Racial discrimination on rise in Australia: report

A report into social cohesion in Australia has found an increase in racial discrimination against newly-arrived migrants.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)


A report into social cohesion in Australia has found an increase in racial discrimination against newly-arrived migrants.


And it says there's been a downturn in support for asylum seekers arriving by boat.


Santilla Chingaipe has more.


(Click on audio tab above to hear this item)


The Mapping Social Cohesion report was compiled by the Scanlon Foundation and Melbourne's Monash University.


It's the sixth in a series of annual reports that look at Australians' attitudes towards immigration, asylum seekers, multiculturalism, national identity and population issues


Federal Parliamentary Secretary responsible for multicultural affairs, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, says it's an important project.


"We are a country that has been built on its migrant experience. I myself am a product of that. I've been brought up in a bicultural, bilingual environment. I was born and raised in Wollongong, so as a country with a migrant story it is very important that we follow how successive goverment programs have worked or not worked. What does work what doesn't work? And where we need to put our reseources and also take the positives where experiences have resulted a socially cohesive society?"


Professor Andrew Markus from Melbourne's Monash University is the report's author.


He says this year's findings have been quite striking, particularly with attitudes towards asylum seekers.


"The extent to which boat arrivals having the right to permanently settle in Australia and just looking back over the span of the surveys that we're looking at 20 percent of the population who agree that they should have the right to permanently settle in Australia. That's very low. And then pushing that further, the finding that that negative sentiment is true across demographics, whether you're young or whether you're old. Whether you're of English speaking background or you're third generation Australian it holds good. The one exception is the people who support the Greens, they passionately advocate for the asylum seekers."


The report also says reported experience of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnic origin or religion has increased to the highest level since the surveys began in 2007.


Australia's Race Commissioner, Dr Tim Soutphommasane, says he's seriously concerned by the finding that one in five people are experiencing racial discrimination.


And he says the political debate around asylum seekers could be a factor.


"The tone of political debate and our public conversation really matters. And what we've had is a really polarising debate particularly around asylum seekers which perhaps has influenced this finding which is a reminder that we have to be very vigilant about how we conduct our political debates and how our political leaders treat immigration and asylum seeker issues, because they do, they may potentially have a practical effect on how people experience life on the ground as members of our society."


Comedian Nazeem Hussain agrees.


"One of the take home messages for me was that people really need to get out there and start meeting people from outside their own communities. I think the report really shows that when people have had interactions with others that instances of discrimination, I believe are a lot less, and I think that the public conversation around muliticulturalism has clearly been positive over the years and it would be great to see that sort of leadership around conversations to do with refugees and asylum seekers as well, because clearly the facts aren't really being presented appropriately."


Gail Ker is the deputy chair of the Australian Multicultural Council and the chief executive of ACCESS Services, which helps in the resettlement of refugees in Queensland.


She's also concerned about the higher rates of discrimination being reported.


"Logan, the area that I work in, is highly diverse. We have more than 200 ethnic groups represented and a lot of those people are newly arrived. So the concern about the levels of immigration and just really knowing that that's an area that we can't lose, that we have to keep an attention on, I think that that is so important in terms of keeping harmony and cohesion in our community is to make sure those levels are addressed and reduced."


Despite this, the report did rank Australia's attitudes towards multiculturalism favourably.


Monash University's Professor Andrew Markus, says 84 per cent of respondents still say multiculturalism has been good for Australia.


"Not only is the brand of multiculturalism viewed positively at a national level but when we look at specific demographics, including conservative sections of Australian society, we still get very strong endorsement of the notion that multiculturalism is good for Australia that it benefits economic development that it is a positive national aspiration."


Comedian Nazeem Hussain says Australia still has a long way to go compared to other developed countries in conversations surrounding diversity.


"I think in Australia we talk about race in very simplistic terms. We never really get to hear from people of colour, where as in the US and the UK, they've had more aggressive confrontations with race. You've had the civil rights movement in the US. In the UK, the percentage of people born outside of the UK is phenomenal. 10 percent of London is Muslim. It's difficult not to hear from Muslims, and you see a lot more of them on TV in the media. That just doesn't happen here in Australia. The only time you ever hear or see from Muslims is when they're on a news report and you get a sound bite. So it's just about really hearing and seeing from people that aren't white in Australia."


In previous social cohesion studies, Australians have been regarded as kind, caring and friendly.


But this year's study has found new migrants now rate this trait last on the list of what they like most about life in Australia.


Doctor Tim Soutphommasane says it's not a good trend.


"Perhaps this is a reminder that we can always extend the hand of mateship to those who are new arrivals to our country doesn't have to be profound. It doesn't have to be a big deal. But a very small gesture can sometimes go a very long way in making a difference to how people feel that they belong to Australian society and I think it's important that those who arrive here as immigrants or those that have arrived as refugees feel that they can belong to Australian society because it would be a pity for us to squander all the gains we've made as a multicultural society during the past four decades if we don't look after our openness and our generosity as a society."


Gail Ker from ACCESS community services in Queensland agrees.


Ms Ker gives the example of the impact of a welcome ceremony run by her organisation.


"After the ceremony, one of my colleagues asked me to come and speak to a lady from Sierra Leone and when I got there she was in tears and I was quite distraught initially, I immediately thought, 'Oh my goodness what have we done to this poor woman?' and then she shared with me that in her journey coming to Australia and being resettled that this was the first time any person in her life had ever said to her, 'you're welcome'. And it was a very humbling and a very sobering moment for me, because I think it's very easy to get caught up in policy and programs and services."


The survey also found Australians' trust in government is declining, with just a quarter of people agreeing that Canberra's politicians can be trusted.


It showed that people rank doctors, hospitals, police and television news as more trustworthy than political parties.


This year's survey questioned six-thousand people, more than a third of them migrants who arrived in Australia over the past two decades.



Source World News Australia

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