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Background Information | Australia |

Australia Background Information Permanent Migration Temporary Migration Irregular Migration Emigration Population Conclusion References

Background Information

Graeme Hugo

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With almost half of its total resident population either born in a foreign country or the child of such a person, Australia is one of the world´s quintessential immigration countries.

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Moreover, in mid-2008 there were also over 800.000 people in Australia on a temporary basis (equivalent to 3.8 percent of the resident population) and a million Australians living overseas on a permanent or long-term basis. It is, together with Canada, the United States and New Zealand, one of the world´s traditional immigration countries, with a history of planned immigration extending more than two centuries and a majority of its resident population perceiving migration as having a positive economic and social impact.

On the eve of European settlement in the late eighteenth century, Australia had an indigenous population of an estimated 300.000 persons. However, while the contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population was estimated to be 517.043 in 2006, the total Australian population had grown to 21.644.000 by the end of 2008. as a result of waves of immigration and their subsequent fertility.


Capital: Canberra
Official language: English
Area: 7 759 538.2 km²
Population (Dec. 2008): 21 644 000
Population Density (Dec. 2008): 2.8 inhabitants per km²
Population Growth Rate (2008): 1.9 %
Labour Force Participation Rate (Aug. 2009): 63.5%
Foreign-Born as Percentage of Total Population
(June 2008): 25.6
Unemployment rate (Aug. 2009): 6.1%
Religion (2006): Percent Catholic 25.8, Protestant 18.7,
Other Christian 19.4, Buddhist 2.1, Muslim 1.7, Other 2.3, No Religion 18.7, No Answer 11.2

Historical Development of Immigration Policy

In examining Australian immigration, the Second World War is a clear watershed. The arrival of the first European settlers in 1788, involving mostly transported convicts, was the beginning of more than a hundred years in which the separate colonies of New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia had their own immigration policies. While there was steady growth in immigration over the period leading to the federation of Australia in 1901, there were spikes associated with mining rushes and major extensions of the agricultural frontier. The flow was overwhelmingly from Britain, although there was a major influx of Chinese associated with the mining boom in the 1870s and 1880s. The federation saw immigration policy being taken over by the new Commonwealth government and one of its first acts was to declare the White Australia Policy, which limited immigration to Europeans, especially those from the British Isles. However, there were significant waves of migrants from Germany (in the 1840s and 1850s) and Italians (especially in the early twentieth century). The level of immigration ebbed and flowed with the economy, reaching high levels in the 1920s and then plummeting during the Great Depression of the 1930s, even recording net emigration in some years.

After World War II the level of immigration to Australia reached a new high level, which has been maintained over most of the subsequent six decades with rises and falls associated with economic fluctuations and shifts in immigration policy. However, the significant shift in the scale of immigration is only one element in the transformation of immigration to Australia in the post-war period.



  1. Hugo (2006).

  2. ABS (2009).

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Graeme Hugo is Professor of Geography and Director of the National Centre for Social Applications of GIS at the University of Adelaide, Australia.