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An Increasingly Diverse Population | Australia (2010) |

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

An Increasingly Diverse Population

Graeme Hugo

/ 5 Minuten zu lesen

Without post-war migration, Australia´s current population would be 12 million rather than the actual figure of 22 million, but the impact of migration on the Australian population has been greater than a numerical one. A half-century ago Australia´s population was overwhelmingly of Anglo-Celtic origin, but post-war migration has transformed it into one of the most multicultural of societies.

Capturing all the dimensions of the diversity is difficult but some of the findings from the 2006 population census are illustrative:

  • Some 23.9 percent of the total population were born outside of Australia, 14.8 percent in countries where English is not the main language. The comparative figures for 1947 were 9.8 percent and 2.0 percent.

  • Over a fifth of the overseas-born (21.5 percent) speak a language other than English at home.

  • 26.4 percent of the Australia-born population have at least one overseas-born parent.

  • In 2006 there were 12 birthplace groups with more than 100.000 persons living in Australia and 61 birthplace groups with more than 10.000 Australian residents.

The Figure demonstrates how the intake of settlers into Australia has diversified over the post-war period. The pre-war

Settler Arrivals by Region of Last Residencs (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/2.0/de

dominance of the United Kingdom was changed in the early post-war years by the influx of continental Europeans. Then in the 1970s the "White Australia Policy", which had been in the process of being gradually dismantled since the late 1940s, was finally buried, and an influx of refugees from Indo-China after 1975 heralded the beginning of a continuing migration of Asian settlers into Australia. At various stages over the ensuing three decades different Asian groups have been dominant in the influx, but in recent years China and India have been the main origin countries. The extension of the refugee-humanitarian program to Africa during the last decade saw, for the first time, substantial numbers of black African immigrants settle in Australia, adding an extra element of diversity to the population. Dominant in the Oceania group are New Zealanders, whose movement to Australia is not only facilitated by the Trans-Tasman Agreement allowing entry, but increasing integration of the Australian and New Zealand economies.

The Figure left depicts the distribution of the countries of origin of recent permanent settlers to Australia. It shows that, while the traditional origin countries of the United Kingdom and New Zealand remain important, there is a wide dispersion in evidence. Moreover, it indicates the significance of Asia, especially India and China.

Citizenship and naturalisation

Settler Arrivals by Country of Birth (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/2.0/de

Australia has strongly encouraged settlers to take up Australian citizenship, for which they became eligible to apply after two years of residence up to 2007 and after four years thereafter. Of the overseas-born population in Australia, slightly more than three quarters have taken up Australian citizenship. The citizenship take-up rate has increased from less than two thirds in 1989. The take up rate varies depending on the country of birth, with especially high rates for those born in Greece, Hungary, Lebanon, Egypt, Vietnam, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, and particularly low rates for the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Other nationalities with large numbers of eligible persons who have not taken up citizenship are Italy, Malaysia, India and the People´s Republic of China.

The Australian Citizenship Act of 1948 stipulated that those born in Australia who acquired another nationality forfeited their Australian citizenship. With increasing Australian emigration there was considerable opposition to this, culminating in 2001 in a Senate Inquiry and a subsequent amendment to the Act in 2002, which made dual citizenship possible for Australians.

A record number of citizenships were approved in 2006-07 (136.256) ahead of some changes in the Citizenship Act in 2007. These changes involved an increase in the residence requirement and the introduction of a citizenship test. The latter was somewhat controversial but in its initial year 95 percent of people who sat the test passed it.


Until the late 1960s the Australian government adopted an assimilationist policy which placed emphasis on immigrants adopting an assumed "majority culture" which was essentially British, Christian and Caucasian. However, this began to change with the high level of non-British European migration in the 1950s, and the 1970s saw the adoption of a multicultural policy by the Australian government. The Galbally Report (1978) laid down the guiding principles of Australian multiculturalism which largely remain in place, although the extent to which they have been heeded has varied with successive Australian governments :

  • All members of Australian society must have equal opportunity to realize their full potential and have equal access to programs and services.

  • Every person should be able to maintain their culture without prejudice or disadvantage and should be encouraged to understand and embrace other cultures.

  • Needs of migrants should be met by programs and services available to the whole community but special services and programs are necessary at present to ensure equality of access and provision.

  • Services and programs should be designed and operated in full consultation with clients and self-help should be encouraged as much as possible.

While the extent to which these principles have been followed has varied over the last three decades, and there has been considerable controversy surrounding them, especially during the period of conservative government between 1996 and 2007, there were certainly vocal opponents to immigration and to the official policy of multiculturalism. Yet these opponents remained a minority, as there has been an increasing level of public acceptance that immigration is, on balance, a positive force in Australia. Whereas in 1993, 67 percent of Australians considered that "the number of migrants has gone much too far", by 2004 this had declined to 29.7 percent, although by 2007 it had increased again. A recent study of 6 088 South Australians in metropolitan and rural areas found 87.7 percent believed cultural diversity was a positive influence on the community.

Both federal and state governments in Australia have strong multicultural policies, programs, agencies and institutions. A neglected dimension of multicultural policy and thinking has been the role of indigenous societies and cultures, which are a crucial element in national diversity. This group make up around 2 percent of the national population and remain disadvantaged and excluded from aspects of mainstream society.

Immigrants have lower rates of participation in the labour market although some categories (e.g. skilled migrants) have higher participation than the Australian-born.

Migration and population policy

Population issues have not been more prominent in Australia during the post-war period than they are at present. Nationally there have been a number of reports that have defined the outlook of Australia´s ageing population. Without migration, the size of age groups entering the workforce becomes smaller than those leaving it within the next decade. A baby bonus of $3 000 ($4 000 after 1 July 2006, now $5 000) was introduced with other "family friendly" initiatives. In addition, a raft of policy interventions encourages baby boomers and hitherto-disengaged groups to participate in the workforce. Moreover, several states (Government of South Australia, 2004; State of Victoria, 2004) have introduced comprehensive population policies. In all of this discussion immigration issues have loomed large.

Australia is anticipated to be one of the nations most likely to be influenced by climate change. This has given further fuel to an ongoing national debate on the environmental constraints, especially that of water, on further population growth. With immigration now accounting for more than half of the population growth the "population-environment" debate is very much a migration-environment one.



  1. DIAC (2009a: 12).

  2. Galbally (1978).

  3. Jupp (2002: 87).

  4. Betts (2008: 20).

  5. Government of South Australia (2008).

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