Asian Australians

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Asian Australians
Total population
Approximately 17.4% of the population (2021 census)[1][A]
Chinese Australians: 1,390,637
Indian Australians: 783,958
Filipino Australians: 408,836
Vietnamese Australians: 334,781
Nepalese Australians: 138,463
Korean Australians: 136,896
Pakistani Australians: 97,593
Sri Lankan Australians: 95,946
Thai Australians: 91,942
Indonesian Australians: 85,978
Japanese Australians: 78,049
Malaysian Australians: 61,308
Cambodian Australians: 57,096
Afghan Australians: 54,534
Regions with significant populations
Capital cities of Australia:
Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Darwin and Canberra
Australian towns and regions:
Notably Broome and the Torres Strait Islands[B]
External territories of Australia:
Christmas Island and Cocos Islands (More than 90% of the total populations of the two territories)[C]
Australian English · Asian languages
Buddhism · Christianity · Hinduism · Sikhism · Islam · East Asian religions · Indian religions · other religions

Asian Australians refers to Australians of Asian ancestry, whether full or partial, including naturalised Australians who are immigrants from specific regions in Asia and descendants of such immigrants. At the 2021 census, the number of ancestry responses categorised within Asian ancestral groups as a proportion of the total population amounted to approximately 17.4% (including 6.5% Southern and Central Asian, 6.4% North-East Asian, and 4.5% South-East Asian).[1][2]


The Australian Bureau of Statistics and Australian Census does not specifically collect data based on race. Instead, it collects information on distinct ancestries, of which census respondents can select up to two. For the purposes of aggregating data, the Australian Bureau of Statistics in its Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG) has grouped certain ancestries into certain categories, including:[2]

Notably, Australians of Middle Eastern ancestries are not classified as Asian ancestries under the ASCCEG and are separately classified under North African and Middle Eastern.[2] This includes Australians of Arab, Turkish and Iranian ancestries, but not for example Armenian which are classified as Central Asian and therefore Asian Australian.[8]

Given that ancestry is the primary statistical measure of ethnicity or cultural origins in Australia, and that the distinct ancestry groups may be historically, culturally and geographically far-removed from each other, information on Australians with ancestry from Asia are found at the respective articles for each separate article (e.g. Chinese Australian, Indian Australian, etc.)


Gold rush[edit]

Although the Chinese had been arriving in Australia as early as 1818 (e.g. John Shying), Chinese immigration to Australia increased dramatically as a result of the Victorian gold rushes (c. 1850s to 1860s). New Chinese and Australian communities came into conflict due to prejudice and misunderstanding, resulting in several riots at Lambing Flat and Buckland. Earlier anti-Chinese laws enacted by the individual Australian colonies were the background to the White Australia policy (1901–1973).

Immigration restriction[edit]

In the 1870s and 1880s, the trade union movement began a series of protests against foreign labour. The union movement was critical of Asians, mainly Chinese, who did not join unions, and who were prepared to work for lower wages and conditions.[9] Wealthy land owners in rural areas countered with the argument Asians working on lower wages and conditions were necessary for development in tropical Queensland and the Northern Territory.[9] It was claimed that without Asian workers these regions would be abandoned.[10] Under growing pressure from the union movement, each Australian colony enacted legislation between 1875 and 1888 excluding further Chinese and by extension, Asian immigration.[10]

World War II[edit]

Historically, Taiwanese Australians have had a significant presence in Tatura and Rushworth, two neighbouring countryside towns respectively located in the regions of Greater Shepparton and Campaspe (Victoria), in the fertile Goulburn Valley.[11] During World War II, ethnic-Japanese (from Australia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific) and ethnic-Taiwanese (from the Netherlands East Indies) were interned nearby to these towns as a result of anti-espionage/collaboration policies enforced by the Australian government (and WWII Allies in the Asia-Pacific region).[12] Roughly 600 Taiwanese civilians (entire families, including mothers, children and the elderly) were held at "Internment Camp No. 4", located in Rushworth but nominally labeled as being part of the "Tatura Internment Group", between January 1942 and March 1946.[13] Most of the Japanese and Taiwanese civilians were innocent and had been arrested for racist reasons (see the related article "Internment of Japanese Americans", an article detailing similar internment in America).[14] Several Japanese and Taiwanese people were born in the internment camp and received British (Australian) birth certificates from a nearby hospital. Several Japanese people who were born in the internment camp were named "Tatura" in honour of their families' wartime internment at Tatura. During wartime internment, many working age adults in the internment camp operated small businesses (including a sewing factory) and local schools within the internment camp.[13] Regarding languages, schools mainly taught English, Japanese, Mandarin and Taiwanese languages (Hokkien, Hakka, Formosan). Filipinos are purported to have also been held at the camp, alongside Koreans, Manchus (possibly from Manchukuo), New Caledonians, New Hebrideans, people from the South Seas Mandate, people from Western New Guinea (and presumably also Papua New Guinea) and Aboriginal Australians (who were mixed-Japanese).[15][16]

