European colonisation began in 1788 with the establishment of a British penal colony in New South Wales. From early federation in 1901, Australia maintained the White Australia policy, which forbade the entrance in Australia of people of non-European ethnic origins. Following World War II the policy began to be relaxed and it was finally abolished in 1973. Since 1945, more than 7 million people have settled in Australia.
Between 1788 and the Second World War, the vast majority of settlers and immigrants came from the British Isles (principally England, Ireland and Scotland), although there was significant immigration from China and Germany during the 19th century. In the decades immediately following the Second World War, Australia received a large wave of immigration from across Europe, with many more immigrants arriving from Southern and Eastern Europe than in previous decades. Since the end of the White Australia policy in 1973, Australia has pursued an official policy of multiculturalism, and there has been a large and continuing wave of immigration from across the world, with Asia being the largest source of immigrants in the 21st century. In 2019-20, immigration to Australia came to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, which in turn saw a shrinkage of the Australian population for the first time since World War I.
Net overseas migration has increased from 30,042 in 1992-93 to 178,582 persons in 2015-16. The largest components of immigration are the skilled migration and family re-union programs. A 2014 sociological study concluded that: "Australia and Canada are the most receptive to immigration among western nations".
Australia is a signatory to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and has resettled many asylum seekers. In recent years, Australia's policy of mandatory detention of unauthorised arrivals by boat has attracted controversy.
The first migration of humans to the continent took place around 65,000 years ago via the islands of Maritime Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea as part of the early history of human migration out of Africa.
European migration to Australia began with the British convict settlement of Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788. The First Fleet comprised 11 ships carrying 775 convicts and 645 officials, members of the crew, marines, and their families and children. The settlers consisted of petty criminals, second-rate soldiers and a crew of sailors. There were few with skills needed to start a self-sufficient settlement, such as farmers and builders, and the colony experienced hunger and hardships. Male settlers far outnumbered female settlers. The Second Fleet arrived in 1790 bringing more convicts. The conditions of the transportation was described as horrific and worse than slave transports. Of the 1,026 convicts who embarked, 267 (256 men and 11 women) died during the voyage (26%); a further 486 were sick when they arrived of which 124 died soon after. The fleet was more of a drain on the struggling settlement than of any benefit. Conditions on the Third Fleet, which followed on the heels of the Second Fleet in 1791, were a bit better. The fleet comprised 11 ships. Of the more than 2000 convicts brought onto the ships, 173 male convicts and 9 female convicts died during the voyage. Other transport fleets bringing further convicts as well as freemen to the colony would follow. By the end of the penal transportation in 1868, approximately 165,000 people had entered Australia as convicts.
The colonies promoted migration by a variety of schemes. The Bounty Immigration Scheme (1835-1841) boosted emigration from the United Kingdom to New South Wales. The South Australia Company was established to encourage settlement in South Australia by labourers and skilled migrants.
The Gold rush era, beginning in 1851, led to an enormous expansion in population, including large numbers of British and Irish settlers, followed by smaller numbers of Germans and other Europeans, and Chinese. This latter group were subject to increasing restrictions and discrimination, making it impossible for many to remain in the country. With the Federation of the Australian colonies into a single nation, one of the first acts of the new Commonwealth Government was the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, otherwise known as the White Australia policy, which was a strengthening and unification of disparate colonial policies designed to restrict non-White settlement. Because of opposition from the British government, an explicit racial policy was avoided in the legislation, with the control mechanism being a dictation test in a European language selected by the immigration officer. This was selected to be one the immigrant did not know; the last time an immigrant passed a test was in 1909. Perhaps the most celebrated case was Egon Erwin Kisch, a left-wing Czechoslovakian journalist, who could speak five languages, who was failed in a test in Scottish Gaelic, and deported as illiterate.
The government also found that if it wanted immigrants it had to subsidise migration. The great distance from Europe made Australia a more expensive and less attractive destination than Canada and the United States. The number of immigrants needed during different stages of the economic cycle could be controlled by varying the subsidy. Before federation in 1901, assisted migrants received passage assistance from colonial government funds. The British government paid for the passage of convicts, paupers, the military and civil servants. Few immigrants received colonial government assistance before 1831.
|Period||Annual average assisted immigrants|
With the onset of the Great Depression, the Governor-General proclaimed the cessation of immigration until further notice, and the next group to arrive were 5000 Jewish refuge families from Germany in 1938. Approved groups such as these were assured of entry by being issued with a Certificate of Exemption from the Dictation Test.
