Tue, 05 Mar 2024 - 09:59

The importance of China and India in our national make up

Today’s Australia is much more ethnically diverse than fifty years ago - as I am reminded every day as I get about my electorate of Bradfield. According to the most recent census, there are 18,940 residents of Bradfield who were born in China.

China was until very recently the world’s most populous country, with 1.4 billion people - but it has just been overtaken by India. So it is no great surprise that people from these two countries are very strongly represented in Australia’s immigration statistics.

But when you dig into the numbers - as I did recently with some help from the Parliamentary Library - some interesting details emerge.

The first is the change over time in Australia’s populations of people born in different countries. In 2012, people born in England topped the list, at just over one million; next was people born in New Zealand at 569,000; next came those born in China at 406,000; and the population of Indian born people was the fourth largest, at 355,000.

On the most recent (2022) numbers, the English born still hold a narrow lead, at 961,000. But the Indian born population now ranks second, at 753,000, and the Chinese born third at 597,000.

A notable difference between those born in China and those born in India is that 41.4 per cent of the Chinese born are Australian citizens; the figure for Indian born is appreciably higher at 51.4 per cent. A key reason for the difference is that India allows dual citizenship; China does not.

It is interesting to look at where people in these populations live. Over a third of the Chinese born live in just ten electorates: seven in Sydney and three in Melbourne. Chisholm (in suburban Melbourne) has the largest number at 26,347; Bradfield (in Sydney) which I represent comes in fifth with 18,940 residents born in China. Of the ten electorates, six are held by the ALP, three by the Liberal Party and one by the Greens. (Of the ten seats, three changed hands from Liberal to Labor at the 2022 election; a reminder that the Chinese vote is now a significant factor in our federal elections.)

The Indian born population is similarly fairly concentrated: 31.5 per cent of the Indian born in Australia are found across six seats in Melbourne and four in Sydney. The biggest population is in Parramatta in Sydney (33,450). (Parramatta is the only federal electorate which makes the top ten list for both number of Indian born and number of Chinese born.) All but one of the ‘Indian-born top ten’ are held by the Labor Party.

There is no doubt these two groups make a big contribution to modern Australia. They are highly educated, which is not surprising given the focus on skills in Australia’s migration system. While 22.7 per cent of those born in Australia have at least one tertiary degree, for those born in China it is 50.1 per cent and for those born in India it is a remarkable 64.3 per cent.

The Indian population, too, with an average age of 35, is appreciably younger than Australia’s overall population (average age 38) - meaning on average more years left in the workforce. (The Chinese born are on average about the same age as the overall population.)

You can see the diversity of modern Australia just by walking around the streets of our big cities. But the numbers make it clear: people from the world’s two biggest countries, China and India, are an increasingly important part of our national make up.