More about the diversity of people from Australia

In the last decade, Australia has become the most culturally diverse country in the world. Australians are from over 200 countries and speak more than 100 languages. However, this diversity is not represented in the corridors of power. People from non-Anglo-Celtic backgrounds account for only five percent of ASX 200 CEOs and four percent of federal parliamentarians.

1. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Aboriginal peoples live in a range of settings, from urban centers to remote communities. Their experiences of and relationship with culture are different across these places.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a strong family structure. This includes extended families, which may include aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents who have a wide range of family roles and responsibilities.

Historically, distinguishing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Australia was based on blood classifications (e.g. full-blood, half-blood) and racial categories relating to skin colour. Today, distinctions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are made on the basis of self-identification. Extensive community consultation has been important for identifying key cultural domains and developing questionnaire items to measure them. These include connection to country; beliefs and knowledge; language; and family, kinship and community.

2. Asian peoples

Australia has a long history as an immigrant receiving country and it is important that our leaders reflect this cultural diversity. However, a glance at the leadership circles of many major Australian businesses, political institutions and media outlets reveals a clear disconnect: they remain overwhelmingly dominated by people from an Anglo-Celtic background.

Australia’s multicultural society has made a big contribution to its culture, its economy and social cohesion. It also demonstrates that egalitarian values are not culturally specific and can be promoted across diverse groups.

Many Asian Australians are highly accomplished in a variety of fields, from academics and artists to sportspeople. The DAWN report highlights the importance of elevating these voices to help drive Australia’s strategy to seize opportunities in a rising Asia.

3. European peoples

Australia prides itself on being a multicultural society, yet the country struggles to make its political institutions more representative of its cultural diversity. Only 4% of Australian politicians have non-European ancestry, and the nation continues to fall behind its near neighbor New Zealand in terms of the representation of people from all backgrounds in its government.

Census data indicate that the vast majority of Australians with European ancestry are of British descent. However, many Australians claim ancestry from other countries in Europe. Some have even adopted the term pakeha (a New Zealand word referring to people of European descent) to describe themselves. The arrival of Europeans changed the lives of Indigenous peoples. The introduction of new diseases caused devastating losses in life expectancy, and competition for land fueled conflict.

4. Middle Eastern peoples

Australia is home to a thriving Middle Eastern community and has had long-standing diplomatic relations with the region. Australia’s Middle Eastern communities are a vibrant, diverse group of writers, artists, musicians and leaders in business and politics.

Bedouin are Arabic-speaking nomadic peoples of the desert regions of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. Most are animal herders who live in arid conditions.

5. African peoples

People from Africa move to Australia in search of new opportunities. They may have migrated in small groups or with family, and are often young.

Large-scale immigration from Africa to Australia is relatively recent, compared with migration from Europe and Asia. Nevertheless, African Australians have diverse ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds.

Despite the progressive dismantling of racial discriminatory immigration policies in Australia, the enduring positioning of whiteness as central to the nation means that Black African migrants are viewed as other. As such, their achievement of a sense of belonging in Australia is challenging and complex. Many experience a sense of exclusion from public spaces through the deployment of racialized tropes that demonize them. In addition, some have been subjected to xenophobic attacks by a small but vocal element of the public.