08 Dec, 2014 Last updated: 20 Jul, 2015

Research findings released today show that four out of five (78%) Victorians are in favour of cultural diversity, however, two in five (40%) survey respondents could identify at least one group they believe does not ‘fit into Australian society’.

Research findings released today show that four out of five (78%) Victorians are in favour of cultural diversity, however, two out of five (40%)  survey respondents could identify at least one group they believe does not ‘fit into Australian society’.

Findings from the 2013 Victorians’ Attitudes to Race and Cultural Diversity Survey are being released today at a forum at Melbourne’s Arts Centre entitled Leading and Embracing Diversity: Strategies to Reduce Race-based Discrimination. The forum will feature a panel discussion with representatives from Adult Multicultural Education Services (AMES), beyondblue, the Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY), and the Scanlon Foundation.  

The VicHealth research, which was conducted by Deakin University and The University of Melbourne, involved surveying 1250 Victorians over the age of 18. It reveals that there is a specific need to better understand and address the negative attitudes held towards particular groups of people.

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said Victoria had a strong track record of nurturing cultural diversity and working towards equality for all.

“We know that the vast majority of Australians are supportive of our national cultural diversity. Most respondents in our survey reported having frequent, positive contact with members of other groups, and the overwhelming majority believe that it is important to treat people from racial and ethnic backgrounds fairly.

“However, prejudice, race-based discrimination and intolerance remain all too common, resulting in negative health impacts for those affected. We know that racism impacts a person’s mental health – with strong links to anxiety and depression. It can also lead to reduced self-esteem, increased stress, drug and alcohol use and self-harm. We also know that people who use unhealthy coping mechanisms are more likely to be obese, have high blood pressure and develop other health problems, such as stroke and heart disease.”

Deakin researcher Prof. Yin Paradies said there was an increase since 2006 in the proportion of people agreeing that there are ethnic and racial groups that do not ‘fit into Australian society’.

“People who expressed prejudiced attitudes about certain groups are more likely to feel negative towards people from Muslim (22%), Middle Eastern (14%), African (11%) and refugee (11%) backgrounds. A third of people believed minority ethnic groups pose a risk to their way of life, while one in five believe that certain groups present a threat to the economic security of ‘other Australians’ by taking jobs away,” he said.

Prof. Paradies said it was important that people from minority ethnic groups were able to maintain strong connections with their culture of origin, while also being able to develop a ‘national’ identity and connection to the wider society.

“Cultural diversity is a fact of life in Victoria and it is encouraging that eight out of ten respondents in the survey agreed that people from minority ethnic groups benefit Australia,” he added.

Today’s forum will see organisations from a range of sectors coming together to tackle race-based discrimination.

Ms Rechter said, “We’re bringing together representatives from the arts and sports sectors, local government, as well as education, employment and training services, with the aim of sharing new evidence and learning from the great work that’s already being done around Victoria to support cultural diversity and reduce race-based discrimination.”

Today’s panellists include Anthea Hancocks, CEO of the Scanlon Foundation, who said rising experience of discrimination was concerning and that fostering community dialogue and proactively addressing these issues helps to generate greater social cohesion.

Noting the negative impact of racism on the settlement and transition of young migrants and refugees, Carmel Cuerra, CEO for CMY, said it affects self-esteem and self-confidence and threatens personal and cultural identity and is often linked to anxiety and depression.

Those sentiments are echoed by beyondblue CEO Georgie Harman who warned that discrimination based on race, ethnicity or culture has a profound effect on how people feel about themselves. “Discrimination puts people at risk of developing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety and can even lead to suicide. The best way to reduce harm caused by discrimination is to stop it, and if you see it happening, call it.”

Cath Scarth, CEO of AMES, said the finding that most people agree that minorities benefit Australia correlates with AMES’ own surveys. “This mirrors our experience at AMES. At a community level, we find that even people who might express unease at having migrants from unfamiliar societies settle in Australia turn out to be very welcoming when they actually meet these new arrivals.”