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This chapter outlines the basic demographic features of our multicultural communities. In 2006, our population was increasingly multicultural: a higher proportion of citizens who were born overseas have made Australia their home. Our multicultural population is highly diverse, with people bringing their national cultures, religions and languages to add to our changing Australian society.

Our emerging multicultural communities

Multiculturalism and the building of a culturally diverse society is a direct result of immigration; there have been 5 million permanent migrants to Australia since 1945. Around a quarter of the present population was born overseas. Diverse cultures and multicultural communities add to the cultural heritage and identity of our multicultural nation. Australia initially embarked on a programme of immigration due to a low fertility (birth) rate and an inadequate population for industry needs. The 'Ten Pound Tourists' from the United Kingdom arrived in Australia under the 'populate or perish' slogan. See image 1

There were also early concerns that Australia was vulnerable to attack or invasion from neighbouring countries if it did not boost its small population (such as during the 1960s, when Australians were led to believe that communists from Asian countries, such as Vietnam, China and Cambodia would invade). There are calls in recent times to bring more skilled migrants to Australia so that our economy can remain competitive and prosperous (35 000 skilled migrants were brought to Australia in 1998-99).

There is a range of interesting statistics on our multicultural communities. For example, in 1947, the proportion of the population born overseas was 10 per cent, with 81 per cent of this figure coming from English-speaking countries; in 2001, 22 per cent were born overseas with 33 per cent originating from North-West Europe, 18.9 per cent from Southern and Eastern Europe and 12.1 per cent from South-East Asia. These figures tell us that we are becoming more multicultural with an increased proportion of migrants drawn from an increasing variety of nations and cultures. This makes our national community diverse, unique and one of constant change. The top five overseas-born communities (by number of people) are the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Italy, Vietnam and China.

After World War II (after 1945), Australia brought a wave of migrants from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia. Many migrants and refugees have come from Asian countries since the 1970s (Vietnam, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Cambodia and China). See image 2

The 1970's also featured arrivals from Turkey, Lebanon and India. The 1980s and 1990s saw a significant increase of migrants practising the religions of Buddhism and Islam; relatively new migrant intakes have been sourced from Iraq, Iran, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Islam is one of the fastest growing non-Christian religions in Australia and this is an example of our religious tolerance. See animation 1

Policies on non-discriminatory immigration

Migration, or emigration, is the permanent or semi-permanent movement of people from nation to nation. Immigration programmes bring migrants into a country. Migrants are able to return to their original country permanently if they have dual citizenship. Australia's annual immigration quota (amount) is based on non-discriminatory grounds (does not give preference to any particular race, religion, gender, or cultural ethnicity). There exists a range of immigration programmes based on family circumstances, skill levels, humanitarian issues (like refugees made homeless from war) and issues of sustainable development (concerns the people needed for employment and the strengthening of communities, with regard to minimising our impact on the natural environment).

Migrants to Australia are accorded the same citizenship rights as others in the population. We have a Multicultural Policy of rights based on values of respect, tolerance, inclusion and recognition. Responsibilities are bestowed upon all Australian citizens, based on the application of these rights (like loyalty to Australia, acceptance of laws and the institutions and norms of our system; and mutual respect for each other).

The influences of multicultural communities

Multicultural communities provide Australia with new sources of cultural heritage. The cultural richness covers the wide variety of food, leisure pursuits, arts, visual aspects such as streetscapes, and cultural traditions. Multicultural communities are being supported and strengthened by our governments, for economic and social reasons. Cabramatta in Sydney's South-West is an example of how multiculturalism can unite and integrate different cultures. Around two thirds of Cabramatta was born overseas; many Asian migrants make up the population (for example, 29 per cent were born in Vietnam out of a population of 19 315). Cabramatta is known for its Asian-Australian identity and cuisine, Buddhist temples, European cafes, alternative medicines and annual street festivals. Multicultural communities are, in a way, like 'global' communities: cultures of the world work together in a defined population for the purpose of work, sport, socialising, raising families and community life.

Within multicultural communities we find strong cultural and social relations among people. Australia is a great place to live and the new lifestyle here encourages diverse peoples to work together to develop the community. We find distinct cultural zones or regions, restaurants, places of worship, community information and education programs, traditional and Australian entertainment and an array of cultural imports. Over time, migrants tend to disperse into the wider Australian community, leaving their unique cultural influence behind; examples include the Germans in the Barossa Valley of South Australia, Vietnamese in Cabramatta and Springvale (Melbourne) and the Middle-Eastern influence in Auburn (for example, Iraqis and Lebanese). See image 3

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Question 1/5

1. How many permanent migrants have arrived to Australia since 1945?

5 million

3 million

4 million

20 000


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