Australia: Land of the fair go... But not for all

Nearly one in four Australians have recently experienced a form of major discrimination, while religious and racial minorities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples face the highest levels of prejudice, according to the nation’s first Inclusive Australia Social Inclusion Index (IASII).

The new report, conducted by researchers from BehaviourWorks Australia (BWA), part of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI), is the first of its kind to measure social inclusion across Australia.

Director of BWA, Professor Liam Smith, who sits on the board of Inclusive Australia (IA), said until now there have been very few tools to holistically measure Australia’s progress towards social inclusion.

“Research exists on the specific issues faced by specific minority groups in Australia, however it only tells part of our social inclusion story. The IASII bridges this gap by measuring multiple issues and factors,” Professor Smith said.

“Social exclusion costs the Australian economy billions each year in lost productivity. This report aims to measure ingrained attitudes and behaviours towards people from different backgrounds, perspectives and circumstances,” he said. “Social inclusion is about allowing people to fully participate in the social and economic life of the nation.”


  • Nearly one in four Australians have recently faced major discrimination, such as being denied a promotion or job, discouraged from continuing education, or refused a bank loan.
  • Nearly one in four Australians regularly experience some form of discrimination at least weekly, such as being treated with less respect and courtesy or being called names.
  • The highest levels of prejudice are directed towards religious and racial minorities, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • The groups that reported the most frequent discrimination were young people (aged 18-24), LGBTI people, racial minorities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people with disabilities.
  • Individuals that belong to more than one minority group tend to experience significantly higher levels of discrimination than people who belong to only one minority group.
  • People who have experienced discrimination experience 15 per cent lower wellbeing than those who have not, affecting their sense of connection and belonging to Australia.
  • 39 per cent of Australians have little or no contact with certain minority groups.
  • A lack of contact is associated with higher prejudice.
  • Most Australians aren’t highly prejudiced and one third of respondents are willing to volunteer their time to help disadvantaged and minority groups. 
  • Over half of respondents are willing to intervene to stop discrimination when they see it, however less than a third are willing to participate in political activities to advocate for equality.

The report draws upon three waves of survey data collected between 2017 and 2018 from approximately 6,000 Australians to benchmark social inclusion in Australia.

It captures the experiences of and attitudes towards groups including racial and religious minorities, LGBTI people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, women, people with disabilities, low income earners, young people and older people.

Research fellow at BWA, Dr Nick Faulkner, said the findings indicate there are substantial challenges Australia must overcome to ensure all Australians feel included.

“Reducing prejudice, creating more opportunities for intergroup contact and friendship, and building minority groups’ sense of wellbeing are some of the challenges we need to address,” Dr Faulkner said.

“With discrimination being linked to reduced health and wellbeing, and harming the extent to which people feel part of the Australian community, it’s important that initiatives are developed to progress social inclusion in Australia.”

The IASII provides scores out of 100 on five key measures and explores both major and everyday discrimination, with Australia’s overall index score being 62 out of 100.

Research fellow at BWA, Dr Kun Zhao, said although the findings show there’s still room for improvement, the majority of Australians aren’t highly prejudiced and are willing to act when they see discrimination occurring.

“Our research shows a number of positive findings, particularly when it comes to the actions Australians are happy to take to support social inclusion,” Dr Zhao said.

“Half of those surveyed are prepared to listen to the stories of those who have been discriminated against, and this is promising given the large amount of research showing that contact between different groups is one of the major ways in which we can build empathy and reduce prejudice between people.”

The IASIIwill be published annually and provide evidence to help track progress and evaluate initiatives to improve social inclusion in Australia over time.

The research was commissioned by IA; an alliance seeking to reduce the negative impacts of exclusion. Follow their social media campaign on Instagram.

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