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Wednesday, 19 June 2019

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Australia is world’s most successful immigrant nation

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I think I can build a case to say that Australia is the most successful immigrant nation on Earth. The global community comprises 195 sovereign nations, 90 of which have what I would call a critical mass of 10 million or more residents. The UN tracks the propor­tion of each nation’s resident population born abroad. 


In Australia’s case, that propor­tion is 28 per cent: almost seven million out of 24 million Australians were born overseas. Add in Aussies born here but who had one parent born overseas and that proportion tops 40 per cent.


These figures speak to a fundamental truth about the Australian people and nation. There is no other equivalent nation (meaning with a critical mass of population) that has been as generous in ­absorbing migrants.

The only nation with a higher proportion is Saudi Arabia, where 10 million residents out of 32 million, or 32 per cent, were born abroad. But Saudi Arabia’s foreign-born residents are guest workers who do not have the same sovereign rights as migrants.

Australia’s migrant proportion stands clear of peer nations: in Canada, it is 22 per cent; in Kazakhstan, 20 per cent; in Germany, 15 per cent; in the US, 14 per cent; in Britain, 13 per cent.


Our immigration story isn’t our generation’s success: it has been built up, layer upon layer, over 200 years, often spurred by calamity abroad such as the Irish Potato Famine and the desire to escape post-war Europe. There have also been lures such as the gold rush and various economic booms.


 Typically, migrants enter Australia via the capital cities of Sydney­ and Melbourne, and cluster­ within enclaves formed by tribal and familial bonds. But there is also a practicality to clustering in the cities of the New World, such as Melbourne and New York: it supports an ethnicity’s schools, churches, shops and language.

The Italians commandeered Melbourne’s Carlton in the 1960s as the Greeks gravitated to Sydney­’s Marrickville. A century earlier, the poor Irish huddled in Melbourne’s North Melbourne or in the mean streets of Collingwood. The Vietnamese now “own’’ Sydney’s Cabramatta and the ­Arabic-speaking community clusters in Sydney’s Lakemba.

By the second generation, the Australian experience is that the migrant community bleeds and blends into the greater urban mass. Carlton’s Italians were building trophy properties in places­ such as aspirational Keilor and Fawkner by the 1980s and their Aussie-born children were part of the regeneration of the inner city. The Greeks and Italians had been absorbed into, but were also profoundly changing, Australian culture, which morphed into a Mediterranean-Anglo fusion.

We shifted our palate from tea to coffee and started kissing each other on the cheek in an oh-so-sophisticated continental way. But then you’d expect that from the most successful, most accommodating migrant nation on Earth. It’s not about “us’’ converting “them’’ to our culture; it’s about both cultures growing together over time, fusing in a very Australian way, where we take bits of each culture and create something that suits our values.

‘’Our immigration story isn’t our generation’s success: it has been built up, layer upon layer, over 200 years ‘’

Horsham, in western Victoria’s Wimmera, is home to 20,000 people­. As whitebread a community as you could get, some would say. And yet 10 per cent of Horsham’s population was born overseas. Go to Pittsbugh (population 2.4 million) in the US and it is 4 per cent. Horsham by comparison is positively cosmopolitan.

At the last census, 42 per cent of urban Sydney’s population was born overseas. This proportion for New York, the great melting pot, is 29 per cent; for Paris, is 22 per cent; for Berlin, 13 per cent; for Tokyo, 2 per cent, for Shanghai, 1 per cent. Australia stands apart. Sydney stands apart. We are different.


This does not mean there are no ethnicity-based tensions in Australia, or that there won’t be tensions in the future or abhorrent acts of racism. What it does mean is that this nation should be proud of the fact that we have achieved something that no other nation has achieved or attempted. And that is the delivery of sustained economic prosperity combined with a generous immigration program­ over generations.


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