THE results of a national survey of social cohesion provided revealing insights into Australians’ views on migration and religion.
The survey was carried out by the Scanlon Foundation, which was created in 2001 to enhance social cohesion in Australia.
It found that almost twice as many Australians as last year think asylum seeker issues are the most important problem facing the country.
And almost a quarter of respondents hold negative feelings towards Muslims.
Two Ballarat multicultural leaders said that any negative views are concentrated within a small minority and based on a lack of understanding.
According to the survey, which draws on a sample of 15,000 people, asylum issues rose to rank as the third most important issue facing Australians, selected by 12 per cent of respondents, up from seven per cent last year.
Negative feelings towards Muslims were harboured by almost a quarter of respondents, while negative feelings towards Buddhists and Christians were felt by five per cent or less.
Further, almost 20 per cent said they held negative feelings towards Sudanese migrants.
Retiring president of the Ballarat African Association Dimitri Dollard said Sudanese migrants were strong members of the community, especially in Ballarat.
“I think those views come from a small pocket of the community and don’t actually reflect the general perception of Sudanese people,” he said.
“Likewise, someone who has one negative experience of Australians might develop a negative view of all Australians. They are just generalising.
“In Ballarat we have a lot of young Sudanese people that are doing particularly well in education and the workforce.”
Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council chairman Sundram Sivamalai said that regardless of how asylum seekers or refugees arrived in Australia, they should be treated fairly.
“Whether people are coming by boat or otherwise, we have signed the UN convention and Australia as a nation has an obligation to support refugees,” Dr Sivamalai said.
“If you look at our refugee intake it is fairly low and I think there is room for more.
“Refugees are leaving life and death situations, their lives are threatened and they have no other alternative.
“They have already suffered enough and we don’t want to give them another degree of suffering.”
Dr Sivamalai also said that most negative feelings towards Muslims were based on a lack of understanding.
“In terms of religious orientation, we still need to create avenues and opportunities where we can understand other religions like Islam,” he said.
“I think our community in Ballarat are quite receptive, and again there has to be some more work to be progressed in this area.”
The Scanlon Foundation promotes and fosters social cohesion through a variety of activities, including support for more than 300 groups around Australia.