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Support for multiculturalism remains high, Scanlon report

22 September 20230 comments

Australians continue to show strong support for multiculturalism and migration with a record 78 per cent of the population saying they are good for the country, according to the latest Scanlon Foundation social cohesion survey.

The Australia Cohesion Index 2023, which measures tracks national progress on a number of personal, social and societal measures, found recognition and support for multiculturalism and diversity are growing, enriching Australia’s social fabric.

Thirty-eight per cent of people agreed that ethnic minorities should be given federal government assistance to maintain their customs and traditions, up from 30 per cent in 2018

But levels of discrimination were up, with 16 per cent saying they had experienced racism or discrimination in the past year – up from 9 per cent in 2007.

Other key insights from the index included Australians experiencing good health and longer life expectancies, with positive trends in well-being ad well as high and growing educational attainment rate, reflecting a well-educated population.

But standardised test scores in schools show stability at best and potential decline, indicating room for educational improvements.

The first post-COVID index report identified trust in the Federal Government initially increasing but then declining since 2021.

Trust in fellow citizens, however, remained high throughout 2022. And the strong labour market has helped mitigate economic challenges, despite financial pressures mounting in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The index found national pride and belonging declining, particularly among young adults and financially challenged individuals.

It found economic growth was evident, but financial pressures, including housing stress, are impacting more Australians.

And persistent mental health challenges exacerbated by the pandemic disproportionately affect marginalised communities.

The index report tried to assess the effect of a recent turbulent period with bush fires, the COVID-19 pandemic, a cost of living crisis and the voice referendum put pressure on cohesiveness in Australian society’

The report concluded that social cohesion in Australia is resilient but fragile.

Trust in society, a core ingredient social and political stability, is under assault with just 41 per cent of people saying the government can be trusted to do the right thing for the country, the report said.

And 87 per cent of people said the political system needed change while 87 per cent said political leaders abused their power.

However involvement in politics remained strong with 55 per cent of people having signed petitions and 44 per cent having written or spoken to their MPs in the past year, the report said.

A key element of the Index are questions about ‘belonging and engagement’ which the researchers say is key to feeling of wellbeing, participation and health. This has been declining over time with 52 per cent of respondents saying they felt a sense of belonging in Australia – down from 77 per cent in 2007.

Participation in volunteering had also declined but this may be partly a result of the pandemic lockdowns.

A record 78 per cent of people said that migration and multiculturalism was good or mostly good for Australia but levels of discrimination were up, with 16 per cent saying they had experienced racism or discrimination in the past year – up from 9 per cent in 2007.

The index report says that the cost of living crisis and worries about an inclusive and sustainable economy were a threat to social cohesion but that incomes and poverty levels had been stable between 2020 and 2022.

However rent stress has risen steadily since 2010 but participation in the labour market rose to 80 per cent in 2022.

“The extent to which Australians trust each other, the government, and are involved in our political system, has been mixed in recent years. Trust in the Federal Government increased during the COVID-19 pandemic but has been declining since 2021,” the report said.

“The extent to which we trust other people also increased during COVID-19 and encouragingly remained high in 2022. Young adults and people experiencing financial difficulties are among the least trusting in society, pointing to important social inequalities

in Australia that are weighing down our overall social cohesion.

“The sense of national pride and belonging we have in Australia appears to be declining, along with our involvement in our communities. The decline in national belonging has been felt across society but particularly among young adults and people who are financially struggling.

“A sense of national identity and belonging is a particularly important indicator of social integration for our newest Australians who have migrated here. This integration is impacted by a persistent degree of discrimination and prejudice in Australia – though by the same token is likely enabled by growing recognition and support for multiculturalism and diversity.

“The economy has continued to grow with particular strength in the labour market in the last couple of years. However, financial and cost of living pressures are affecting an increasing number of Australians both over the last two years and over the longer term. The

10 years prior to COVID-19 saw an increase in the prevalence of housing and financial stress, and but for a brief respite during the pandemic, stress has increased again.

“Australians are generally healthy overall, enjoying among the world’s longest life expectancies. The large majority of us rate our health as good if not very good or excellent and we are less likely to smoke and drink alcohol at dangerous levels than in past years.

“Mental health and general health inequalities remain as major challenges. Psychological wellbeing was impacted by COVID-19 and will potentially have lasting effects, while health inequalities are disproportionately impacting First Nations and disadvantaged communities.

Demographer and report author James O’Donnell likens Australia’s current situation as Australia’s Matilda’s moment – a span of time in the recent past when people from all walks of life rallied behind a common aspiration and shared a sense of national identity.

“That was a really unifying moment. Then we go straight into this divisive debate around the voice to parliament. How that is playing out in the data is something we are still grappling with,” he said.