The census and social capital - Transcript, 2GB Afternoons





SUBJECT: Census.

JOE HILDEBRAND, HOST: Dr Andrew Leigh is the Assistant Minister for Treasury, but more importantly he is the minister in charge of the census. Minister, welcome to Afternoons.


HILDEBRAND: Great to be with you.

LEIGH: I’m feeling tickety-boo like you.

HILDEBRAND: [laughter] I can't stop thinking about it now. Golly gosh, gee whiz.

LEIGH: It’s such a good phrase.

HILDEBRAND: It is a great phrase. Someone mentioned it - I think it was an English bloke who said it to me about more than 10, 20 years ago, something like that, and it's just never left my brain. Anyway.

LEIGH: It reminds me of my other favourite one. My late grandmother used to talk about being in ‘rude health’. I know no one else who uses this phrase, but I've always loved it.

HILDEBRAND: Yeah, yeah, I like it as well. ‘Rude health’ I think also probably describes my broadcasting style as well.


HILDEBRAND: Tell us, is the country in ‘rude health’, Minister? Is the country tickety-boo? Because a lot of people have said that this census actually shows perhaps more than others that we are kind of changing. We're getting younger. We're getting less religious. Migrants or people with one parent from overseas now make up a majority of the population for the first time. Just take us through what the census is telling us about us for starters.

LEIGH: It's a real mixed picture. We've certainly seen that strong population growth, and I'm speaking to you from the ACT, which is the jurisdiction that has grown faster than any other. We've seen some big changes in terms of religious affiliation. They were 30 per cent of Australians that had no religion at the last census. Now, that's up to 39 per cent. So ‘no religion’ is now level pegging with Christianity. And we've also seen some results out of a new question which asked Australians whether they have a long-term health condition, and over 8 million Australians have a long-term health condition. Two million report having a mental health condition, 2 million with arthritis, 2 million with asthma. So these are some serious indicators that now government can work more strongly on that we could before we had this quality of data.

HILDEBRAND: So let's start with the religious thing, because that's got a lot of people energised. And I'm wondering, there's a report in The Telegraph today that Tim Minchin was out there telling people to put ‘no religion’ on the Census and campaigning for that. I don't know why you would try to manipulate a document that is actually so important to, I suppose – you know, this is not something you game. It's like, it's like sort of, we all know people get tried to game NAPLAN and say ‘we're gonna hothouse you, we're gonna coach you for NAPLAN’. That's not what you want. You don't want a campaign to tell people what to put on the Census, because you want it to reflect people's actual natural, unmolested state, if you like. But do you think that that had something to do with it? And I wonder if you know, I mean, we saw before for example people said ‘put your religion as Jedi Knight’ and suddenly Jedi Knight had tens of thousands of people on the Census and then it sort of just completely disappeared into the ether. And I call myself a Catholic. I'm, you know, but I'm not very churchy. I don't go to Mass every Sunday, it’s terrible. But you know, my kids are baptised. I've been baptised and confirmed. But you know, if someone sort of pushed me and said ‘well hang on, put no religion, put no religion’, you know I would put Catholic on the Census - in fact, I did. But if you have someone saying, are we - what am I saying? Are we actually just very sort of apathetically religious, if you like? Are there people who aren’t ardent atheists, they kind of believe in God or something or whatever, but we're just not as churchy as we used to be?

LEIGH: I think it's both, Joe. I think we're both less likely to believe and less likely to attend. And as the Assistant Minister also for charities, I do worry about that drop off in religious attendance. Because we know that people who attend religious services are more likely to volunteer, more likely to donate. And that's true even when you take out the time and the money they give to religious causes. People who attend religious services are more likely to give blood, for example. So it is an important part of what we call social capital, that kind of glue in the community. Other organisations are springing up to take the place of that – you look at the growth of Parkrun, for example - but churches and other religious groups have played a really important part in holding the community together. So I'm concerned about the decline there.

