The latest census figures ought to cause some red faces among advertising agencies, PR people and politicians. Sadly they probably won’t, even though that from the data it’s clear that many of them are living on another planet rather than Australia today.

Much advertising imagery (with a few notable exceptions) and public relations and political narratives tend to be based on very white bread, mono-cultural, nuclear family concepts, which are exposed as fantasies by the latest census data. We are more multicultural, less religious, less committed to traditional marriage arrangements and generally much more diverse than you would imagine if all you did was to watch television advertising and listen to politicians.

At a political level, it certainly makes the John Howard Anzac-British-based Australian narrative look a bit passe to say the least. When Howard mused about Asian immigration he may have had many things driving his comments but his prediction was right in one respect — there are a now lot more of them than when he did the musing.

He wasn’t quite so right on the Judaic-Christian influence (or indeed religious influence generally) on our community and ethics, with the data showing a gratifying increase in the percentage of those who have no religion, and less than half of young people identified with any Christian denomination. No religion now comes a narrow second to Catholic in the census, although one can’t help thinking the Catholic figure is inflated by cultural Catholics who rarely if ever go to church — ditto third place-getting Anglicans. More importantly, and thankfully, much about Judaic-Christian history no longer figures in contemporary societies as Christians have largely stopped — after more than 1000 years —  excluding, persecuting and murdering Jews and other Christians  rather than respecting the common elements in their religions and cultures.

The census figures also highlight Julia Gillard’s unnecessary lack of courage on gay marriage and how out of touch Bill Heffernan is on unmarried women without children. At least Tony Abbott is consistent on most of these social issues even if his consistency is mainly consistency with George Pell’s views.

At the marketing level it’s not quite so serious although you wonder why advertising and PR agencies spend quite so much time pitching products and services to mum, dad, two kids living on a suburban block leavened by subtle s-xual allusions directed towards younger unmarried people who might buy cars or other products. There are some very notable exceptions to this situation,  and admittedly advertisers are targeting market segments that they hope will be profitable, but it does encourage a sense of exclusion for those who are not depicted and contributes to the false views of Australia, which are so convenient to so many.

What can be done about it? The reason political and marketing narratives are unlike what happens in the real Australia is partly that the political and marketing population is unlike modern Australia’s. MPs have traditionally been predominantly older, white and male although researcher Robyn Hollander (in a 2003 paper to the Australasian Politics Association Conference) suggests that MPs are now younger, more likely to be tertiary educated, female and from a non-English speaking background than was the case before the 1980s.

Nevertheless, this increasing diversity partly hides the fact that there is also an increasing tendency for MPs to come from professional political backgrounds as officials, organisers or ministerial staff (the author and Clare Shamier’s chapter, The Humble MP, in The Influence Seekers Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2012) and the fact that the change so far is still insufficient for parliaments to remotely mirror or even reflect Australian society.

Similar research doesn’t seem to be have been carried out on marketing industries although the public relations industry was feminised a while ago and most advertising agencies stopped being quite so male-dominated in the 1990s. As to other forms of diversity we don’t know. I suspect, from experience, that PR staff are more likely to be multicultural than advertising agency staff but as for religion, it didn’t seem to get talked about much in any of the agencies I worked with.

Australia is a much more interesting place than it was in the 1950s largely because of the changes the latest census describes. Perhaps politics and marketing would be much more interesting if those industries experienced the same sort of changes.

Peter Fray

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