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Australia is a Cohesive Nation But Less Resilient Than a Decade Ago

29 November 2017 at 3:38 pm
Wendy Williams
Australians are continuing to embrace immigration and cultural diversity however racism is on the rise and there is a lack of trust in the political system, according to the Scanlon Foundation’s latest Mapping Social Cohesion Report.

Wendy Williams | 29 November 2017 at 3:38 pm


Australia is a Cohesive Nation But Less Resilient Than a Decade Ago
29 November 2017 at 3:38 pm

Australians are continuing to embrace immigration and cultural diversity however racism is on the rise and there is a lack of trust in the political system, according to the Scanlon Foundation’s latest Mapping Social Cohesion Report.

Now in its 10th year the report, produced by Monash University researchers with a collective sample of 42,000 respondents, is the largest survey of its kind and tracks Australian attitudes on issues including immigration, multiculturalism, discrimination and political trust.

Over the course of the last decade, the surveys have revealed that despite significant demographic change, including a rise in population and increased diversity, Australian attitudes have maintained a large measure of stability across key indicators of social cohesion.

The latest report, released on Wednesday, said across the 10 years there was “evidence of a large measure of stability” and “the absence of a major shift in mood”.

However it also raised the possibility of a “second interpretation” of data with a less optimistic outlook.

It highlighted the increasing geographical concentration of the overseas‐born populations, the relatively high level of negative feeling towards Muslims, a potential weakness of interpretation based on aggregated data, in which the two levels of positive (strongly agree and agree) or negative (strongly disagree and disagree) response were treated as one, the failures of Australian democracy and the weakening of institutional trust and the increased appeal of populist politics in Australia.

“This second perspective indicates that the Australia of 2017 is less resilient than the Australia of 10 years earlier, less able to deal with economic and other crises that may eventuate in coming years,” the report said.

Report author, Professor Andrew Markus, said 10 years of surveying demonstrated areas where concerns were increasing among a minority of Australians.

“There is evidence of increasing geographical concentration of overseas-born populations, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney, bringing into question whether past patterns of integration are continuing,” Markus said.

“There are continuing relatively high levels of negative feeling towards Muslims, and a close examination of survey responses indicates an increase, albeit of less than 10 percentage points, of those indicating strong negative views.”

According to the 2017 report 63 per cent of respondents agree or strongly agree that accepting immigrants from many different countries makes Australia stronger, with a minority of Australians (37 per cent) believing Australia’s immigration intake is “too high”.

The response varied widely among supporters of different political groups, with 86 per cent of One Nation voters suggesting it was too high compared to 10 per cent of Greens supporters.

For One Nation supporters, immigration and population growth represented “the most important problem facing Australia”. A total of 82 per cent of One Nation supporters disagreed with the benefit to Australia of immigration “from many different countries”, and 60 per cent agreed with a selection process that provided scope for rejection based on religion.

Overall, agreement that “multiculturalism has been good for Australia” remained in the high range of 83 to 86 per cent, where it has been since the question was first asked in 2013.

While the Scanlon Monash Index of social cohesion reached its lowest level since the survey began (88.5 per cent) it has not changed dramatically since 2013.

Negative feelings towards Muslims have remained in the range of 22 per cent to 25 per cent since 2010.

However those reporting discrimination on the basis of their skin colour, ethnic origin or religion more than doubled, from 9 per cent  to 20 per cent .

Other concerning shifts included a fall in the number of Australians who agreed that Australia was a land of opportunity where hard work was rewarded, reaching 75 per cent, down from 81 per cent  in 2007.

Meanwhile, the percentage of Australians who expected their lives to be worse in three or four years almost doubled over the decade, from 11 per cent  in 2007 to 19 per cent  in 2017.

The report also revealed significant concerns on the themes of democracy and political trust.

Trust in the federal government to “do the right thing for the Australian people” has fallen by 10 per cent, to 29 per cent in 2017.

Markus said the “perceived failures of Australian democracy” and the increasing support for minor parties were developments of “potential major consequence for the country”.

“Within the mainstream – among supporters of the Liberal, National and Labor parties – there is recognition of problems with Australian democracy, but radical change does not gain majority endorsement,” Markus said.

According to the report, there was high level of endorsement of democracy amongst Greens supporters, but also a heightened sense of the weakness of existing government.

One Nation attracted the highest level of discontented voters, with 37 per cent  of its supporters in agreement that “having a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament” would be good for Australia.

Close to a third (35 per cent ) of One Nation supporters were “very pessimistic” about Australia’s future, compared to 10 per cent or less of supporters of the Liberal, Labor and Greens parties.

Overall concern over the economy remained the top ranked “most important problem facing Australia today” by a wide margin, although it has dropped to 26 per cent, down from 36 per cent in 2013.

Poor quality of government was the second-ranked issue at 10 per cent, while a number of other issues underwent substantial change over the last decade.

Concerns of environment and climate change dropped to 7 per cent, following a peak of 18 per cent in 2011 and concern over asylum seekers and boat arrivals dropped from 12 per cent in 2012-13 to just 2 per cent  in 2017, while concerns of terrorism and national security rose to 7 per cent, compared to just 1 per cent in 2014.

To read the full report see here.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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