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More diverse, less religious and with 34,000 more Greeks

The census offers us the chance to look at Australia as it really is

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo AAP/Mick Tsikas

30 June 2017

We should be grateful for the census. Not for the findings, but the process itself. Immersed as we have been this year to the whole fiasco of the Australian Bureau of Statistics website collapsing under the sheer number of forms lodged at the same time, we seem to have forgotten how important it is, how the mere act of collecting data offers a valuable opportunity for the country - for any country going through such process - to get a clear look at itself and see its reality. Just the facts. No opinions. No presumptions. No assumptions. No ideology.

This is what happened in Australia these past few days, when the census data was officially made public. The country has the opportunity to look at its face in the mirror and see what it really looks like. And according to the data, this is the face of a 38-year-old woman, of English ancestry, married, with two children, two cars and a mortgage, which she pays out of her weekly wages of $662 (her husband earns as much). When she looks in the mirror, she looks at the face of a person undergoing changes. For one, she's losing her faith in God.

A nation of 'no religion'
One of the facts making the rounds since the census data was revealed, was the fact that Australia is becoming less and less a 'Christian' country. Granted, 52.2 per cent of Australians still identify as Christian, but when broken into various denominations, what we see is 5,291,834 Catholics (i.e. 22.6 per cent of the population, or 2.7 per cent down since the last census) 3,101,185 Anglicans (13.3 percent, or 3.8 percent less since 2011) and 3,808,600 people (or 16.3 per cent) identifying as 'other' Christian affiliations (which includes Greek Orthodox). So yes, Christianity is in decline, while other religions are slightly on the rise. Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu populations have risen - albeit by the almost insignificant percentages of 0.4, 0.1 and 0.6 respectively. In absolute numbers, this becomes 604,200 (or 2.6 per cent) Muslims, 563,700 (2.4 percent) Buddhists and 440,300 (1.9 per cent) Hindus.

In other words, when the mainstream rhetoric addresses the 'threat' of Islam, when conservative politicians warn us that we're 'swamped' with Muslims, they are referring to a meager 2.6 per cent of the population. No, Australia is not 'swamped with Muslims' - if anything, we're swamped with atheists and agnostics. Because, for the first time in history, the majority of Australians stated that they are of 'no religion'. That is 6,933,708 people out of a population of 23.4 million, accounting for 29.6 per cent of Australians - a number which has risen by 7.8 per cent since 2011.

This marks a significant shift in the nation's culture and mentality, showing a trend that will definitely affect how things will unfold in future generations.
Data against prejudice

And this is why we should be grateful for the census. Because it's hard data; simple, unbiased facts that are the most powerful weapon we can have against prejudice, against misconceptions, against distorted notions of reality. In the words of Greece's 'national' poet, Dionisios Solomos "whatever is true, is national". So, if Australia wants to defend its values and develop what can be a 'national' policy for the future, it should have at least a true idea of itself. And to get that idea, we should study the census data.

According to what we know so far, the 2016 census shows that there are 23.4 million people living in Australia, up 8.8 per cent since 2011. Most of us, about 80 per cent, live in the eastern mainland states, and mostly in the large cities. Nearly half of Australians were either born overseas, or one or both parents were born overseas. Yes, the majority of Australians, 66.7 per cent, or 15,614,835 were born here (a number which has risen by 3.1 per cent since the previous census), but 6,150,191 (or 26.3 per cent) were born overseas, compared to 5,280,802 in 2011. Of them, 907,570 come from England, 518,466 from New Zealand, 509,555 from China and 455,389 from India.

In other words, the 'average' Australian woman looking at herself in the mirror may still be mostly of 'Anglo' heritage, but less so, than her previous incarnation. In fact, the number of Australians speaking only English at home fell from almost 77 per cent in 2011 to almost 73 per cent in 2016. More than 300 languages are spoken in Australian homes, most notably Mandarin, Arabic, Cantonese, and Vietnamese.

But what about Greek?

A stronger Greek community
With almost 20 percent of the six million Australians born overseas having arrived to the country since 2012, one cannot but think of the new wave of Greek migration. And as the respective data is being gradually released, we can confirm that there is a significant rise in Greek Australians. As Eugenia Pavlopoulou reported in Thursday's Greek edition of Neos Kosmos, the new wave of Greek migrants (as well as of Greek Australians returning to the country due to the crisis) has changed the face of the Greek Australian community.

Greek Australians still account for 1.8 per cent of the overall population (421,000 people), a share that is unchanged since 2011. However, the rise of the population means that the number of Greek Australians has also risen by 34,000.

What's more significant still, is that this is a community determined to preserve its language. Alongside Arabic, Greek is the language most spoken in homes where both parents were born in Australia, accounting for 0.8 per cent, with Italian being third at 0.7 per cent - this despite the fact that Australians of Italian background form a larger part of the population. In total numbers 237,000 Australians stated that they speak Greek at home, a number which is down by 15,000 since the previous census, in which the respective number was 252,000 people.

Which means that we may be more, but we still need to work hard on keeping our language. We may also need to redefine what constitute as Greek culture, given the decline of religious belief in the country.

Of course, by now, Greek Australians have come a long way. They are at the same time largely integrated in the core of the broader community, while retaining the characteristics that make them examples of the success of mutliculturalism. It is a long, arduous process. The census shows that it is still going on. If the census data showed anything, this is a gap between the real Australia and its representation in politics and mainstream media. Which defines the goals we should set, as part of a multicultural nation, and the challenges that await us. And that's why we should be grateful for the census. Not only for the process, but also for the findings.

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