Cohesion Study Reveals Australia’s Trust Issues
22 October 2013 at 9:04 am
Research released by the Scanlon Foundation, shows Australian trust levels toward government and fellow citizens are falling, and discrimination is on the rise.
The Mapping Social Cohesion Report is Australia’s largest study monitoring attitudes to social harmony and immigration, surveying more than 20,000 people since 2007. It found that just a quarter of people agree that Government in Canberra can be trusted, most of the time.
The 2013 survey showed people rank doctors, hospitals, police and TV news as more trusted than trade unions, the Federal Parliament, and political parties.
Report author, Professor Andrew Markus of Monash University says trust is an important indicator of social cohesion, but this year there was a negative trend in many questions relating to trust.
“Trust in government has halved since 2009. Trust of fellow Australians has also dropped in 2013. Last year, 52 per cent said that ‘most people can be trusted’, this year that is down to 45 per cent.
“In 2013, fewer Australians participated in political life. There was a drop in contact with members of Parliament, less participation in rallies or demonstrations and fewer people indicated that they had signed a petition,” he said.
Reported experience of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnic origin or religion has increased to the highest level since the surveys began in 2007, according to the study.
“There is a consistently high level of reported discrimination, at around 40 per cent from respondents born in a number of Asian countries, including Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Indonesia, and China,” Professor Markus said..
The study also found that while Australians have been regarded as kind, caring and friendly in past studies, new migrants today rate this trait last in a list of what they like most about life in Australia. Instead, in 2013 it was our way of life and standard of living, and peace and democracy that ranked highest.
Despite these findings, Professor Markus says that overall the study shows Australia remains a socially cohesive nation by international standards.
“Australians’ sense of belonging remains strong at 92 per cent. Personal satisfaction with financial circumstances is at 71 per cent. And, 87 per cent of people said, taking all things into consideration, they are happy with their lives. These are all positive indicators of general social satisfaction,” Professor Markus said.
There is majority support for the current level of immigration or an increase in intake, but the proportion believing the intake is too high, has grown from 38 per cent in 2012 to 42 per cent in 2013.
Professor Markus said the two key factors influencing Australian attitudes to immigration are the state of the labour market, particularly unemployment levels, and the political prominence of immigration issues, rather than the actual migrant intake level, which is known to few.
Since late 2009, there has been a polarised and emotional debate in Australia over government policy towards asylum seekers arriving by boat.
In 2013, just 18 per cent of respondents agreed that asylum seekers who reach Australia by boat should be able to apply for permanent residence; 33 per cent considered that boats should be turned back, up from 23 per cent in 2010.
Greens supporters (69 per cent) were most in support of eligibility for permanent residence for asylum seekers. No other segment demonstrated support of eligibility for permanent residence above 30 per cent.
Multiculturalism was found to be strongly valued; 84 per cent of respondents agree it has been good for Australia. Three quarters of people believe it benefits economic development.
“Interestingly, the positive sentiment around multiculturalism is at a consistently high level across respondents from all demographics. Only a minority considers that multiculturalism weakens the Australian way of life,” Professor Markus said.
The Scanlon Foundation Mapping Social Cohesion research aims to guide on the ground action programs to improve social cohesion in areas of migrant settlement.
Current projects foster community connection, school transition as well as literacy and language support for parents and children of new migrants, in Victoria and New South Wales. A National Community Hub project was launched in April this year.
The 2013 Mapping Social Cohesion report can be found at www.scanlonfoundation.org.au/research