The first tranche of results from the 2021 Census, released last week, confirmed that Australia is experiencing a revolution in its demographic and cultural character.
For the first time in Australia’s history, those identifying as Christian are now a minority. Whereas 86.2 per cent of Australians listed a form of Christianity as their religion in 1971, by 2016, that was down to 52 per cent. In 2021, it had plummeted to 44 per cent, a decline of over 15 per cent in a mere five years.
Christianity arrived on these shores with the first British settlers and profoundly influenced the development of Australian society. It has been argued that Christian churches did ‘more than any other institution, public or private, to civilise Australians’. For previous generations of Australians, Christianity was not simply a matter of private faith but a major ingredient in Australian public life, shaping our laws, politics, and culture. The unfashionable truth is that Christian tenets helped furnish us with a common moral and ethical framework.
But that common framework is disappearing. As The Australian’s Paul Kelly observed:
‘Churches have moved from the centre of our public life, religious figures are accorded diminished attention and the Christian faith is challenged in the public square… The consequence is apparent: Australia is more divided on the pivotal moral issues, once seen as the bedrock for a stable cultural order.’
The decline of Christianity in Australia is not the only epochal change captured in the 2021 Census. The Census also found that nearly half of the population (48.2 per cent) had at least one overseas-born parent and 27.6 per cent of the population was born outside of Australia – a record high. Almost a quarter of the population (24.8 per cent) spoke a language other than English at home. Of the over 5.5 million who spoke a different language at home, 852,706 reported that they did not speak English well or at all.
The shift toward a far more international, heterogeneous population is in large part the result of decisions by successive federal governments since the mid-2000s to massively increase immigration levels. The numbers were ramped up during the final years of the Howard government, with an effective doubling of the intake. Immigration increased even further under Rudd and remained at extraordinarily high levels – around 240,000 a year in net terms – until Covid forced the closure of Australia’s borders. Despite the majority of Australians wanting lower immigration, the recently-ousted Morrison government was planning a return to ‘Big Australia’ immigration levels.
Australia, it has been remarked, is in the midst of an unprecedented mass immigration experiment the likes of which the developed world has never seen. No other major Western country has such a high proportion of foreign-born residents and recent migrants. Our 27.6 per cent of residents born elsewhere compares to 13.7 per cent in the United States and 14 per cent in the United Kingdom and Sweden. Even Woke-left, ‘post-national’ Canada doesn’t have such a high proportion of migrants.
In short, Australia is doing something very different from nearly every other country on the planet, and this has far-reaching ramifications. The millions of migrants who have come to Australia since the start of the century obviously include high-achieving people who add to this country. But they change it, too.
Migrants helped build this country, of course, but the successive waves of European immigration brought together people who were not as dissimilar as those arriving now. The bulk of new migrants to Australia now come from the non-Western world. While we call them minorities here, they are from countries that are vastly larger than Australia in terms of population. They also have strongly-defined cultures and belief systems, which are in some cases very different to the Western tradition.
In the past, new migrants were encouraged to assimilate into the Australian mainstream and become unhyphenated Australians (periodic slowdowns in immigration assisted with this process). But now, under the policy of multiculturalism, migrants are encouraged to retain their ancestral cultures, identities and, indeed, loyalties. At the same, Australia has seemingly lost all confidence in itself and its heritage. Whereas Australians were once proud of their achievements, nowadays schools, universities, the media, and politicians declare that Australia is an illegitimate project built on stolen land and guilty of all manner of sins. One is left with the distinct impression that nothing has been achieved in the last several centuries worth preserving and passing on.
Three decades ago, Geoffrey Blainey identified an emerging intellectual trend to view Australia not as a nation in its own right but as ‘a subsidised rooming house for the peoples of the world – a rooming house without any of the safeguards which a nation needs for its preservation’. As Australia’s population becomes more diverse and more international, some difficult questions arise: what will unite this disparate conglomeration of peoples? Without shared history, culture, belief systems, traditions, or even language, what will be the glue to hold our society together? How will Australia engender a sufficient sense of fellow feeling, solidarity, and shared purpose among a multicultural mass of peoples with little in common?
To these existential questions, I suspect our ruling class has no real answers. Call me a pessimist, but it appears inevitable that Australia faces an increasingly fragmented, discordant future. The worst thing we could do is exacerbate the situation by doubling down on reckless immigration policy, cultural self-loathing, and divisive, Woke identity politics.
Alex Walsh is a small business proprietor and postgraduate history student.
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