Multicultural groups hail federal government’s decision to collect data on ethnicity
The federal government has announced it will start collecting data on ethnicity as part of Australia’s diversity measurement, a move long called for by multicultural experts and community groups.
- Comparable countries such as the United States, Canada and New Zealand collect data on ethnicity to measure diversity
- Experts say failure to understand the makeup of multicultural Australia has hampered responses to COVID-19
- Federal government aims to collect data on ethnicity in next census
Country of birth and language spoken at home have historically been the main indicators of diversity used by Australian government agencies.
But experts say this does not sufficiently capture the diversity of the community, not least because many Australians from diverse backgrounds were born in Australia and speak English.
“Australia is not effectively measuring our diversity,” Andrew Giles, the new Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, told a conference in Melbourne.
He said Australia’s inability to collect data on ethnicity or race – unlike the United States, Canada and New Zealand – was a “fundamental obstacle to understanding the issues facing faced by multicultural Australians”.
“I looked at the kind of countries that we often compare ourselves to … and we weren’t compiling data that would allow us to understand the representation of different population groups,” Mr Giles told the ABC of the Federation of Councils of Councils. Ethnic Communities of Australia (FECCA).
“It became a much bigger issue, of course, during the pandemic, where we’ve seen really unequal health impacts, particularly in the rollout of vaccination.”
Last year, the ABC reported that while the federal government had pledged to obtain data on ethnicity during COVID-19 testing and vaccination, Victoria was the only state to collect data on ethnicity.
This despite indications that culturally and linguistically diverse communities were being hit harder by coronavirus outbreaks, such as those in western Sydney and high-rise public housing in Melbourne.
“The pandemic has shown us some pretty hard truths about our society,” Mr Giles said.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) up to January 2021 showed that Australian residents born in the Middle East and North Africa were more than 10 times more likely to die from coronavirus than people born in Australia.
People born in Southeast Asia and South and Central Asia, meanwhile, were about twice as likely to die from COVID.
“This is the most extreme example of many of our failures to ensure that everyone is counted and everyone is supported, through a difficult time. I don’t want this to happen again. “said Mr. Giles.
A culturally and linguistically diverse data collection working group with representatives from leading multicultural organizations, as well as experts in data collection and demographics, would be created to develop national standards for collecting diversity data. , Mr. Giles said.
The pandemic has shown that there is a “gaping hole” in the data collected on Australia’s population, according to FECCA chief executive Mohammad al-Khafaji.
“COVID has provided us with this opportunity to seriously examine the systemic barriers that prevent us from solving this problem,” he said.
Mr al-Khafaji welcomed Mr Giles’ announcement, saying he was glad the new government had recognized it as a priority.
“We’ve been calling for this for a few years, and we’re glad that call has been answered,” he said.
Ahead of the 2021 census, people from ethnic minorities in Asia and the Pacific Islands told the ABC that the Australian Bureau of Statistics did not accurately capture their ancestry.
Mr Giles said he wanted the changes to inform the next census in 2026.
“The dataset we have on this is imprecise because place of birth doesn’t really tell us who someone is, how they identify, and that’s why we need to get better data,” did he declare.
Race commissioner wants more data on racism
Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner, Chin Tan, also welcomed Mr Giles’ announcement of the shift to collecting more detailed diversity data, calling it a “positive move”.
“We are now looking to focus on an area that we should have taken care of a long time ago,” Mr Tan said.
“For me, it’s a positive move to get more information that will support multicultural communities and help Australia move multiculturalism forward.”
He told the ABC that the Australian Human Rights Commission wants to see more data collection on race issues and racism.
“While we applaud and will support multicultural data collection initiatives, we also envision data collection that will also capture issues of race and race in this country,” Tan said.
He said Australia was still “far behind” other countries in terms of multicultural policies and programs.
“We need policies and programs, and funding obviously, to support that.”