Tracing Australia’s Pacific line

How many people with Pacific island heritage live in Australia? Like many questions, it sounds like it should have a simple answer, but it doesn’t, STEPHEN HOWES and HUIYUAN LIU write
A group of Papua New Guinea women living in Sydney, Australia, rallying behind each other during the Covid-19 lockdown recently. – ABCpic

Like many questions, it sounds like it should have a simple answer, but it doesn’t.
One answer is to count all those living in Australia born in the Pacific islands.
There are two limitations to this approach.
First, there is a significant share of Pacific island migrants, thus defined, who are clearly not of Pacific heritage.
They are the children of expatriates, with ancestry from Australia or England or China, etc.
Second, this method can’t be used to measure the number of second-generation Pacific migrants (those born in Australia as the children of migrants), since, by definition, they are born in Australia.
Nor does it include migrants with Pacific heritage born in third countries, such as New Zealand.
Another approach is to count all and only those who are recorded in the Australian census as being of Pacific ancestry.
This method gets around both of the above problems, since expatriates are excluded, and second-generation and born-elsewhere migrants included.
This ancestry approach is used by James Batley to analyse 2006-16 census data.
This method makes more sense, but has its own problems.
For one thing, the way the census is set up simply counting ancestries can lead to double-counting.
People can claim up to two ancestries each in the census, and if someone writes they are both ni-Vanuatu and Fijian a straightforward count by Pacific ancestry will count that person twice.
Another bigger problem is that this method excludes Indo-Fijians, who are in fact the largest group of migrants with Pacific heritage in Australia.
(Indians were brought to Fiji as indentured labourers between 1879 and 1920.)
Only in 2011 was a “Fijian Indian” ancestry category added to the Australian census.
And many Indians from Fiji continue to classify themselves as Indian.
In fact, between 2011 and 2016 the number living in Australia born in Fiji identifying as “Fijian Indian” fell from 10,942 to 7,717.
This is an interesting commentary on how Indo-Fijian migrants perceive themselves, but also a sure sign that we can’t just add self-identifying Indo-Fijians to the mix if we want to measure the number of Pacific migrants in Australia.
The approach we follow, which we call the “augmented ancestry” method, corrects for double counting and also tries to get a more accurate estimate of the Indo-Fijian diaspora.
You can read the data notes, but on the latter, which is by far the bigger correction, the key assumption is that all migrants born in Fiji with Indian or Southern Asian ancestry are in fact Indo-Fijians.
There are major differences between the three methods: birthplace, ancestry, and “augmented ancestry” method.
Our analysis covers all independent Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste, though Timor-Leste was not included in our Pacific totals.
Our method gives a number of born-in-country migrants that is less than the total arrived at using the birthplace method because it excluded expatriates.
However, it is greater than the total calculated using the ancestry method since it attempts to estimate and include all Indo-Fijians.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2016 census, there are 61,472 people born in Fiji living in Australia: 19,182 of these identify themselves as Fijian, and another 7,618 as Fijian Indian (after adjusting for those who identify themselves as both Fijian and Fijian Indian).
But we estimate that 54,238 have Fijian heritage, almost twice as many.
That difference is 27,438 of Indian and other South Asian heritages born in Fiji.
There are 28,803 people living in Australia born in PNG, but only 10,550 are of PNG ancestry, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
The large gap between these two numbers is due to the large number of expatriates who have returned or migrated from PNG to Australia.
There is in fact a large range in the share of migrants to Australia born in the Pacific with Pacific ancestry.
At one extreme, 88 per cent of migrants to Australia born in Fiji were of Fijian (including Indo-Fijian) heritage and 87 per cent born in Tonga are Tongans.
At the other, only 31 per cent of migrants born in Vanuatu are ni-Vanuatu and 37 per cent of migrants born in PNG are Papua New Guinean.
The differences are systematic.
The distinction between birthplace and ancestry is much more important for Melanesian countries than it is for Polynesian ones.
High-migration countries such as Tonga, Samoa and Fiji have a high ratio of national to expatriate migrants to Australia, whereas low-migration countries such as the Solomon Islands, PNG and Vanuatu have a much lower ratio.
There are 31,945 migrants in Australia who were born in PNG, Solomon Islands or Vanuatu, but only about 11,700 of these are of their country heritage.
Looking at birthplace alone, we would say that there are more Papua New Guinean migrants than Samoans in Australia (28,803 v 24,016), but if we look only at those born in country with indigenous heritage that relationship is reversed (10,550 v 19,632).
The reason for these massive differences is that the barriers that keep migration rates low from low-migration countries apply only to the nationals of those countries.
Expatriates are a globalised community.
To return to the question with which we began, our answer is that in 2016 there were 262,057 people with heritage from one of the independent Pacific island countries living in Australia after adjusting for the double-counting of people who claim two Pacific ancestries.
Once Indo-Fijians are added in, Fijians become the biggest group followed by Samoans.
We have also used our “augmented ancestry” method for 2006 and 2011.
The annual average growth of people with Pacific heritage living in Australia is four per cent from 2006 to 2011 and 4.6 per cent from 2011 to 2016.
The release of Australian 2021 census results would help update this analysis.
Sir Paul Hasluck, Australia’s minister for territories from 1951 to 1963 wrote in his book: A time for building: Australian administration in Papua New Guinea 1951-1963: “As for the Chinese, I saw at once that the only way open was to give them full Australian citizenship, with the right of permanent residence in Australia and to give them every possible encouragement to all of them to identify themselves with Australians as part of a single immigrant community.
“These ideas were quite contrary to prevailing opinion in the territory and in Australia at that time.”
Of the 18,253 expatriates born in PNG living in Australia in 2016, 7,384 claim Australian ancestry and 2,974 claim Chinese. – Devpolicyblog

This research, funded by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, was supported by the Pacific research programme and it first appeared on the DevPolicyBlog. The views represented those of the authors only.