 2005, a bilateral science and technology agreement was renewed. Under another agreement dating back to 1960 and since renewed, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) maintains in Australia one of its largest and most important program outside the United States, including a number of tracking facilities vital to the U.S. space program. Indicative of the broad-ranging U.S.-Australian cooperation on other global issues, a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) was concluded in 1997, enhancing already close bilateral cooperation on legal and counter-narcotics issues. In 2001, the U.S. and Australia signed a new tax treaty and a bilateral social security agreement. The U.S. Studies Centre was launched in 2006 at the University of Sydney with Commonwealth funding of Au$25 million. In April 2007, Australia and the U.S. agreed to each resettle up to 200 refugees processed in the other country each year as a means of deterring unauthorized arrivals and people smugglers.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador-- Robert D. McCallum, Jr.
Deputy Chief of Mission--Daniel A. Clune
Consular Affairs Coordinator--Suzanne Lawrence (resident in Sydney)
Economic Counselor--Edgard Kagan (arrival August 2007)
Political Counselor--James F. Cole
Management Counselor--Grace Stettenbauer
Public Affairs Counselor--Scott Weinhold
Defense and Air Attaché--Col Andrew Britschgi, USAF
Agricultural Counselor--Kathleen Wainio
Senior Commercial Officer--Keith Kirkham, acting (resident in Sydney)
The U.S. Embassy in Australia is located at Moonah Place, Yarralumla, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2600 (tel. 2-6214-5600; fax 6214-5970). Consulates General are in Sydney (tel. 2-9373-9200; fax 2-9373-9125); Melbourne (tel. 3-9526-5900; fax 3-9510-4646; and Perth (tel. 9-202-1224; fax. 9-231-9444).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Jul. 2007