After the war, internees were resettled in their country of ethnic origin, rather than their country of nationality or residence, with the exception of Japanese Australians, who were generally allowed to remain in Australia. Non-Australian Japanese, who originated from Southeast Asia and the Pacific, were repatriated to Occupied Japan. On the other hand, Taiwanese, most of whom originated from the Netherlands East Indies, were repatriated to Occupied Taiwan. The repatriation of Taiwanese during March 1946 caused public outcry in Australia due to the allegedly poor living conditions aboard the repatriating ship "Yoizuki", in what became known as the "Yoizuki Hellship scandal". Post-WWII, the Australian government was eager to expel any Japanese internees who did not possess Australian citizenship, and this included the majority of Taiwanese internees as well. However, the Republic of China (ROC) was an ally of Australia, and since the ROC had occupied Taiwan during October 1945, many among the Australian public believed that the Taiwanese internees should be deemed citizens of the ROC, and, therefore, friends of Australia, not to be expelled from the country, or at least not in such allegedly appalling conditions. This debate concerning the citizenship of Taiwanese internees—whether they were Chinese or Japanese—further inflamed public outrage at their allegedly appalling treatment by the Australian government. Additionally, it was technically true that several "camp babies"—internees who had been born on Australian soil whilst their parents were interned—possessed Australian birth certificates, which made them legally British subjects. However, many of these camp babies were also deported from the country alongside their non-citizen parents. There was also a minor controversy regarding the destination of repatriation, with some of the less Japan-friendly Taiwanese fearing that they would be repatriated to Japan, though this was resolved when they learnt that they were being repatriated to Taiwan instead.

On January 5, 1993, a plaque was erected at the site of the internment camp at Tatura (Rushworth) to commemorate the memory of wartime internment. Forty-six Japanese and Taiwanese ex-internees, as well as a former (Australian) camp guard, are listed on the plaque.[17]

Post-war immigration[edit]

The government began to expand access to citizenship for non-Europeans in 1957 by allowing access to 15-year residents, and in 1958 by reforming entry permits via the Migration Act 1958. In March 1966, the immigration ministry began a policy of allowing the immigration of skilled and professional non-Europeans, and of expanding the availability of temporary residency to these groups. These cumulatively had the effect of increasing immigration numbers from non-European countries. In 1973, prime minister Gough Whitlam took steps to dismantle the White Australia and to bring about a more non-discriminatory immigration policy—temporarily bringing down overall immigration numbers. The eventual evolution of immigration policy has been along a trajectory of non-discrimination, dismantling European-only policies, and the broadening of pathways to citizenship for Asians.[18]

During the Fraser government, with the increasing intake of Vietnamese refugees in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Australia experienced the largest intake of Asian immigrants since the arrival of the Chinese gold miners during the gold rush of the 1850s and 1860s. In 1983, the level of British immigration was below the level of Asian immigration for the first time in Australian history.[19]


Notably, Australia does not collect statistics on the racial origins of its residents, instead collecting data at each five-yearly census on distinct ancestries, of which each census respondent may choose up to two.[20]

At the 2021 census, the number of ancestry responses categorised within the Asian groups as a proportion of the total population amounted to 17.4% (including 6.5% Southern and Central Asian, 6.4% North-East Asian, and 4.5% South-East Asian).[1][2]

At the 2021 census, the most commonly nominated Asian ancestries were as set out in the following table.[1]

Persons nominating Asian Australian Ancestries in 2021[1]
Ancestry Population
Chinese Australian 1,390,637
Indian Australian 783,958
Filipino Australian 408,836
Vietnamese Australian 334,781
Nepalese Australian 138,463
Korean Australian 136,896
Pakistani Australian 97,593
Sri Lankan Australian 95,946
Thai Australian 91,942
Indonesian Australian 85,978
Japanese Australian 78,049
Malaysian Australian 61,308
Cambodian Australian 57,096
Afghan Australian 54,534
Bangladeshi Australian 49,142
Burmese Australian 36,528
Taiwanese Australian 26,345
Laotian Australian 17,287
Karen Australians 13,602
Bhutanese Australians 11,935
Singaporean Australian 11,413
East Timorese Australian 11,105
Chin Australian 8,407
Hmong Australian 4,035
Tibetan Australians 3,173
Australian Rohingyas 2,322

30% of Asians in Australia go to university, 20% of all Australian doctors are Asian, and 37% of Asian Australians take part in some form of organised sport.[21] Second and third generation Chinese and Indian Australians are already present in large numbers.[21] Sydney and Melbourne have made up a large proportion of Asian immigration, with Chinese Australians constituting Sydney's fourth largest ancestry (after English, Australian and Irish). Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese-Australians are among Sydney's five largest overseas-born communities.[22]


Members of minority groups make up only about 6 percent of the federal Parliament[23]

