Danielle Rajendram is a Research Associate in the Lowy Institute's International Security Program whose work focuses on India and China-India relations.
 
Graeme Dobell cites recent census figures about languages spoken in Australian homes to argue that Australia has come a long way in its embrace of Asia. The political fretting about whether Australia is ready for the Asian Century risks overlooking this simple fact, as a closer look at the 2011 Census shows. In fact, the results reveal nothing less than a transformation in Australia's demographic composition.

While Australia has long been able to consider itself a multicultural nation, the importance of our migrant communities is becoming more pronounced, with almost a quarter of Australia's population born overseas, and 43.1% with at least one overseas-born parent.

Perhaps more revealing is the data on the geographic origins of these communities. While the proportion of Australia's overseas-born population is up 3% since the last census in 2006, our Asian-born population has grown even faster. Asian-born Australians now comprise one-third of Australia's overseas born population, up from 24% in 2006. Mandarin is now the language most commonly spoken at home after English.

Five of Australia's top ten overseas countries of birth are now located in Asia, with China and India coming in third and fourth after the UK and New Zealand respectively. The growth of migrant communities is particularly evident in our cities: 66% of Australians live in capital cities compared with 82% of the overseas born population, and over a third of the residents of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth were born overseas.

Of particular significance is the growth and consolidation of the Indian community in Australia. The number of Australians born in India more than doubled since 2006, and Punjabi became Australia's fastest growing language with an even more impressive 207.5% increase. Hinduism has experienced the fastest growth of any religion, with adherents almost doubling since 2006.

We can expect that these migrant communities will find their own unique political voice. Their expertise, language skills and people-to-people contacts will also be vital in securing Australia's interests in the Asian Century, allowing the pursuit of business and trade ventures with Asia's emerging giants.

Australia's relations with its regional neighbours must come to reflect the significance of our domestic Asian communities. This most recent census data makes a clear case for a renewed focus on Australia-India bilateral ties. We must be careful not to neglect our relations with India in favour of expending disproportionate diplomatic and political capital on China.

The increasing influence of Australia's migrant communities will mean that a place for Australia in the Asian Century is unavoidable. What we now need is a clear strategy to fully realise the opportunities and advantages presented to us by our demography.

Photo by Flickr user rubenerd