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Towards an Australian republic (part 4)

By Dr George Venturini

There are undoubtedly difficulties

First of all some figures, graphically to illustrate the boundaries of those difficulties.

At the time of the proclamation of the Commonwealth of Australia the countable population was 3,765,000.

At the time of the invasion, the Indigenous population was estimated to have been between 315,000 and 750,000, divided into as many as 500 tribes speaking many different languages. In the 2011 Census, 495,757 respondents declared they were Aboriginal, 31,407 declared they were Torres Strait Islander, and a further 21,206 declared they were both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

The population of Australia was estimated as at 12.00PM on 26 January 2016 to be 23,980,425. (Population clock – Australian Bureau of Statistics).

For generations, the vast majority of both colonial-era and post-Federation immigrants came from the United Kingdom and Ireland, although the gold rushes also drew migrants from other countries.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, on 30 June 2014 there were 6.6 million residents who were born outside Australia, representing 28 per cent of the total population. The Australian resident population consists of people who were born in the following countries:

Country of birth Estimated resident population
United Kingdom 1,221,300
New Zealand 617,000
People’s Republic of China 447,400
India 397,200
Philippines 225,100
Vietnam 223,200
Italy 201,800
South Africa 176,300
Malaysia 153,900
Germany 129,000
Greece 119,950
Sri Lanka 110,520
United States 104,080
South Korea 102,220
Hong Kong 94,420
Ireland 93,180
Lebanon 92,220
Netherlands 85,650
Indonesia 81,140
Singapore 70,100
Fiji 69,940
Croatia 65,420
Iraq 63,860
Thailand 61,910
Poland 56,360
Taiwan 55,960
Japan 54,830
Canada 50,940
Macedonia 50,610
Iran 50,370
Pakistan 49,770
Malta 45,920
Egypt 43,890
Turkey 40,660
France 39,950
Afghanistan 39,790
Bosnia and Herzegovina 38,930
Bangladesh 37,950
Zimbabwe 37,700
Nepal 36,940
Cambodia 35,000
Serbia 34,410
Papua New Guinea 33,100
Chile 29,760
Myanmar 29,300
Mauritius 27,140
Samoa 26,980
Russia 24,170
Sudan 23,090
Brazil 22,050
Hungary 21,700
Cyprus 20,780

About 90 per cent of Australia’s population is of European descent. Over 8 per cent of the population is of Asian descent – predominantly Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino and Indian. The total Indigenous population is estimated to be about 520,000 individuals, including people of mixed descent. The population of Queensland also includes descendants of South Sea Islanders brought over for indentured servitude in the nineteenth century.

In the 2011 Census Australians reported around 300 different ancestries. The most commonly reported ancestries were English – 33.7 per cent and Australian – 33 per cent. A further 6 of the leading 10 ancestries reflected the European heritage in Australia: Irish – 9.7 per cent, Scottish – 8.3 per cent, Italian – 4.3 per cent, German – 4.2 per cent, Greek – 1.8 per cent and Dutch – 1.6 per cent. Other most common ancestries in the top 10 were Chinese – 4.0 per cent and Indian – 1.8 per cent.

At the 2011 Census residents were asked to describe their ancestry, in which up to two could be nominated. Proportionate to the Australian resident population, the most commonly nominated ancestries were:

At the 2011 census, 53.7 per cent of people had both parents born in Australia and 34.3 per cent of people had both parents born overseas.

The demographics of Australia also, and quite interestingly, covers religion and languages.

Australia is religiously a vastly different country from what it was in 1901.

Christianity is still the predominant faith of Australia, though this is diminishing. In the 2011 census, 61.1 per cent of the population classified themselves as being affiliated with a Christian faith, down from 67.3 per cent ten years earlier at the 2001 census. The largest religious denomination was Roman Catholicism, with 25.3 per cent of the population. The next largest Christian denomination was Anglican at 17.1 per cent, and all other Christian denominations accounted for a further 18.7 per cent of the population.

The second-largest group, and the one which had grown the fastest, was the 22.3 per cent who claimed to have no religion.

Minority religions practiced in Australia include Buddhism – 2.5 per cent of the population, Islam – 2.2 per cent, Hinduism – 1.3 per cent and Judaism – 0.5 per cent.

The most commonly spoken languages other than English, which is the national language, are Italian, Greek, German, Spanish, Vietnamese, Filipino, Chinese varieties, Indian languages, Arabic and Macedonian, as well as numerous Australian Aboriginal languages. On data available as at February 2012, more than 15 per cent of Australians speak non-English languages at home and more than 200 languages are practised.

Language Speakers
Only English 15,581,333
Italian 316,895
Greek 252,226
Cantonese 244,553
Arabic 243,662
Mandarin 220,600
Vietnamese 194,863
Spanish 98,001
Filipino 92,331
German 75,634
Hindi 70,011
Macedonian 67,835
Croatian 63,612
Australian Aboriginal Languages 55,705
Korean 54,623
Turkish 53,857
Polish 53,389
Serbian 52,534
French 43,216
Indonesian 42,036
Maltese 36,514
Russian 36,502
Dutch 36,183
Japanese 35,111
Tamil 32,700
Sinhalese 29,055
Samoan 28,525
Portuguese 25,779
Khmer 24,715
Assyrian (Aramaic) 23,526
Punjabi 23,164
Persian 22,841
Hungarian 21,565
Bengali 20,223
Urdu 19,288
Afrikaans 16,806
Bosnian 15,743


It is obvious that words – and concepts! – such as representative democracy, secret ballot, proportional representation, separation of powers, division of functions, and referenda present – if and when they do at all – in different hues to many residents of Australia; and a government of, by, and for the people will only be possible through a process of education of the population. That – it seems – should be one very and perhaps thus far unexplored purpose of multiculturalism.