After World War II Australia launched a massive immigration program, believing that having narrowly avoided a Japanese invasion, Australia must "populate or perish". Hundreds of thousands of displaced Europeans migrated to Australia and over 1,000,000 British subjects immigrated under the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme, colloquially becoming known as Ten Pound Poms. The scheme initially targeted citizens of all Commonwealth countries; after the war it gradually extended to other countries such as the Netherlands and Italy. The qualifications were straightforward: migrants needed to be in sound health and under the age of 45 years. There were initially no skill restrictions, although under the White Australia Policy, people from mixed-race backgrounds found it very difficult to take advantage of the scheme.
|1.||United Kingdom||495 504||United Kingdom||616 532||United Kingdom||1 087 756|
|2.||Ireland||184 085||Italy||119 897||New Zealand||518 462|
|3.||German Empire||38 352||Germany||65 422||China||509 558|
|4.||China||29 907||Poland||56 594||India||455 385|
|5.||New Zealand||25 788||Netherlands||52 035||Philippines||232 391|
|6.||Sweden-Norway||9 863||Ireland||47 673||Vietnam||219 351|
|7.||South Sea Islands||9 128||New Zealand||43 350||Italy||174 042|
|8.||British Raj||7 637||Greece||25 862||South Africa||162 450|
|9.||United States||7 448||Yugoslavia||22 856||Malaysia||138 363|
|10.||Denmark||6 281||Malta||19 988||Sri Lanka||109 850|
|-||Other||47 463||Other||215 589||Other||2 542 443|
There are a number of different types of Australian immigration, classed under different categories of visa:
Employment and family visas can often lead to Australian citizenship; however, this requires the applicant to have lived in Australia for at least four years with at least one year as a permanent resident.
Claims have been made that Australia's migration program is in conflict with anti age-discrimination legislation and there have been calls to remove or amend the age limit of 50 for general skilled migrants.
|Region||Number of migrants|
|Southern and Central Asia||58 232|
|North-East Asia||37 235|
|South-East Asia||31 488|
|North Africa and the Middle East||28 525|
|North-West Europe||25 174|
|Oceania and Antarctica||16 445|
|Sub-Saharan Africa||11 369|
|Southern and Eastern Europe||7 306|
|Supplementary and Not Stated||492|
Australia grants two types of visa under its humanitarian program:
The Australian Government and the community[which?] provide a number of migration-assistance and settlement-support services:
As of 2019, 30% of the Australian resident population, or 7,529,570 people, had been born overseas.
The following table shows Australia's population by country of birth as estimated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2020. It shows only countries or regions or birth with a population of over 100,000 residing in Australia.
|Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics (2020)|
|Place of birth||Estimated resident population[A]|
|Hong Kong SAR[E]||104,760|
There are a range of views in the Australian community on the composition and level of immigration, and on the possible effects of varying the level of immigration and population growth.
In 2002, a CSIRO population study commissioned by the former Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, outlined six potential dilemmas associated with immigration-driven population growth. These included: the absolute numbers of aged residents continuing to rise despite high immigration off-setting ageing and declining birth-rates in a proportional sense; a worsening of Australia's trade balance due to more imports and higher consumption of domestic production; increased greenhouse gas emissions; overuse of agricultural soils; marine fisheries and domestic supplies of oil and gas; and a decline in urban air quality, river quality and biodiversity.
Some environmental movements believe that as the driest inhabited continent, Australia cannot continue to sustain its current rate of population growth without becoming overpopulated. The Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) argues that climate change will lead to a deterioration of natural ecosystems through increased temperatures, extreme weather events and less rainfall in the southern part of the continent, thus reducing its capacity to sustain a large population even further. The Australia Institute has concluded that Australia's population growth has been one of the main factors driving growth in domestic greenhouse gas emissions. It concluded that the average emissions per capita in the countries that immigrants come from is only 42 percent of average emissions in Australia, finding that as immigrants alter their lifestyle to that of Australians, they increase global greenhouse gas emissions. The Institute calculated that each additional 70,000 immigrants will lead to additional emissions of 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gases by the end of the Kyoto target period (2012) and 30 million tonnes by 2020.
