Immigration

Why do 25 per cent of Australians feel negativity towards Muslims?

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A major report into social cohesion has shed light on the number of Australians reporting racism and how some feel about Muslims.

One in four Australians hold a negative attitude towards Muslims and more people are reporting racism, but the number of people who want migrants to be rejected from coming to Australia based on their race has dropped.

These are just some of the findings of a major report released on Wednesday.

The Scanlon Foundation's Mapping Social Cohesion survey polled 1,500 people between June and July this year. It asked respondents 77 questions on a range of issues including immigration, democracy, the economy and society.

The annual survey, now in its 10th year, found the number of people reporting experience of discrimination because of skin colour, ethnic origin or religion, has more than doubled - from nine per cent in 2007 to 20 per cent in 2017.

Negativity towards Muslims

Asked whether they felt positive, negative or neutral towards Muslims, 25 per cent of those polled felt ‘very negative’ or ‘somewhat negative’.

In comparison, six per cent of people felt negatively towards Buddhists. The report says the findings may be influenced by perceptions that some sections of the Muslim population reject Australia’s secular democratic values.

The report’s author and Monash University professor Andrew Markus said concerns about women’s rights and feelings of a lack of integration often come up in focus group discussions around Muslims.

“When relatively minor events occur, such as complaints about schools and celebrating Christmas, or for example … not standing up for a judge and showing respect to the court of law, this may well happen very rarely, but this gets a lot of media coverage,” he told SBS News.

“And it is a factor that is shaping attitudes within the mainstream.”

The survey found 28.3 per cent of respondents felt positive towards Muslims, while the majority were neutral.

But Professor Markus says the numbers who feel negatively towards Muslims tend be much higher in surveys where people are asked to complete the forms themselves - for example, online.

“In self-completion surveys, which are probability-based, which are random samples, that proportion is over 40 per cent,” he said.

The report shows there has been no change in the attitude towards Muslims over the course of the seven surveys the Scanlon Foundation has conducted. All asked the same question and the 25 per cent figure has remained consistent.

Migration based on race

Compared to previous years, fewer Australians think people should be rejected from coming to the country on the basis of their race or ethnicity.

This year, 15.8 per cent of respondents said it should be possible, but this was down from the 18.7 per cent of people who agreed in 2015.

While 79.6 per cent of people disagreed or strongly disagreed to that question this year, 77.3 per cent objected in 2015.

The report also shows a slight decline in the number of Australians who felt immigration from a variety of nations makes the country stronger. About 63.1 per cent of people agreed with this sentiment – a noticeable drop from a decade earlier when it was 67 per cent. Over a decade, the level of disagreement has increased from 26 per cent to 30 per cent.

The number of Australians who felt immigration was too high also increased in the past year: from 34 per cent last year to 37 per cent this year. A decade ago it was 36 per cent. Those in rural regions were more likely to feel immigration was too high, while that rate was lower in major cities.

The report found a link between years when there has been a higher rate of unemployment and when people felt immigration was too high. In 1992, when the unemployment rate was over 10 per cent, more than 70 per cent of respondents said Australia was taking in too many immigrants.

This year, with the unemployment rate currently at 5.5 per cent, concerns immigration is too high were found to be at 37 per cent.

Drop in concern for refugees

There has also been a significant decline in concern for asylum seekers. When asked what the most important problem facing the nation was in 2012, 12 per cent of Australians identified asylum seekers as a major concern. This year, it has dropped to just two per cent.

Professor Markus says while there’s been a lot of publicity around the closure of the Manus detention centre and the stand-off with former detainees, public sympathy isn't forthcoming.

"Recently the focus has been on the treatment of detainees in offshore centres or conditions in these offshore centres.

“Now that doesn't seem to have evoked concern, because we're actually looking for people saying 'I'm concerned about how people are being treated on Manus Island'. And relatively few people are saying that."

Concerns over the economy, unemployment and poverty remain the most important issues. Housing affordability, the environment and crime were also identified as major issuesm while Australians appear to feel immigration and social issues are important growing problems. 

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