Wed, 27 May 2015 - 21:00
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What does it mean to be 'Australian'?

When we talk of what it means to be Australian – what do we mean?

It is a question I sometimes reflect on at citizenship ceremonies, or at events in the diverse electorate of Bradfield.

My electorate is typical of our nation – we are increasingly diverse in our ethnic and cultural backgrounds. In fact over 25% of adult Australians were born overseas – amongst the highest such ratios of OECD countries.

What is it, then, that we all have in common? What is it that we regard as integral to claiming the identity, or status of being Australian?

Researchers at the Australian National University have done some survey work on this question and it throws up some fascinating findings.

The survey[i] probed the issue of national identity and looked at how views on citizenship, immigration and tradition impact and inform public policy.

The key factors defining ‘Australianness’ , according to respondents to the poll, were an ability to speak English and a respect for political institutions and laws. Being born in Australia is not considered a factor in ‘being Australian’ – a shift in attitude from 1995 when 55 per cent said it was important.

The survey found that the economy remains the most import problem facing Australia, followed by better government and immigration. Broadly, Australians are satisfied with the way the country is heading - although the political mood in Australia has declined since 2008, but there are some signs of recovery and optimism.

There are high levels of pride in the country’s sporting achievements according to the survey’s respondents – but also in the country’s science and technological achievements. Pride in Australia’s political influence in the world is trending up.

Overwhelmingly, Australians believe immigrants make positive contributions to the economic and cultural life of the country. In my view this is a testament to our remarkable success as a nation in welcoming people from around the world – and creating a society which in the main is harmonious and integrated.

On the matter of our constitutional monarchy, the survey reveals that support for Australia becoming a republic has fallen consistently since the 1999 referendum, although a majority still support change. Support for the Queen as head of state has increased from 15 per cent in the 2013 Australian Electoral Study to 23 per cent in 2015 however there have been some shifts in opinion defining how important the royal family is in modern day Australia.

One thing that unites us is the view that it is better to be a citizen of Australia than of anywhere else in the world: 79 per cent of those surveyed agreed with this proposition.

There is a lot to be proud of in our open, welcoming and diverse society – and in the attitudes held by Australians which underpin the success of that society.


[i] ‘Australian Attitudes Towards National Identity: Citizenship, Immigration and Tradition’, ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences, April 2015