Furthermore, who were ‘the people’ in the 1890s and 1900s?

This is something that ‘old’ Australians, particularly those who still feel an emotional attachment to the United Kingdom as ‘home’ and who are a large percentage by a minority with respect to ‘new’ Australians, should keep in mind in answering the question.

They should remember that, although a majority of voters said ‘yes’ to the Constitution for a federated Australia, this did not amount to a majority of the population of the colonies. At the time of Federation, voting was not compulsory. Many eligible people did not vote and a considerable number were not eligible at all.

Here are the results of the 1899 referendum – the last before federation:

Yes No
New South Wales 107,420 82,741
Queensland 38,488 30,996
South Australia 65,990 17,053
Tasmania 13,437 791
Victoria 152,653 9,805

Out of a population of 3,765.000, 377.998 said ‘yes’ and 141.386 said ‘no’ to federation. Such figures may be further elaborated: out of a countable population of 3,765.000 one should exclude about 30 per cent of people below voting age: about 1,281.000 and one half of the remainder: about 1,281.000 women, not entitled to vote. There remain 1,281.000 males, not all entitled to vote, of course. 377.998 voted ‘yes’. They still represented less than 47 per cent of those eligible actually voted.

By 1900 Western Australia had still not taken steps to hold a referendum. In protest, residents of the Eastern Goldfields took steps to form a separate colony. Finally, on 31 July 1900, when the Commonwealth Constitution Bill had already been enacted by the British Parliament, a referendum was held in which a large majority voted in favour of Federation.

Result of the referendum held in Western Australia in 1900:

Yes No
44,800 19,691

Only South Australian and Western Australian women voted in the referendums. Indigenous Australians, Asians, Africans and Pacific Islanders were not allowed to vote in Queensland or Western Australia unless they owned property. In several colonies poor people in receipt of public assistance could not vote and Tasmania required certain property qualifications. The Commonwealth legislation for voting in federal elections lifted some of these restrictions.

Since Federation, the Australian population has changed dramatically, and now Australia has become one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. Australians are generally older, there are fewer United Kingdom and European migrants and more Asian newcomers, who tend to be younger. Temporary migrants outnumber permanents. More than a quarter of Australians are born overseas.

So Australia is continually becoming a new country and a new nation. Old assumptions no longer necessarily apply.

Any revaluation and definition of Australian identity cannot be done without a total revision of the Constitution, and to embark on that course puts any consideration of the flag, the anthem and Australia Day into a perspective which may appear too difficult and sensitive for Australian political and social systems to deal with.

Despite the beautifully presented study-kits distributed from time to time by the federal government to the nation’s schools, and despite the ‘history wars’ and the ‘culture wars’ of the last generation, most Australians, ‘old’ and ‘new’, have never read either the Constitution itself or a reasonable summary of it, at school or since.

The Constitution does not protect the basic rights of the Australian people, nor does it list its rights, but only a few scattered provisions such as trial by jury, a range of religious freedoms and freedom of interstate trade. As an eminent constitutionalist, professor George Williams has written: “… the few rights that are listed in the Constitution are scattered about the text and are ad hoc rather than comprehensive. The result is that many basic rights receive no constitutional protection. … For example, the text of the Australian Constitution does not include anything amounting to a freedom from discrimination on the basis of sex or race, and, while it has been interpreted to protect freedom of political communication it lacks a more general right of free speech. The Constitution does not even contain an express guarantee of the right to vote.”

To be continued … Tomorrow: What are the problems?

GeorgeVenturini Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini ‘George’ devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975, invited by Attorney-General Lionel Keith Murphy, Q.C., he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra – to serve the Whitlam Government. In time he witnessed the administration of a law of prohibition as a law of abuse, and documented it in Malpractice, antitrust as an Australian poshlost (Sydney 1980).


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  1. Florence nee Fedup

    It is good to have our history and Constitution set out in a clear way.

    Seems we might need to start at the beginning if we want to come a independent nation. Maybe a new constitution passed by all in our own parliament.

    Probably needs no major changes, mainly bringing it into this century.

  2. Jaquix

    So good to see some facts and figures, though I wondered why no mention of say Afghanistan, or is that too small a number to be mentioned. Also interesting that 2.2% identify as Muslims. So much fuss over such a few, and even fewer who might pose any terrorist/subversive action threat to Australia,. Anyway, thanks for the article, very timely.

  3. Michael Taylor

    Jaquix, just under 40,000 Afghanis live in Australia. It’s not many, is it?

  4. Michael Taylor

    Florence, Part 10 looks at a proposed Constitution.

  5. Jaquix

    Michael Taylor – No, its not, and considering the rhetoric emanating out of Parliament (and some sections of the population) you really wonder why all the rallies and fear-mongering. I only gave Afghanistan as an example, there were also no Syrians mentioned.

  6. Michael Taylor

    I would assume that the Syrian population is less than 20,000. Either that, or it was accidentally omitted it from Dr Venturini’s draft. I’ll check the latter when I’m able.

  7. Michael Taylor

    No, nothing about Syria. It must be less than 20,000 then. Who would want to leave Syria anyway?

  8. Jaquix

    Thanks Michael – yes who indeed? I hope this article gets lot of coverage to help put things into perspective.

  9. Vacy Vlazna

    A most valuable and interesting portrait of multicultural Australia. Thank you Dr Venturini

  10. Florence nee Fedup

    Most of the Syrians live back of Fairfield I believe,

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