In 2021 census figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) this week, 367,159 people said they spoke Arabic at home, an increase of around 45,500 from the 2016 census results (321,720). .
The census provides an overview of the cultures and languages that make up Australia by providing data on cultural diversity, country of birth, ancestry and languages used at home.
Former University of Sydney Chair in Arabic and Islamic Studies Ahmad Shboul spoke to SBS Arabic24 about the census results, highlighting the importance of young people learning Arabic Arab Australians.
“Learning at least two languages is beneficial for them from a psychological and cultural point of view,” he said.
- Arab Australians were encouraged to call on governments to make the language more accessible to younger members of the community.
- Multiculturalism comes with challenges and successes.
- According to Arab-Australian scholars, the census results on declining religious affiliation are significant.
Professor Shboul called on those interested in Arabic to push state governments to focus more on the Arabic language “…because a large number of the Arab community use it, and that would encourage them to continue to use it alongside English”.
He stressed the need to support the use of Arabic at home while encouraging academic learning of the language, improving both writing and reading skills.
Learning the rules of the language helps members of the Arab community connect with their cultural roots and improves their psychological well-being.
“The ideal situation for young Australian-born Arabs is to be bilingual,” Prof Shboul said.
Professor Shboul highlighted the benefits to the Australian government of promoting the Arabic language.
“It would strengthen Australia’s relationship with the Arab world and support trade,” he said.
Multiculturalism has advantages but also challenges: Dr. Paul Tabar
The 2021 census also confirmed Australia’s status as one of the most multicultural nations in the world, finding that almost half of Australians had a foreign-born parent (48.2%) while more a quarter (27.6%) declared a place of birth abroad.
In addition, and despite border closures due to the pandemic, Australia had still welcomed more than one million people (1,020,007) to Australia since 2017.
The largest increase in country of birth, outside of Australia, was India with 220,000 (217,963) additional people counted. India overtook China and New Zealand to become the third largest country of birth behind Australia and England.
Dr Paul Tabar, retired professor of sociology and anthropology at the Lebanese American University in Beirut and lecturer at the Institute of Culture and Society at Western Sydney University, said that if this multiculturalism was a particular characteristic of Australia, it was not without its challenges.
The big challenge facing Australia was to move forward with a combination of diversity and service, he said.
Dr Tabar said the main period of growth of modern multiculturalism in Australia dates back to 1972 and the then ALP government, led by Gough Whitlam.
The first to break the concept of ‘White Australia’ was Edward Gough Whitlam, Australia’s 21st Prime Minister in 1972, to pave the way for a multicultural Australia.
Government policies needed to serve and reinforce this diversity while reinforcing a unified national sense of belonging, Dr. Tabar said:
“The government should define the concept of multiculturalism and enshrine it through non-cultural, religious or ethnic discrimination in its policies and services in order to induce the immigrant to be loyal to it,” he said.
Dr. Tabar also emphasized the role of the individual in being open and willing to abandon any custom that contradicts basic human values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Diversity does not mean superiority. We have to let go of some traditions to move out of what is common to us and to others in the larger human aspect, and that is the challenge,” he said.
The loss of religion is a significant change in the last census
In an interview with SBS Arabic24, Professor Fethi Mansouri, Director of the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalization, analyzed the census results and highlighted the importance of these data in informing governments’ policies for the five coming years.
“(The) census is a very important process in terms of good governance used by governments to determine the policies needed to improve the quality of life of the population,” Professor Mansouri said.
“And through this census, the government can assess any changes in terms of the demographic composition of the country, in addition to changes in family patterns or the movement of people in and out.”
He said that all the changes have informed the provision of necessary services to ensure the continuation of institutional work and social cohesion in society and the improvement of government services at its three levels.
Professor Mansouri identified statistics related to religion as one of the most important findings of the latest census.
“Historically, when the first census in Australia took place in 1911, 96% of the Australian population followed Christianity, whereas now it is less than 44%,” he said.
The phenomenon of declining religious affiliation has not been limited to Australia, but rather a global shift, Prof Mansouri said.
“There is an interesting increase in ‘non-religious’ people in almost every society, but in Australia in particular, as the increase is 18% from the 2016 census,” Prof Mansouri said.
“We can conclude from this increase in ‘non-religious’ that there may be implications for other social issues.
“But it could be seen in the same way as the increase in single-parent families, and changes in same-sex sexual relationships and marriages, etc.
“There is a lot of information, (which) if taken together, can give us a better understanding of trends in Australian society in the years to come, and which helps governments, at federal, state and local levels, to think seriously (about) how to create social support programs to respond to this religious, cultural and racial diversity that characterizes Australia today.
Furthermore, he said the census confirmed that Australia was a “nation of migration, where almost 50% of the population has at least one parent born outside Australia”.
“All census data is very important not only as simple statistics but also as very important information in order to create policies that enable Australia to face future challenges, particularly after the pandemic of COVID and the need to revive the economy,” Professor Mansouri said.