Cultural diversity? You’re standing in it!

24 Nov

At 30 June 2004, 23.6 per cent of the estimated resident population of Australia were born overseas. Of those born Since 1945, more around 6.5 million people have come to Australia as new settlers. They have had a marked influence on all aspects of our society. In the 51 years of planned post-war migration, Australia has seen:

  • around 6.5 million migrants arrive comprising about 3.35 million males and 3.15 million females
  • more than 660 000 people arrive under humanitarian programmes, initially as displaced persons and more recently as refugees, and
  • a population rise from about 7 million to over 20 million.

The trigger for a large-scale migration programme was the end of World War II. Agreements were reached with Britain, some European countries and with the International Refugee Organisation to encourage migration, including displaced people from war-torn Europe .

About one million migrants arrived in each of the five decades following 1950:

  • 1.6 million between October 1945 and 30 June 1960
  • about 1.3 million in the 1960s
  • about 960 000 in the 1970s
  • about 1.1 million in the 1980s, and
  • over 900 000 in the 1990s.

The highest number of settlers to arrive in any one year since World War II was 185 099 in 1969-70. The lowest number in any one year was 52 752 in 1975-76…

Today, nearly one in four of Australia ‘s 20 million people was born overseas. 31.3 per cent were born in North-West Europe, 17.7 per cent in Southern and Eastern Europe and 12.6 per cent in South-East Asia. The top five countries of birth made up 45.5 per cent of the overseas-born population.

Top 5 Countries of Birth at 30 June 2004

Country of Birth Estimated Number % of Overseas-born
United Kingdom 1,134,225 23.9
New Zealand 442,189 9.3
Italy 227,942 4.8
China (excl. SARs and Taiwan ) 181,987 3.8
Vietnam 176,616 3.7
Other 2,588,121 54.5
Total Overseas-born 4,751,080 100.0

Source: ABS Estimated Resident Population

The information above comes from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.

Now read GDP – Australia in its Region by Jim Belshaw, a cool analysis of some economic and demographic factors we all need to attend to.

Unlike most other parts of the world, Australia has no choice but to… accommodate those of the Muslim faith for both economic and political reasons. Forget immediate issues in the Middle East or the War on Terror, the immediate Australian world includes the majority of the world’s Muslim population. It also includes the majority of Hindus, of Buddhists, of several other faiths. We have to find a way of melding these different faiths (and people) together in a community if we are to survive, let alone achieve our potential…

Australia is already one of the world’s most diverse countries in ethnic and cultural terms. This is where Mr Akya is, to use an Australian phrase, talking through his hat. We have already accommodated some of the most dramatic ethnic and changes experienced by any country in the last 100 years. We have done so because, and this is part of the Australian way, we are prepared to accept others as people first.

Just as we have done in the past, so will we continue to do so in the future as we move into the new world facing this country.

I made a small correction in one sentence there, Jim; a typo, I think.

All this is to underscore a point I (and Colin Rubinstein) made yesterday: Simply walking out my front door here in Surry Hills, or teaching at The Mine, makes crystal clear that multiculturalism is a fact of Australian life, and fatuous it is to deny it or to avoid the word, as Howard has tended to do for a decade or more. The issue is not the existence of our multicultural society, but its management for the good of all, in the interests of another unfashionable idea — equity. To which I ought also to add “and harmony”.

So I really welcome positive steps (and we can only take one step at a time) like Coaxing Muslims to beach a shore success. Way to go! Much better than all the angst and hate on all sides that surrounded the word “Cronulla” (my old stomping ground) not so long ago.

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See more on my Links to Multicultural Resources — on WordPress now (December 2006 update.)

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3 responses to “Cultural diversity? You’re standing in it!

  1. Jim Belshaw

    November 24, 2006 at 11:13 am

    Thank you for this, Neil. You caught my core point very well.

    Accepting that all countries are different, we have no choice but to be different. Just as the US has to manage hispanic migration, Europe migration from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, so we have to manage our relations with our immediate region. But we are so much smaller that our choices are limited.

    We also have a story to tell. As Australians we are aware of our own weaknesses. Only by looking from outside can we see just what we have in fact done.

    As you know, I write a lot about cultural change, exploring the ways in which Australia has changed. Much of this is necessarily written from an internal perspective, an Australian looking at Australia. From this perspective, the changes have been enormous.

    But when we look at Australia from outside, the remarkable thing is the continuity, the way in which Australian born children from over a hundred cultures have somehow absorbed what it means to be Australian. This is what I call the Australian way.

    Just as you are proud of your Scottish and Aboriginal ancestry, me of my Scottish, English and Kiwi roots,so a Lebanese can be proud of his/her Lebanese ancestry, an Indonesian Australian proud of what Indonesia has achieved.

    This pride fits in the complex meld of what it means to be an Australian. Because I see things in fairly simple terms (and this despite my writing!) I had not actually realised until very recently just how complicated we are to people looking in. If I had to summarise this, I would say that we look at things in and/and ways rather than and/or ways.

    We see no conflict in a person being proud of their ancestry and bring proudly Australian. Australians even understand, although they may think it a bit odd, why I cheer for New Zealand in the League, Australia in the Rugby.

    This inclusiveness is very powerful. Just because I am an Australian of Anglo-celtic origin does not stop me being interested in and taking pride in other groups.

    In Italy, I proudly talked about the achievements of our Italian Australians. I value Italy in part because it is the home of part of the Australian tradition. I do not feel excluded from Italy just because I am not of Italian ancestry. In a funny way I feel that Italy is part of me.

    Just at present there is a tendency in Australia to present things in and/or terms, perhaps also to take ourselves a bit too seriously. We have to guard against this if we are to move forward.

  2. marcelproust

    November 24, 2006 at 11:13 am

    In the table, there is an entry:

    China (excl. SARS and Taiwan ).

    I believe it should read

    “(excl. SARs and Taiwan )”

    SARs = Special Autonomous Regions (Macau; Hong Kong)

    SARS = Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

    Freudian slip or Acronym pluralisation error, do you think? (Or could that could be a false dichotomy?)

    In any event, presumably the Bureau’s and not yours.

  3. ninglun

    November 24, 2006 at 11:27 am

    Quite right, Marcel, so I have happily corrected the Bureau. 😉

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