The Politics    Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Census and sensibility

By Rachel Withers

Image of Fatima Payman, Labor senator for Western Australia, May 28, 2022. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

Fatima Payman, Labor senator for Western Australia, May 28, 2022. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

Between the census data and orientation day for incoming MPs, this is clearly no longer Scott Morrison’s Australia, if it ever was

It’s orientation day for incoming parliamentarians, with 35 new MPs descending on Canberra for a two-day introduction to the building and its procedures. The teal independents, who make up six of that number, took a short break from voicing their displeasure with staffing cuts to mark the occasion: Kooyong MP Monique Ryan shared a snap alongside independents and Labor MPs, while Goldstein’s Zoe Daniel smiled alongside indies and Greens. Speaking to incoming Labor senator Fatima Payman and Greens MP Max Chandler-Mather, RN Breakfasts Patricia Karvelas noted that the new parliament is far more reflective of the society it represents, and she particularly acknowledged Payman, as a young Muslim woman who wears a hijab. Payman and Chandler-Mather, aged 27 and 30 respectively, along with a diverse group of new MPs, also embody many of the traits found in today’s census data, which has found Australia to be more multicultural, less Christian and more millennial than ever before. Between the census results and the greater representation in parliament, it’s clear that Australia is changing. And the Liberal Party would be wise to take note of that.

Stats enthusiasts have been trawling through the treasure trove of census data, looking for gems. Among the most obvious: Australia is more diverse than ever, despite a pandemic-induced slowdown in migration, with just over half the population now having at least one parent born overseas. (Guardian Australia has put together some good graphs, including this one, showing ancestry by country.) Christianity has continued its steady decline, with only 44 per cent of Australians identifying as Christians; the fastest-growing religions, on the other hand, are Islam (3.2 per cent of the population) and Hinduism (2.7 per cent), though they do remain small minorities, with 39 per cent of the nation now “not religious”. A growing number of Australians identify as Indigenous, with that number – 812,728, or 3.2 per cent of the population – increasing by 25 per cent since the 2016 census. But the income gap is closing at a glacial pace, some have noted, with Indigenous adults still earning on average only 67.1 per cent of the median non-Indigenous income.

But perhaps the greatest focus has been on the fact that millennials (born between 1981 and 1995) have now caught up to baby boomers (1946–1965), and are set to overtake them as the largest demographic group in the country. Both generations now account for 21.5 per cent of the population, with Nine reporting that “boomers’ time at the centre of Australian economic and policy debate is ending”. About time: millennials are bearing the brunt of many of the issues contained with census, including the fact that rents are on the rise amid a chronic housing shortage (this, despite there being 1 million vacant dwellings in the country). It’s no surprise that millennials are on the rise, and as we learnt at the recent election, political parties ignore younger generations at their peril. But the Liberal Party, which has long appealed directly to older generations, appears to be missing the memo (again). Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has today continued spruiking his new pension policy, which is all about letting pensioners earn twice as much before having their pensions impacted. Keep on reading the room, Pete.

It’s clear that this is no longer the Coalition’s Australia. Parliament still has a long way to go in terms of representation, but today’s rookie MPs are, like the nation, more millennial, more diverse, more Indigenous and less conservative. As Senator Payman (who only barely scrapes into the millennial category, as a ’95 baby) quipped today, “better late than never”. “We are representing the true Australia for what it is,” she said. “I just want to show everyone that I’m as Australian as it gets,” she added, when it came to her hijab. Indeed, if the census is anything to go by, Payman is the face of the new Australia, while the people the Coalition is still trying to reach are the faces of its past.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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