Migrants, refugees embrace Australia Day, survey finds
A large majority of migrants and refugees new to Australia plan to become citizens and believe it is important to celebrate Australia Day, according to a new survey.
Most newcomers say they plan to mark the day in some way and that Australia Day events make them feel more welcome in their new country, the survey found.
There is also growing awareness among migrants and refugees about the debate over the date of Australia Day and claims by indigenous groups that it represent an invasion, based on surveys conducted in previous years.
However, most don’t know the significance of the January 26 date and are unaware of sensitivities over the day among some indigenous Australians.
The survey of 120 new migrants and refugees, commissioned by refugee and migrant settlement agency AMES Australia, also found an appetite for more information about Australia’s history among recent arrivals.
The survey asked ‘Is a national day such as Australia Day was important for the nation?’ Eighty-three per cent of respondents said ‘yes’ while just 10 per cent said ‘no’.
Ninety per cent said they planned to mark or celebrate the day in some way while 17 per cent said they had no plans.
Only 40 per cent of those surveyed knew the significance on January 26 – the day the First Fleet arrived in Port Jackson – while 60 per cent did not.
An overwhelming 90 per cent of respondents said they planned to become Australian citizens while 10 per cent said they had no plans to become citizens or were not sure.
Thirty-four per cent of those surveyed were aware of the controversy over Australia Day prompted by some indigenous groups calling it ‘invasion day’ – up from just 25 per cent in 2023.
Respondents who were aware of the controversy were split evenly over the issue of changing the date with 38 per cent supporting a change and 36 per cent opting for the status quo. Twenty-six per cent did not have a view.
Most respondents (78 per cent) said Australia Day would mean more them it they were citizens while 36 per cent said it would make no difference. The affirmative vote was up from 61 per cent in 2023.
Eighty-seven per cent of respondents said they knew, or planned to learn more, about Australia’s history and the reasons Australia Day is celebrated while 11 per cent said they did not.
The survey found Australia Day events and the tone of publicity around the day helped new arrivals feel welcome.
Three quarters said the day helped them to feel more welcome while 17 per cent said it made no difference and 7 per cent said it made them feel less welcome.
Almost three-quarters (78 per cent) said Australians should be proud of Australia Day, up from 55 per cent in 2023.
More than half of respondents (51 per cent) said they had supported the failed referendum aimed at creating an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
But 90 per cent said that, relative to other issues in their lives, the date of Australia day was not important to them.
AMES Australia CEO Cath Scarth said survey results showed that migrants and refugees were overwhelmingly committed to becoming Australians and contributing to the nation.
“It’s our experience that almost without exception people who are newly arrived to Australia want to fit in and become part of the broader society,” Ms Scarth said.
“They want to learn about Australia’s culture and history and they want to build connections,” she said.
Zabiullah Waseq, a refugee from Afghanistan with a disability who has settled in Adelaide, says Australia Day was a reminder of his new life and new country.
“It reminds me to be grateful for the opportunity to live in a country where there is safety and security and a chance to build a new life,” he said.
“I know some people want to change the date and I understand their view. I like living in a country where different opinions are respected. I would like to see a respectful debate about the date of Australia Day and if it was changed, I would be comfortable with that.
“I think celebrating what Australia is and what it represents is important whatever the date chosen.
“I plan to become a citizen and I want to give back to the country that has given me a chance at a new life,” said Zabi, who works as a data integration developer with a not-for-profit agency.
Norma Medawar, a Syrian community leader, recently became an Australian citizen.
She says becoming a citizen was a way of showing commitment to her adopted country.
“My life now revolves around this country, so I wanted to show that I am committed,” Norma said.
“As I citizen, I get to vote and have a say in the way the country is run – which is important to me,” she said.
Norma plans to celebrate the day with a small gathering of family and friends.
“Celebrating Australia day makes you stop and think about all of the advantages we have in this country,” she said.