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Migrants have trust in Australian politics but struggle to engage – study

22 July 20220 comments

Newly arrived migrants and refugees have higher levels of trust in government and politics than Australian-born people but participate much less at community levels, new research has found.

Using data from the Scanlon Foundation’s annual Mapping Social Cohesion survey, Monash University researcher John Van Kooy analysed how diverse Australians engage with the political process, and how they comprehend their ability to make change.

The research found that people born overseas had high levels of trust in the federal government, with 91 per cent believing that the government could be trusted at least some of the time, compared to 87 per cent of Australian-born respondents.

But the Scanlon survey data showed political action and community group involvement was lower among migrants.

People from non-English speaking backgrounds had much lower rates of political action, aside from voting in elections, when compared to native English speakers,” the report said.

Around 30 per cent of non-English speakers said they had taken action, compared with 70 per cent of native English speakers.

“People from non-English speaking backgrounds also had lower rates of active participation in community organisations compared to people with English as their first language”, the report said.

Around 46 per cent of non-English speakers said they were active in community groups, compared with 56 per cent of native English speakers.

But the study found time spent in Australia increased both cynicism and engagement in migrants.

“An important aspect of political engagement for migrant communities is their citizenship status and duration of residence in Australia,” the report said.

“The 2021 MSC survey data demonstrates that people who arrived in Australia more than 20 years ago had lower levels of trust in the federal government, and higher rates of both political action and involvement in community organisations, compared to recent arrivals,” it said.

The study said those more recently arrived to Australia, people who had arrived less than five years ago, showed high levels of trust in the government, along with low levels of political action and community group engagement.

And political action was also much higher amongst Australian citizens than non-citizens. Sixty-nine per cent of citizens said they had taken action, compared with 51 per cent of non-citizens.

The survey looked levels of political engagement, finding evidence contrary to recent commentary around Australians’ disengagement with politics.

It analysed responses to questions, first asked by the MSC survey in 2007, as to whether they had taken some form of political action—including signing a petition, writing or speaking to a Member of Parliament, joining a boycott, attending a protest or demonstration, or ‘getting together with others’ to solve a local problem.

“The proportion of respondents who took at least one of these forms of action was 64 per cent in 2007 and 62 per cent in the most recent survey, and has remained in the range 55–67 per cent. This suggests no clear downward trend that would indicate disengagement,” the report said.

The MSC survey shows that, far from being ‘disaffected’ or disengaged in politics, Australians have maintained steady rates of political action (outside of voting) since 2007,” it said.

“Lower levels of trust in the federal government and suspicion that political leaders were abusing their power was associated with higher rates of political action – particularly signing petitions and sharing political content online.”

The study found local settings were the way most people wanting to engage in politics chose to do so.

It found survey respondents who did not trust the government to ‘do the right thing’ took action by joining local community support groups or civic and political groups.

“In general, having a say on local issues of importance appears to be a realistic proposition for a majority of the population,” the report said.

Read the full report here: Social Cohesion Insights 02: Participation, politics and diversity | Scanlon institute