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Multiculturalism a “strong brand” despite security concerns: social cohesion report

One in ten Australians rank national security and terrorism as the most important problem facing Australia today, according to the latest national survey of social cohesion by the Scanlon Foundation. Yet multiculturalism holds its status as a “strong brand” with 86% agreeing or strongly agreeing that it has been good for Australia.

Addressing a forum of policymakers and community representatives at the NSW State Library on 16 November, survey designer Professor Andrew Marcus, from Monash University, said rising concerns about national security and terrorism represented the most significant statistical change in the 2015 report when compared to previous surveys.

When asked the open-ended question, “What do you think is the most important problem facing Australia today?” the proportion of respondents ranking defence, national security and terrorism concerns as a priority increased from less than 1% in previous years to 10% in 2015. However, the survey also found that national security is less significant for most Australians than the economy and social justice.

The Scanlon Foundation’s 2015 Mapping Social Cohesion Report is the eighth in a series of surveys that began in 2007. The surveys record a consistent high-level of support for the view that “multiculturalism has been good for Australia”, with 86% of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statement in 2015, 85% in 2014, and 84% in 2013.

The majority of Australians understand “multiculturalism” to mean a two-way process of integration, where migrants are supported to settle into Australian culture, while Australia benefits from the rich cultural diversity that immigration brings, according to Marcus. This sense of “integration” sits comfortably for most Australians in the middle ground between total assimilation and radical pluralism. Multiculturalism is most strongly associated with its positive contribution to economic development.

“Multiculturalism is a strong brand in Australia, but it does generally mean integration,” Marcus told the forum.

The highest levels of support are in Melbourne and Canberra, where  48% ‘strongly agree’ that multiculturalism is good for us, compared to 39%-42% in Adelaide and Sydney, and 35%-37% in Brisbane and Perth recording “strong” support for Australia’s brand of multiculturalism .  

Marcus said he is often asked if Australia is a racist country. “I always ask, ‘compared to what?’” he said. He suggested the only place without any form of racism would be “heaven.”

In contrast with nearly every country in Europe, immigration and multiculturalism enjoy majority support in Australia, he pointed out. Only a small minority, less than 10%, support discriminating on the basis of race or religion in the process of immigrant selection. Marcus said these findings are indicative of the attitudinal change witnessed since the White Australia policy ended in the 1970s.

But there are some concerning trends captured in the report. Over 22% of Australians hold negative views towards Muslims, according to the latest survey. The rate is even higher in Sydney, home to over half of Australia’s Muslim population, with 27% surveyed holding negative or strongly negative views of Muslims.

But there has not been any increase personal experiences of racism or prejudice, according to the survey.  Even in Sydney, those with positive views towards Muslims (33%) still outnumbered those with negative views. 

The Point

Multiculturalism holds its status as a “strong brand” despite security concerns


Image: The Scanlon Foundation


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