Australia: Suburbs ‘swamped’ by Asians and Muslims? The data show a different story

July 5, 2017  

Only one Australian suburb, Lakemba in Sydney, has a population that is more than half Muslim. AAP/Jane Dempster

Population growth has profound impacts on Australian life, and sorting myths from facts can be difficult. This article is part of our series, Is Australia Full?, which aims to help inform a wide-ranging and often emotive debate.

In her maiden speech to federal parliament in 1996, Pauline Hanson claimed Australia was in danger of being “swamped by Asians”. At her re-election to the Senate on 2016, Hanson expanded her claim to also being “swamped by Muslims”. But is this factually correct?

Using data from the 2011 Census, we analysed the distribution of Asians and Muslims at four spatial scales (neighbourhood, suburb, district, and region) within Australia’s 11 largest urban areas. We found no evidence of any “swamping” by Muslims, or of ultra-segregation into “ghettos”.

There are concentrations of Asians, mainly in Sydney and Melbourne. But they are mostly neighbourhoods and suburbs where they form only a small minority of local populations.

The geography of Asians and Muslims

Asians form small minorities in about half of the more than 33,000 local neighbourhoods (average population of 430) across Australia’s 11 cities.

In another 40% of neighbourhoods, Asians comprise between 10% and 25% of local populations. In only 2% overall do they make up more than half the local population.

The geography of Muslims is very different, and much less segregated. They are a much smaller proportion of Australia’s 11 metropolitan and major urban areas. But they are almost entirely absent from many neighbourhoods and suburbs.

In only 82 of the 33,337 neighbourhoods and in just one suburb – all in Sydney and Melbourne – do Muslims constitute half the local population. This amounts to 0.025%.

In only four Sydney neighbourhoods and one in Melbourne (0.015% combined) is the Muslim population as high as 70%.

A figure of 70% or more is regarded in the international literature on Western cities as indicating a ghetto situation.


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