Terrorism, racism top Aust worries: survey


AUSTRALIANS are much more worried about terrorism and racism than they were just four months ago.

AS politicians talk up national security and move to protect the country from threats of terrorism, Australians are feeling more nationalistic, a new social cohesion survey finds.

Researchers from the Scanlon Foundation and Monash University surveyed people's attitudes to social cohesion, multiculturalism and immigration in June and July as part of a long-running study.

 

In October, amid talk of heightened security, they went back and asked some of their questions again.

 

Both in June and October, economic concerns topped the list of what people thought was the most important problem Australia faced.

 

But in the later survey, national security or terrorism jumped to second and racism to third.

 

Report author Andrew Markus said these were linked in Australia's polarised society, with the general issue of racism reflecting the concerns of some people about the tenor of debate on national security.

 

Neither worry made the top five in June.

 

The government raised the terror alert level in September to "high" for the first time.

 

Researchers also found the perceived threat heightened a sense of nationalism.

 

The number of people who strongly believed maintaining the Australian way of life was important jumped to more than 70 per cent.

 

Similarly, while the percentage of people who felt they didn't belong in Australia remained about the same, the proportion of those who felt a sense of belonging to a great extent increased markedly, to almost three-quarters.

 

"It makes sense because as people feel threatened and as they feel that perhaps their values are being challenged, there's this reaffirmation of values," Professor Markus told AAP.

 

He was most surprised by the fact people's attitudes towards Muslims hadn't changed amid all the talk of terrorism and jihadists.

 

Australians continue to be much more likely to hold negative views of Muslims compared to other religions, but these attitudes have remained much the same since 2011.

 

More than four in five people thought multiculturalism had been good for Australia.

 

HOW WE FEEL NOW

 

* 16 per cent strongly disagree accepting immigrants from different countries makes Australia stronger

 

* 73 per cent have a sense of belonging in Australia to a great extent

 

* Seven per cent say they don't have a strong sense of belonging in Australia

 

* 71 per cent strongly agree it's important to maintain the Australian way of life

 

* Most important problem Australia faces - economic problems (23 per cent), defence/national security/ terrorism (17 per cent) racism (11 per cent), environment/climate change (seven per cent), social issues (seven per cent)

 

* 23 per cent hold negative attitudes towards Muslims

 

HOW WE FELT IN JUNE-JULY

 

* Eight per cent strongly disagree accepting immigrants from different countries makes Australia stronger

 

* 61 per cent have a sense of belonging in Australia to a great extent

 

* Six per cent say they don't have a strong sense of belonging in Australia

 

* 49 per cent strongly agree it's important to maintain the Australian way of life

 

* Most important problem Australia faces - economic problems (34 per cent), government/politicians (17 per cent), social issues (eight per cent), environment/climate change (seven per cent), health/medical (four per cent)

 

* 27 per cent hold negative attitudes towards Muslims