Leading informed debate on social cohesion

Accurate, evidence based knowledge of attitudes towards immigration and cultural diversity is a crucial way of informing policy development, as well as the ongoing public debate on social cohesion in our multicultural society.

The social cohesion surveys, funded by the Scanlon Foundation and led by Andrew Markus, were first conducted in 2007 with the aim of developing an evidence base to further understanding of social cohesion, with a focus on attitudes towards immigration and cultural diversity. Sixteen surveys have been conducted between 2006-2016: nine national, four local area, and three experimental (online) with a total of some 35,000 respondents.  In that time fourteen reports have been issued.

These reports have national prominence and attract media and government attention. In 2014, the three social cohesion reports were launched in Canberra. In March, the Local Area and Recent Arrivals reports were launched in Parliament House; in October the National Report was launched in Old Parliament House; with speakers including two departmental Secretaries, a further launch was held in the Queen’s Hall, Parliament of Victoria. The 2016 Australians Today report was launched in Old Parliament House and the annex to the New South Wales parliament.

The findings of the Scanlon surveys are used by national and state government to provide the most reliable indicators of Australian opinion on social cohesion and population issues. The data set of the reports are also sought by international agencies and institutes, including the Migration Policy Institute in the U.S.A.

Notably, these reports have received government funding at national and state level and from both Labor and Coalition governments. At the federal level, funding has been received from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (under the previous Labor government), the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (current government), and the Department of Social Services (current government). The Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet has also funded these surveys.

Level of Funding

Funding by the Scanlon Foundation began in 2006. In the last six years funding provided by the Scanlon Foundation has totalled over $1.56 million.

Funding provided has enabled the most extensive surveying of social cohesion issues undertaken in Australian social science research: in addition to the annual national survey, an online survey was translated into 20 languages and was completed by some 10, 500 respondents, with 52 focus groups conducted in four capital cities. Two reports were published, Mapping Social Cohesion: The Scanlon Foundation Surveys 2015 (October 2015) and Australians Today: The Australia@2015 Scanlon Foundation Survey (August 2016).

Government Impact

The Australian and Victorian governments use the research findings as key social indicators and they are cited in major Government policy studies. See Australian Government, Social Inclusion in Australia, 2nd edition, Australian Social Inclusion Board, 2012, pp. 3, 55, 56; Victorian Government, Victoria’s Advantage, Victoria’s Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship Policy, 2014, pp. 7, 19, 22, 26, 44. The survey’s findings on experience of discrimination have been provided by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to the OECD. Findings on trust in the Australian political system were presented in a 2014 Senate Occasional Lecture (see Papers on Parliament, no. 62, October 2014).

Professor Markus currently serves on the Expert Reference Group of the Victorian Social Cohesion and Multicultural Research Institute. Professor Markus has also been invited to serve on the Australian Bureau of Statistics, General Social Survey (GSS) Reference Group (2014-); the Diversity Council Australia; Leading the Asian Century Project, Expert Panel (2014-15); the VicHealth More Than Tolerance survey Reference Group (2013-14). Other participations include the SBS Community Advisory Committee (2013-), the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs social cohesion roundtable (2015), and the Productivity Commission immigration roundtable (2011). His opinion is also sought by international research bodies; he has served as an independent evaluator for research proposals on social cohesion in Denmark and New Zealand.

Media Engagement

The Scanlon report findings are regularly covered by the national media, including in major television news and print journalism: The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Canberra Times, The Australian, Australian Financial Review, Australian Financial Review, The Guardian, International Business Times, the ABC News 24, ABC 774, SBS TV.

Through his work on these surveys, Professor Markus has made a significant contribution to national debate on the topic of social cohesion. The attitudes uncovered in these surveys are the topic of sustained analysis in major media articles, for example, ‘Australia in 2014’, The Guardian, 28 October 2014 (David Marr), ‘Concern for security, national security and trust …’ Sydney Morning Herald, 29 October 2014 (Jason Dowling).

Chief Investigator Professor Andrew Markus

Funder Scanlon Foundation

Date of Award 2007-2016