A number of economists, such as Macquarie Bank analyst Rory Robertson, assert that high immigration and the propensity of new arrivals to cluster in the capital cities is exacerbating the nation's housing affordability problem. According to Robertson, Federal Government policies that fuel demand for housing, such as the currently high levels of immigration, as well as capital gains tax discounts and subsidies to boost fertility, have had a greater impact on housing affordability than land release on urban fringes.
The Productivity Commission in its 2004 Inquiry Report No. 28, First Home Ownership, concluded: "Growth in immigration since the mid-1990s has been an important contributor to underlying demand, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne." The Reserve Bank of Australia in its submission to the same Productivity Commission report stated that "rapid growth in overseas visitors such as students may have boosted demand for rental housing". However, the Commission found that "the ABS resident population estimates have limitations when used for assessing housing demand. Given the significant influx of foreigners coming to work or study in Australia in recent years, it seems highly likely that short-stay visitor movements may have added to the demand for housing. However, the Commissions are unaware of any research that quantifies the effects."
In 2009, following the global financial crisis, the Australian government reduced its immigration target by 14%, and the permanent migration program for skilled migrants was reduced to 115,000 people for that financial year. In 2010-2011, the migration intake was adjusted so that 67.5% of the permanent migration program would be for skilled migrants, and 113,725 visas were granted.
According to Graduate Careers Australia, there have been some declines in full-time employment between 2012-2015 for recent university graduates of various degrees, including dentistry, computer science, architecture, psychology, and nursing. In 2014, a number of the professional associations for some of these fields criticised the immigration policy for skilled migrants, contending that these policies have contributed to difficulties for local degree holders in obtaining full-time employment. In 2016, the Department of Health forecast a shortfall in nurses of approximately 85,000 by 2025 and 123,000 by 2030.
In 2016, Monash University academics published a report which contended that Australia's immigration program is deeply flawed. The government's Medium to Long-Term Strategic Skill List allows immigration by professionals who end up competing with graduates of Australian universities for scarce positions. On the other hand, Australia's shortage of skilled tradespeople is not being addressed.
Another element in the immigration debate is a concern to alleviate adverse impacts arising from Australia's aging population. In the 1990s, the former Federal Treasurer Peter Costello stated that Australia is underpopulated due to a low birth rate, and that negative population growth will have adverse long-term effects on the economy as the population ages and the labour market becomes less competitive. To avoid this outcome the government increased immigration to fill gaps in labour markets and introduced a subsidy to encourage families to have more children. However, opponents of population growth such as Sustainable Population Australia do not accept that population growth will decline and reverse, based on current immigration and fertility projections.
There is debate over whether immigration can slow the ageing of Australia's population. In a research paper entitled Population Futures for Australia: the Policy Alternatives, Peter McDonald claims that "it is demographic nonsense to believe that immigration can help to keep our population young." However, according to Creedy and Alvarado (p. 99), by 2031 there will be a 1.1 per cent fall in the proportion of the population aged over 65 if net migration rate is 80,000 per year. If net migration rate is 170,000 per year, the proportion of the population aged over 65 would reduce by 3.1 per cent. As of 2007 during the leadership of John Howard, the net migration rate was 160,000 per year.
According to the Commonwealth Treasury, immigration can reduce the average age of the Australian population: "The level of net overseas migration is important: net inflows of migrants to Australia reduce the rate of population ageing because migrants are younger on average than the resident population. Currently, around 85 per cent of migrants are aged under 40 when they migrate to Australia, compared to around 55 per cent for the resident population." Ross Gittins, an economics columnist at Fairfax Media, has said that the Government's focus on skilled migration has in fact reduced the average age of migrants. "More than half are aged 15 to 34, compared with 28 per cent of our population. Only 2 per cent of permanent immigrants are 65 or older, compared with 13 per cent of our population." Because of these statistics, Gittens claims that immigration is slowing the ageing of the Australian population and that the "net benefit to the economy is a lot more clear-cut."
Robert Birrell, director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University, has argued: "It is true that a net migration intake averaging around 180,000 per year will mean that the proportion of persons aged 65 plus to the total population will be a few percentage points lower in 2050 than it would be with a low migration intake. But this 'gain' would be bought at the expense of having to accommodate a much larger population. These people too, will age, thus requiring an even larger migration intake in subsequent years to look after them."
