Reading recent coverage of the debate about the adequacy of Australia's Asia literacy, one could be forgiven for thinking Australia faces looming skills shortages and national security crises.
Politicians, commentators and academics are all saying Australia's inability to speak Asian languages and understand Asian cultures imperils our prosperity and security.
On the back of this alarming diagnosis, Asian studies programs worth billions of dollars have been proposed, while both sides of politics at the national level have pledged to improve Australia's Asia literacy.
Happily for the 'lucky country,' Asia literacy alarm is out of step with Australia's multicultural reality.
New large-scale Asian studies programs are not necessary because the genius of Australian multiculturalism, to borrow an apt phrase from immigration minister Chris Bowen, has set Australia up for success in the Asian Century.
Not only will multicultural Australia prosper because it already speaks the languages of Asia, but it is also home to widespread Asian cultural literacy.
According to 2011 Census data, approximately 2.2 million people speak Asian languages at home, which equates to around 10% of the population.
Important Asian languages are very well represented within the overall number of speakers of Asian languages.
There are more than 650,000 people who speak Chinese languages at home, most notably Mandarin and Cantonese. Indian languages, including Hindi and Punjabi, have 305,000 or so speakers, while there are 233,000 Vietnamese speakers; 137,000 speakers of Filipino languages; 80,000 Korean speakers; 56,000 Indonesian speakers; and 44,000 Japanese speakers.
Added to this, increasing numbers of immigrants from Asian countries mean increasing numbers of speakers of all major Asian languages.
Seven of the top 10 source countries in Australia's 2011–12 immigration program were from Asia: China, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
The 2011 Census data shows that the leading birthplace of immigrants who arrived in Australia between 2006 and 2011 was India (13.1%), which represents a 100% increase on the 2006 Census data. During the same period, the number of immigrants born in China increased by 54%, while the number from the Philippines increased by 42%.
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