Multicultural Australia:
Communications Insights From The 2021 Census Data

Thabani Tshuma
By Thabani Tshuma
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The 2021 Census paints a compelling picture of contemporary Australia as an increasingly multicultural and multilingual nation.

The data from the Census offers rich insights into where we live, where we were born, what type of work we do and the languages we speak. In short, it holds a mirror to who we are as a nation.

And, in short, it demonstrates why communications campaigns must speak to diverse audiences if they are to connect with the real Australia.

One of the key insights from the 2021 Census is that we are more culturally diverse than ever. In fact, we have become a majority migrant nation with 51.5 per cent of residents born overseas or having an immigrant parent. This is an increase from 48.2 per cent at the last census in 2016. Almost half of the population (48.2 per cent) are either first or second-generation migrants – having at least one parent born overseas.

Some other key findings around cultural diversity include:

  • The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people increased by 25 per cent since 2016.
  • The top five ancestries were recorded as English (33.0 per cent) Australian (29.9 per cent), Irish (9.5 per cent), Scottish (8.6 per cent) and Chinese (5.5 per cent)
  • 5.5 million speak a language other than English at home (An increase of 800,000 since 2016).
  • Mandarin, Arabic and Punjabi are the top three languages other than English used at home, Punjabi had the largest increase (80 per cent).

The number of people who use a language other than English at home has increased by nearly 800,000.

“The Census data shows the multicultural reality of communication practice in Australia,” said Dr Som Sengmany, Multicultural Insights Director, CultureVerse.

“As practitioners, whether working in agencies or in-house, most of us are already working in complex multicultural environments and having to regularly work within and across cultures,”

One implication of the 2021 Census data is that it further highlights the complex linguistic diversity of this multicultural context. The census data shows that across the country, 5.5 million Australians speak a language other than English at home. That’s 24.8 per cent of the population.

Being able to quantify multiculturalism allows us the space to curate strategic communications initiatives driven by meeting communities where they are.

One of the largest barriers to effective communication is language. The census data shows that across the country, 5.5 million Australians speak a language other than English at home. That’s 24.8 per cent of the population. However, while the numbers direct us to consider translations as the primary solution, it is imperative that we approach access to information with contextual and cultural nuance.

No single solution fits every community and It is essential that we recognize an Australian population where cultural diversity is the norm rather than “secondary or “other.”

Following the statistical trend of cultures expanding across the country, we can infer that going forward, Australia will continue to become more and more diverse as migration continues and the dust settles on a post-pandemic era.

What story does the data tell us?

A unique aspect of the 2021 census is that it was taken during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The results are illustrative of which communities are most prevalent and going forward, can be used to chart future frameworks of support.

Diversity is on the rise, but more than that it’s our current reality. Our industry must implement strategies that cater to a culturally and linguistically diverse audience.

The census collected data on more than 250 ancestries and 350 languages however there still exists slivers of Statistical Invisibility among ethnic groups as reported by members of the Pasifika community in the lead-up to the 2021 census.

Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Giles announced that the federal government will begin collecting ethnicity data as part of measuring diversity in Australia. This includes a commitment to collect ethnicity data in the 2026 Census, highlighting the importance of a consultative and collaborative process when tailoring policies that support multicultural communities. Echoing the sentiment “If you’re not counted, how can you really count.”

Cultural diversity is the norm. The data from the 2021 census reinforces this and reminds us how we can ensure contemporary communications reflect this socio-demographic reality.