In July 2005 the Productivity Commission launched a commissioned study entitled Economic Impacts of Migration and Population Growth, and released an initial position paper on 17 January 2006 which states that the increase of income per capita provided by higher migration (50 percent more than the base model) by the 2024-2025 financial year would be $335 (0.6%), an amount described as "very small." The paper also found that Australians would on average work 1.3 percent longer hours, about twice the proportional increase in income.
Using regression analysis, Addison and Worswick found in a 2002 study that "there is no evidence that immigration has negatively impacted on the wages of young or low-skilled natives." Furthermore, Addison's study found that immigration did not increase unemployment among native workers. Rather, immigration decreased unemployment. However, in 2005 the Productivity Commission concluded that higher immigration levels would result in lower wage growth for existing Australian residents. On the impact of immigration on unemployment levels, the Commission said: "The conclusion that immigration has not caused unemployment at an aggregate level does not imply that it cannot lead to higher unemployment for specific groups. Immigration could worsen the labour market outcomes of people who work in sectors of the economy that have high concentrations of immigrant workers."
Gittins claims there is considerable opposition to immigration in Australia by "battlers" because of the belief that immigrants will steal jobs. Gittins claims though that "it's true that immigrants add to the supply of labour. But it's equally true that, by consuming and bringing families who consume, they also add to the demand for labour - usually by more." Overall, Gittins has written that the "economic case for rapid population growth though immigration is surprisingly weak," noting the diseconomies of scale, infrastructure costs and negative environmental impacts associated with continued immigration-driven population growth.
Robert Birrell has asserted that high immigration levels are being used by the Federal Government to stimulate aggregate economic growth, but that per capita growth is more important to Australians. Birrell concluded that high migration does not benefit existing residents, because it dilutes the benefit that can accrue from the export of non-renewable resources which form a large part of the Australian economy. As well, Birrell argues that a slowdown in labour force growth would require employers to pay greater attention to training, wages and conditions of workers.
The impact that immigration has on social cohesion in Australia is not clear. According to a 2018 report by the Scanlon Report, between 80 and 82% of Australians felt that immigration had a positive impact on Australian society. Australians under the age of 30 were twice as likely to feel positively about immigration as Australians over the age of 60 were. A follow-up report in 2019 found that 85% of Australians polled felt that multiculturalism had made a positive impact on Australia, but 40% admitted negative or very negative feelings towards Muslims.
Over the last decade, leaders of the major Federal political parties have demonstrated support for high level immigration (including John Howard, Peter Costello and Kim Beazley). There was, overall, an upward trend in the number of immigrants to Australia over the period of the Howard Government (1996-2007). The Rudd Labor Government (elected 2007) increased the quota again once in office. In 2010, both major parties continue to support high immigration, with former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd advocating a 'Big Australia'; and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott stating in a 2010 Australia Day speech that: "My instinct is to extend to as many people as possible the freedom and benefits of life in Australia". On 7 August 2018, the Australian Bureau of Statistics population clock reached 25 million 33 years ahead of predictions, with 62% of the growth in the last ten years being a result of immigration.
In 2003, economist Ross Gittins, a columnist at Fairfax Media, said former Prime Minister John Howard had been "a tricky chap" on immigration, by appearing "tough" on illegal immigration to win support from the working class, while simultaneously winning support from employers with high legal immigration. In 2006, the Labor Party under Kim Beazley took a stance against the importation of increasingly large numbers of temporary skilled migrant workers by employers, arguing that this is simply a way for employers to drive down wages.
In 2019, a Lowy Institute poll found that 49% of Australians say that 'the total number of migrants coming to Australia each year is too high', while a minority said it is 'too low' (13%), representing a 10-point rise in opposition to immigration since 2014. Furthermore, 67% say that 'overall, immigration has a positive impact on the economy', while 65% say that 'immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents', and 62% believe that 'accepting immigrants from many different countries makes Australia stronger'.
Aboriginal Australians are descended from the same small group of people who left Africa about 70,000 years ago and colonised the rest of the world, a large genetic study shows. After arriving in Australia and New Guinea about 50,000 years ago, the settlers evolved in relative isolation, developing unique genetic characteristics and technology.