AUSTRALIA is less socially cohesive today than a decade ago but in much better shape than most developed nations, a leading researcher says.
The author of the Scanlon Foundation social cohesion reports, Professor Andrew Markus presented the key findings from the latest national survey in a public lecture in Wodonga on Tuesday.
Professor Markus said the 2017 Index of Social Cohesion had slipped to 88.5 compared with 89.3 in 2016 and 101.2 in 2009.
“The main decline in the index is in acceptance (rejection) due to people’s growing experience of discrimination,” he said.
“Overall, the message is we are doing well but we could have done better and we need to do better.”
Hosted by the Albury Wodonga Ethnic Communities Council at La Trobe University Albury-Wodonga, Professor Markus shared insights about Australia's growing ethnic diversity, including contemporary social issues such as immigration, multiculturalism and discrimination.
He said compared to European nations and the Middle East, Australia’s track record on social cohesion was solid.
He listed the Cronulla riots (2005) and Bendigo mosque application (2014) as flash points in recent history.
“Compared to some countries in Europe and the Middle East, Australia’s problems are relatively minor and shouldn’t have even happened,” he said.
“We have to be smart and we can be smart to deal with these issues.”
Professor Markus said the Bendigo community need never have been fractured by the planning application for a mosque in the city.
He said the local council’s ill-timed and poor communications strategy allowed misinformation to flourish on social media.
“There was a failure by the council to meaningfully consult, which heightened negative sentiment,” he said.
“The lesson from Bendigo is to not talk to one segment of the community but to talk across the community.
“The challenge is to talk to the middle ground and it can be done.”
Professor Markus said multiculturalism worked best when Australians accepted it was a two-way process; Australians adapted to immigrants and immigrants adapted to Australians.
“We accept we’re a country of immigrants; most countries in Europe don’t, not in France, Germany or Britain,” he said.
“It’s atypical for people to accept they’re an immigrant nation but two or three countries do: Australia, Canada and New Zealand.”
Albury Wodonga Ethnic Communities Council manager Ben Flanigan said they were thrilled to host Professor Markus.
“Social cohesion is one of the key elements of our organisation so we were really excited to have a speaker of this calibre,” he said.
The Scanlon Foundation was established in 2001 to try to enhance and foster social cohesion in Australia.
The 10th Scanlon Foundation Mapping Social Cohesion Survey in 2017 builds on the knowledge gained through Scanlon Foundation surveys conducted in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.