AUSTRALIA'S famous pioneering spirit is helping bolster the country through recession-hit hard times. High unemployment, inflation, and former heavy dependence on the sluggish export market are all factors that have contributed to a slowdown in the economy. But action is being taken to improve the health of the nation's bank balance. Economic reforms are an inevitable and vital measure. Despite their differences, both the ruling Labor Party and the conservative opposition parties are committed to continuing to open up the formerly-protected and regulated economy to international economic forces. There is an encouraging amount of agreement on key issues such as tariff reductions, raising business competitiveness through labour market changes and other structural economic reforms, developing Australia's manufacturing base, and integration with Asia. The question now is not if, but when, change will come. The government is voting for a slow reform process, while the opposition wants faster measures to be taken. The election this year could answer that, but in the meantime, enterprising Australians are looking for their own answers. Australia has a relatively small domestic market, but has the advantage of being geographically part of the Asia-Pacific region. This is developing into a major centre of economic activity and, increasingly, Australians are looking to a future partnership with the buoyant Asian nations. Trade between some Australians and their neighbours has been going on for 40 years, and several companies are forging stronger links with long-standing trade partners, as well as developing new ones. There has been a deliberate and successful diversification of export markets into the western Pacific region and the Middle East. This was encouraged by private sector and government initiatives in export development programmes, including trade missions, participation in trade fairs and publicity campaigns. Product diversification has also been encouraged. Australia has a broad industrial base, producing manufactured goods ranging from fashion garments to food, electronic devices to household appliances, precision instruments and plastics. Its major exports include coal, alumina, wool, beef and veal, iron ore, nickel, wheat and sugar, and its major exports to Hongkong include coal, seafoods, wool and fresh fruit. Hongkong is Australia's seventh largest export market, while Japan is its biggest trading partner. A booming revenue producer for Australia is tourism, which was its single largest foreign earner, over wool and coal exports. Recent figures show that A$7.2 billion (about HK$37.37 billion) rattled into the nation's coffers from the pockets of nearly 2.4 million international tourists. Australia is one of the most desired holiday destinations, and the Australian Tourist Commission has not been slow to convert those dreams into hard cash payments for bookings. An advertising campaign with a budget of A$28 million is being targeted primarily at Asia, with nearly half being spent to promote Australia in Hongkong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. It aims to maintain the high level of Asian interest, which is the fastest-growing source of visitors, and has been supporting the industry in recent years. In 1991-92 the number of Asian tourists, excluding Japanese, rose 28 per cent. The fastest-growing market was Taiwan, but Japan was the richest market, registering the highest-spending visitors. Australia is a popular emigration destination, with Asians among the highest annual immigration intake. It is also a favourite with students and young people taking a year off from studies or employment, and has a reciprocal visitors visa agreement with countries including Britain and Canada. Australia itself is a land spanning roughly the same area as the United States, excluding Alaska.