HILDEBRAND: Yeah, me too. And I just again, I do a lot of work with Vinnies, which is of course the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Has a long relationship with the Catholic Church, and that feeds into it an enormous amount. The way they see people and the way they help people is also very much informed by faith, because they see every human being has having that sort of, having that divine spark or that dignity or whatever. And that's what drives them to do what they do. And you take some of that away and suddenly you get just another government department or the bureaucrat saying ‘nah, sorry’, stamping rejected on your form.

LEIGH: And I think about the Sikh community here in the ACT, who were wonderful during lockdown in delivering meals to a lot of the overseas students who weren't getting other assistance. So they did that because of that real tradition in Sikhism of giving back.

HILDEBRAND: And another thing, which I actually think is really welcome because I'm a huge fan of multiculturalism. I think it is fantastic, as long as we all sort of share broadly similar values. But there's been a massive change and a real sort of landmark moment in that for the first time the majority of Australians are either from overseas themselves or, I suspect in a much greater number, have at least one parent who was born overseas.

LEIGH: Yes, it's remarkable, isn't it? And you see there's a huge increase in people who have their ancestry as Indian. So India has moved past China and New Zealand to be the third largest country of birth behind Australia and England. And then we've got this this plethora of ancestral backgrounds, which means that if you had a parent born overseas now that's the norm in Australia. It reminds us that apart from Indigenous Australians, everyone in Australia is a migrant or the descendant of a migrant, and we ought to be really proud of what that multicultural story has given us. The business dynamism that you get out of having people from ancestries around the world, the way in which the cuisine is better, the strength of communities is better because of the cultures that we draw on.

HILDEBRAND: I think from memory the second most spoken language in Australia is Mandarin, and only one of those speakers is Kevin Rudd.

LEIGH: [laughter] Nearly 700,000 people speak Mandarin at home and then 367,000 speak Arabic. So there's a lot a lot of people who speak foreign languages at home.

HILDEBRAND: Yeah, exactly. And of course, you know, for people who say ‘it's all these migrants, they come from different cultures, they don't understand us, blah blah, blah, blah, blah’. In fact, the highest country of birth behind Australia is England. So it’s just [inaudible]. The other thing that obviously – oh, just quickly, you mentioned First Nations Australians, the first Australians. Their numbers have also gone up slightly, which is great to see. Is that more people, is that a result of population growth in Aboriginal Indigenous communities, or is that more people identifying as Indigenous? Or do we not really know?

LEIGH: It’s both. The number of children for Indigenous families tends to be larger, but there's also been an increase in the share of Australians who are identifying themselves as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. I think if you go back to our childhoods, people would sometimes sadly seek to hide their Indigenous ancestry. Now I think it's a real point of pride and many people are going back through, discovering the family heritage and they've got a smile on their face as they identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

HILDEBRAND: Yeah. And then more importantly, people say - you know, this is generations ago, obviously - but that it was actually a dying race, that there was this sort of inevitability that the Aboriginal race and the Aboriginal culture would be subsumed by the incoming European culture. And it's great to see that that is, in fact, turning around - unfortunately after huge losses, but it is at least growing again. So that's terrific.

LEIGH: Absolutely. And we've had this new question on service in the Australian Defence Force, and you put that together with the Indigenous question, you've got 4 per cent of currently serving members are Indigenous and 2 per cent of veterans are Indigenous. So Indigenous Australians are playing a really important part in one of our key national institutions, the Australian Defence Force.

HILDEBRAND: Damn straight. And actually, I was just coming to that and we do have to go, but for the first time I believe this census is actually counted all the people who are currently in and have served in the Australian Defence Force, and it's half a million of us. Half a million - not me, we've got to say, but half a million people far braver and more selfless than me have served in the ADF. And so yes, Australia is changing, but we are more Australian than ever. Andrew Leigh, I could talk to you all day, but we're out of time. Thank you so much for joining us on Afternoons.

LEIGH: Real pleasure to talk to another numbers nerd. Thanks again.

HILDEBRAND: Always a pleasure, mate. Take care.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.