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Migrants have faith in Australia’s democracy – study

4 June 20240 comments

Migrants are more likely to have confidence in Australia’s democracy than native born Australians, a new study has found.

The survey, by the Scanlon Foundation’s Research Institute, found 68 per cent of the migrant community felt democracy was working in Australia, compared with just 42 per cent of the general population.

Migrants were also more likely to cite freedom of expression and voting rights when talking about democracy, while the general population talked more about processes and procedures.

The study, titled ‘Strengthening Democracy: Understanding community discourse about democracy’, sought to understand the nuances of how people living in Australia see democracy and government.  

The study interviewed three groups in society; the general population, the migrant population and the Chinese and Indian populations to understand community discourses about democracy.

It also looked and older and younger Australians, lower and high income brackets and renters versus home owners.

When asked ‘what does democracy mean to you?’, most people (16 per cent) said ‘participating in selecting government’, 15 per cent said ‘the ability to vote’, 13 per cent said ‘representation’ while 12 per cent said ‘having a say’.

Seven per cent said ‘freedom’, five per cent said ‘equity’ but just four per cent said ‘fairness’ and ‘government working on our behalf’.

Among migrants, the most common response was ‘freedom of expression’.

One Afghan interviewee summed this up in an interview with the researchers.

“Expressing your thoughts and to criticize something when you don’t agree with something without being punished for it. A few days ago, I watched a video of the previous prime minister. I guess they were doing an interview with some journalist in front of someone’s house, and the guy came out of his house and said you are on my personal property,” the 22-year-old Afghan said.

“I guess they were walking on the grass or something and just asked him to get off the thing. When you can do that with a prime minister I guess that is democracy for me, comparing to undemocratic countries where you will be punished for just expressing your opinion,” he said.

Among the Chinese and Indian populations, the most common responses were ‘the ability to vote’ or ‘freedom of expression’.

Most participants across all groups thought it was ‘very important’ to live in a democracy; 83 per cent of the general population, 82 per cent of the Indian population and 88 per cent of the Chinese population.

They survey identified elements of Australia’s democracy that are threats and need to change.

These included the influence of corporations, not having a say, politicians vested interests, foreign influenced and media bias.

Scanlon Institute researcher Trish Prentice said that support for democracy was high among the three cohorts, with majorities in the general population group and among Indian and Chinese individuals saying that living in a democracy is important to them.

“However, this does not mean individuals do not have concerns about democracy in Australia. The migrant population had the most positive view of how democracy is working, yet all cohorts expressed dissatisfaction with Australia’s democracy,” she said.

“Among survey participants (individuals from Chinese and Indian background), the Indian cohort showed greater dissatisfaction with Australia’s democracy. This may be because of their familiarity with democratic processes or because of expectations brought with them to Australia about how democracy should function.

“Among the general population group, major concerns include the influence of corporations on government decision making and dissatisfaction with democratic processes, including ‘not having a say’, lack of representation, lack of differentiation between the major parties and political fragmentation.

“The predominant concerns in the general population about how democracy is working in Australia and potential threats to it in the future lie within Australia and the political system; they are not external to Australia.

“The Chinese cohort in this study showed the greatest trust in the Australian government. These individuals also gave the most positive response (compared to the other groups) when asked about whether they felt represented by the government or political parties.”

Ms Prentice said representation means different things to different individuals.

“For some, it is a direct relationship between the vote they cast and the election result. For others, it is about the relevance of policy issues or having shared values with politicians/political parties. For others it is about being ‘heard’, sharing personal commonalities with public officials (gender, cultural background, class etc.) or political outcomes,” she said.

The study found 71 per cent of participants consumed some form of traditional media regularly.

“Most individuals are consuming some form of traditional media, however there is significant distrust among each of the cohorts of such sources. The most common reason cited for the view that traditional media is untrustworthy was that it presents “biased” or sensationalised information,” Ms Prentice said.

“Young people showed a particular distrust of traditional media sources and are turning to other sources like free news services (like, news apps (like Apple News) and YouTube social or political commentary for news or political information.”

Ms Prentice said social media was being consumed by the majority of interviewees, but somewhat critically.

“Many individuals engage in a fact checking process when it comes to the news or political information they are exposed to on different platforms and distinguish between social media as entertainment/social connection and as a trustworthy source of information. Finally, individuals are engaging in democratic processes beyond voting,” she said.

“Many people see following politics or being informed about political issues in Australia as a form of political participation. Some will choose low effort forms of engagement if the opportunity arises, such as signing a petition on an issue of relevance to them (often on animal rights or climate change).

“Others will proactively choose to advocate for a particular cause by attending a protest or rally or contacting a local member. There appears to be very little interest in formal relationships with political parties.”

Read the full report: Scanlon Foundation