Multicultural values at risk amid falling social cohesion

Posted on 21 Nov 2023

By Violet Roumeliotis, CEO, Settlement Services International.


The battle to maintain support for multiculturalism in the face of prejudice and discrimination from some members of the community is never ending, writes social inclusion champion Violet Roumeliotis.

New research shows social cohesion is the lowest it has been in Australia for almost 20 years.

Ongoing economic pressure, divisive narratives and media sensationalism are challenging one of the core concepts of our national identity: multiculturalism.

The 2023 Mapping Social Cohesion report highlights that while multiculturalism as a general concept has support from the public, prejudice and discrimination remain major issues.

The research quantifies the extent to which, unfortunately, not all migrant groups are seen in the same light by the Australian public.

In particular, it is deeply concerning to read that nearly one in three respondents reported negative feelings towards Muslim people, and that African, Asian and Arab migrants are seen in a significantly more negative light than their European counterparts.

We know that in times of great economic and social pressure people are quick to blame the other – with migrants, refugees and culturally and linguistically diverse communities often unfairly targeted.

Settlement Services International CEO Violet Roumeliotis.

This was demonstrated clearly during the COVID lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, when hate speech towards Asian Australians spiked and when police enforced lockdowns more stringently in Western Sydney than in other parts of the city.

And we are seeing it again with the blame for deeply intrenched housing shortages and economic challenges being placed on the shoulders of migrant communities.

In the past four weeks alone, we have seen this racial bias overtly spike in public forums and mainstream media, with erosive racially prejudicial language often overtaking critical conversation.

""We cannot buy into false narratives and vilify broader communities. This threatens the inclusivity that defines us as a nation.

The public’s deeply divided response to the human tragedy unfolding in Gaza risks seriously exacerbating underlying tensions. It also raises questions about the boundaries of free speech and the role the media play in dehumanising communities.

Last week, media commentators such as Peta Credlin further encouraged this undermining of social cohesion in commentary about both the conflict in Israel and Occupied Palestine and the High Court ruling on the illegality of indefinite detention.

Credlin has claimed that the thinking and values of newly arrived migrants are at odds with those of mainstream, labelling them “Australians of convenience”.

We cannot buy into false narratives and vilify broader communities. This threatens the inclusivity that defines us as a nation.

Multiculturalism is not just a policy. It is a reflection of our commitment to inclusivity and diversity. It requires fostering of understanding, tolerance and unity, even in the face of differing opinions and beliefs.

Our global and national environments are not static. As our nation navigates these new and ongoing pressures, we all must rally around our shared values of connection and inclusivity, celebrate our multicultural identity, and challenge divisive rhetoric.

Violet Roumeliotis is CEO of Settlement Services International.

More opinion

Become a member of ICDA – it's free!