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).
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|
|People’s Republic of China||447,400|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||38,930|
|Papua New Guinea||33,100|
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.
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.
|Australian Aboriginal Languages||55,705|
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:
|New South Wales||107,420||82,741|
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:
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?
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). He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.
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