Race, Ethnicity and
Australian ethnic and racial diversity, originating from colonisation and extensive reliance on international migration for economic and national development, has historically been a major component of national life and politics. Despite qualitative and quantitative changes in Australia's ethnic diversity, this remains as true at the beginning of the twenty-first century as it was more than 200 years earlier, when the first British colony was established on the site of contemporary Sydney. By 2001, nearly one-quarter of the population of 19 million were born overseas and, when those with one or more parents born overseas are added, nearly half of the contemporary Australian population (46 per cent) have lived for less than three generations in Australia.
Although similar to the situation at federation in 1901, there has been a major change in the composition of the foreign born, reflecting the declining prominence of those from the United Kingdom from 18 per cent to 5.5 per cent of the population over the century. As part of this diversification associated with the post-World War II mass-migration program, those born in Asia have increased from 1.2 per cent of the population to 4.6 per cent, with a further 1.1 per cent born in North Africa and the Middle East. Over the century, the Indigenous population has grown from 94,600 (2.5 per cent of the total population) to 410,000 (2.2 per cent) by 2001. This growth has been especially rapid in the 1990s, with numbers increasing by one-third between 1991 and 1996, and a further 16 per cent between 1996 and 2001. At the same time, Sydney has become the major Indigenous population centre in Australia. An important factor in this growth is that an increasing number of individuals are now publicly identifying as Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders.
Australia's ethnic and racial diversity has been a major focus of social-science research. Australian political and social developments as much as international theoretical debates and trends in the social sciences have influenced this prominence. The importance of ethnic diversity and immigration means that often the research is undertaken in a context where there is the potential for it to become involved in public debates and policy discussions. Such debates are not the immediate concern of this chapter. Instead it concentrates on research undertaken within traditional academic settings, rather than the growing body of research undertaken by community workers and individuals seeking to identify the specific needs of their local community, or to