Support for the view that Asian-Australians experience discrimination is not an overly partisan issue. Labor and Greens voters were more likely to agree that Asian-Australians experience discrimination (87.7 per cent and 88.2 per cent respectively) than other voters. However, more than three-quarters of those who said they would vote for the Liberal/National Coalition (76.2 per cent) concurred.[24]

Social and political issues[edit]

Race-based discrimination and violence[edit]

Asian Australians have been the targets of discrimination and violence based on their race and or ethnicity.[25][26][27][28][29]

As a result of the September 11 attacks, some Sikh Australians have become subject to discrimination, specifically because their religious garments can be mistaken as being Arab or Muslim.[30]


During the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, concern has grown due to an increase in anti-Asian[31] sentiment in Australia.[32][33][34][35][36][37][38][39]

Racial stereotypes[edit]

There is a perception among Anglo-Celtic Australians that Asian Australians are not "Australian" but are instead "perpetual foreigners", a common sentiment also present in other Anglophone countries such as Canada, New Zealand and the United States.[40]

Model minority[edit]

Asian Australians are sometimes characterized as a model minority in the Australia.[41][42][43][44][45][46][47][48]

Bamboo ceiling[edit]

9.3% of the Australian labour force is Asian born, however Asian Australians are significantly under-represented in leadership roles, with only 4.9% who make it to senior executive level.[49][50]

Social and economic disparities among Asian Australians[edit]

Asian Australians are over-represented in high-performing schools, gifted and talented programs and prestigious university courses.[51][52][53][54] However, there are major disparities that exist among Asian Australians when specific ethnic groups are examined.

Cambodian Australians have lower rates of educational qualifications than the general Australian population (13 per cent compared to a national average of 58 per cent), and higher participation in semi-skilled and unskilled occupations (43 per cent are labourers and machinery operators compared to a national average of 8.8 per cent).[55][56][57]

According to the 2016 Census, 35.6 per cent of Laotian Australians aged 15 years and over had some form of higher non-school qualification compared to 60.1 per cent of the Australian population.[58] Laotian Australians participation rate in the labour force was 58.9 per cent (compared to the total Australian population participation rate of 64.6 per cent) and the unemployment rate was 9.3 per cent (compared to the total Australian population unemployment rate of 6.9 per cent).[58]

In 2013, Vietnamese Australian participation rate in the labour force was 61% which is slightly below the national average of around 65% and the unemployment rate was 7.8% which is higher than average and above the national rate of 5.8%.[59]

In 1987, 35 per cent of Hmong Australians in Sydney were unemployed and of those employed, 93 per cent were process workers doing unskilled factory jobs. In 1995, the unemployment rate had come down to 27 per cent (12.5 per cent among females and 33 per cent among males) with a significant proportion of those employed doing semi-skilled or unskilled jobs, compared to 93 per cent in 1987. The number of skilled workers had also increased (30 per cent among females and 19 per cent among males). The few who could obtain formal qualifications seemed to be in more secure and well paid jobs.[60]

The educational levels of Bangladeshi Australians are higher than for total Australian population; 79.0 per cent of the had some form of higher non-school qualification, 8.4 per cent had no qualifications and were still attending an educational institution. The participation rate in the labour force was 74.1 per cent and the unemployment rate was 10.9 per cent. 44.7 per cent were employed in either a skilled managerial, professional or trade occupation.[61]

Notable contributions[edit]

For principal lists of notable people, see the relevant articles for each relevant ethnicity, for example: Chinese Australians, Indian Australians, Vietnamese Australians, Malaysian Australians, Filipino Australians, Korean Australians and Indonesian Australians, etc.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Number of ancestry responses classified within the "North-East Asian", "South-East Asian" and "Southern and Central Asian" groups under the Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups as a proportion of the total population.[2] Excludes North African and Middle Eastern Australians who are separately classified. Ancestry figures do not amount to 100% as the Australian Bureau of Statistics allows up to two ancestry responses per person.[3]
  2. ^ Broome and the Torres Strait Islands were historically home to thousands of Asian migrants that settled in northern Australia as part of the pearling industry. These Asian migrants were of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Malay and Sri Lankan (mostly Sinhalese descent). These migrants integrated into local society marrying Indigenous Australians (Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders), which was very common at the time, and European Australians later on. Today, many long time residents in Broome and the Torres Strait Islands have partial Asian ancestry tracing back to these early migrants.[4]
  3. ^ Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands was formerly administered as part of Singapore before it was transferred to Australia. The population of Christmas Islanders of full or partial Asian descent consists mainly of Australians of Singaporean descent, particularly Singaporean Chinese and Malay descent but also some individuals of Singaporean Indian descent.[5][6] The majority of inhabitants on the Cocos Islands are the Cocos Malays, who are the indigenous people of Cocos Island. There are also minority populations of ethnic Chinese and Indian descent.[7]


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External links[edit]