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More Victorians suspicious of ethnic groups who don’t “fit in”

15 December 20140 comments

Research by VicHealth shows that four out of five (78 per cent) Victorians are in favour of cultural diversity, however, over half (54 per cent) of survey respondents could identify at least one group they believe does not “fit into Australian society”.

Findings from the 2013 Victorians’ Attitudes to Race and Cultural Diversity Survey, were released last week at a forum at Melbourne’s Arts Centre entitled Leading and Embracing Diversity: Strategies to Reduce Race-based Discrimination.

The VicHealth research, which was conducted by Deakin University and The University of Melbourne, involved surveying 1250 Victorians over the age of 18. It reveals that there is a specific need to better understand and address the negative attitudes held towards particular groups of people.

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said Victoria had a strong track record of nurturing cultural diversity and working towards equality for all.

“We know that the vast majority of Australians are supportive of our national cultural diversity. Most respondents in our survey reported having frequent, positive contact with members of other groups, and the overwhelming majority believe that it is important to treat people from racial and ethnic backgrounds fairly,” Mr Rechter said.

“However, prejudice, race-based discrimination and intolerance remain all too common, resulting in negative health impacts for those affected. We know that racism impacts a person’s mental health – with strong links to anxiety and depression. It can also lead to reduced self-esteem, increased stress, drug and alcohol use and self-harm. We also know that people who use unhealthy coping mechanisms are more likely to be obese, have high blood pressure and develop other health problems, such as stroke and heart disease.”

Researcher Professor Yin Paradies said there was an increase since 2006 in the proportion of people agreeing that there are ethnic and racial groups that do not “fit into Australian society”.

“People who expressed prejudiced attitudes about certain groups are more likely to feel negative towards people from Muslim (22 per cent), Middle Eastern (14 per cent), African (11 per cent) and refugee (11 per cent) backgrounds. A third of people believed minority ethnic groups pose a risk to their way of life, while one in five believe that certain groups present a threat to the economic security of ‘other Australians’ by taking jobs away,” he said.

Professor Paradies said it was important that people from minority ethnic groups were able to maintain strong connections with their culture of origin, while also being able to develop a ‘national’ identity and connection to the wider society.

“Cultural diversity is a fact of life in Victoria and eight out of ten respondents in the survey report that people from minority ethnic groups benefit Australia,” he added.

Ms Rechter said: “We’re bringing together representatives from the arts and sports sectors, local government, as well as education, employment and training services, with the aim of sharing new evidence and learning from the great work that’s already being done around Victoria to support cultural diversity and reduce race-based discrimination.”

AMES CEO Cath Scarth said there were some positives to take out of the research.

“I think we can take heart from some of the positive findings in this research, particularly the fact that 78 per cent of people agree that minorities benefit Australia – which correlates with the Scanlon Foundation findings and our own surveys; and, that a majority of people disagree that some ethnic groups don’t fit in,” Ms Scarth said.

“This mirrors our experience at AMES. At a community level, we find that even people who might express unease at having migrants from unfamiliar societies settle in Australia turn out to be very welcoming when they actually meet these new-arrivals.

“The other thing that is encouraging is that today there appears to be greater society-wide awareness of racism and its potentially damaging consequences,” she said.

Centre for Multicultual Youth CEO Carmel Cuerra said children of parents who are exposed to discrimination are at a higher risk of developmental and mental health problems than other children.

“Adverse experiences in childhood and adolescence can also have a negative impact on mental health and life chances throughout the course of their lives,” she said.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Senior Journalist