Mapping Social Cohesion 2010
Summary of the Key Outcomes from the Mapping Social Cohesion 2010 Surveys
The third Scanlon Foundation survey was conducted in June 2010. It builds on the knowledge gained in the two earlier Scanlon Foundation surveys conducted in 2007 and 2009 to provide a broad insight into Australian attitudes at a time of widespread discussion of population issues. The three Scanlon Foundation surveys represent the most comprehensive surveying ever undertaken of Australian attitudes on social cohesion and population issues
There are many positives in the findings of the 2010 survey. General questions relating to national life and levels of personal satisfaction elicited the high levels of positive response that were evident in the earlier Scanlon Foundation surveys. Almost unanimously (95%) Australians express a strong sense of belonging in their country, 90% take great pride in the Australian way of life, and 91% believe that maintaining the Australian way of life and culture is important. 88% of respondents indicate that ‘taking all things into consideration’, they are happy with their lives.
With regard to issues of population growth, there has been much discussion of future targets, polarised advocacy and claims that a large majority does not support the concept of a ‘Big Australia’. The Scanlon Foundation survey found that 51% of respondents considered a projected population of 36 million in 2050 as ‘too high’, 42% ‘about right’ or ‘too low’.
The 2010 survey found an increase in negative views of immigration, but the level of opposition remains low when considered in the context of surveys conducted over the last twenty years. There is almost an equal division between those who consider that the immigration intake is ‘too high’ (47%) and ‘about right’ or ‘too low’ (45%).
Most respondents, however, were critical of the adequacy of government infrastructure provision for future population growth. Only 24% rated infrastructure provision as ‘good’, 52% as ‘poor’, with the highest proportion giving a poor rating resident in New South Wales.
When asked for views on the admission of asylum seekers selected overseas there was strong positive sentiment, with 67% supporting the admission of people who have been assessed and found to be in need of assistance. This is in sharp contrast with negative attitudes towards those who arrive by boat and claim asylum. Only 19% of respondents agreed that the so-called ‘boat people’ should be eligible for permanent residence while 27% considered that boats should be prevented from landing. The largest proportion favoured temporary residence only or detention prior to deportation.
The survey found a sharp fall in the level of trust in the federal government, in inter-personal trust and an increase in reported experience of discrimination. In 2009, 48% of respondents indicated that they trusted the federal government ‘to do the right thing for the Australian people’ ‘almost always’ and ‘most of the time’. In 2010 this proportion had decreased to 31%.
A final key finding relates to a significant long-term shift in Australian opinion. The survey registers broad support for a non-discriminatory immigration program that is perceived to be furthering the national interest.
The level of negative sentiment towards immigrants from English-speaking countries and Europe is under 5%. Negative sentiment towards immigrants from China and Vietnam is around 10%. Immigrants from Asia, whose entry was much questioned in the 1980s, are now seen in a positive or neutral light by a very large majority of Australians. There is a higher level of negativity towards immigrants from the Middle East, but those who are positive or neutral form a substantial majority, over 70% of respondents.
In conclusion, the 2010 Scanlon Foundation survey confirms the strength of personal satisfaction and positive attitude to national life and identifies a significant (and negative) shift in trust and confidence in government. It provides the basis for a nuanced understanding of Australian attitudes to population growth and issues of asylum.