Surveys track Australian attitudes to immigration

In an Australian first, Professor Andrew Markus is tracking changes in Australian attitudes towards immigrants and asylum seekers through a series of national surveys.

His research is part of the Scanlon Foundation’s Mapping Social Cohesion project.

The results show “nuanced” views, rather than a one-dimensional response to immigration. They are also providing the basis for evidence-based discussion of an issue that has emerged as a major political issue.

The social cohesion and immigration research is based on three national surveys conducted in 2007, 2009 and 2010. These were conducted for the Scanlon Foundation through the Monash University Institute for the Study of Global Movements.

Andrew says the latest survey shows that attitudes towards unauthorised boat arrivals are increasingly negative. However, there is a highly positive response towards Australian humanitarian immigration program.

“For the first time we have three large surveys using similar methodology. This enables us to track precisely how views are developing,” Andrew says. The Scanlon Foundation has published reports on all three surveys.

Complementing the national surveys are two local surveys conducted in Melbourne and Sydney regions where high numbers of immigrants have settled. Andrew says these are providing important information on challenges of life in ethnically diverse communities.

For example, the surveys showed increased concerns about personal safety in these communities. However, these concerns appeared to link more strongly to the low socio-economic status of the communities rather than to the presence of immigrants. “In areas of high immigrant concentration there is generally a positive attitude to immigration,” he says.

Andrew says that while the research is academic it is also about communicating with people in the field to achieve results for the community. “This is socially useful research,” he says.

Andrew has a very personal connection to his research; he came to Australia as an eight-year-old refugee from Hungary in the late 1950s.

In addition to his work with the Monash Institute for the Study of Global Movements, Andrew is a research professor in the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation. He is leading a project documenting the history of Yiddish Melbourne. It examines in-depth Jewish immigrants who came to Melbourne before and after the Holocaust.

It looks at the world the Yiddish-speaking immigrants sought to recreate in Melbourne and to what extent their values were transmitted to their children and grandchildren. While there has been significant language loss, the research indicates the strong transmission of cultural values through the generations.

The Yiddish Melbourne website, located at, is a major outcome of the research, which has been funded through an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grant. The website provides an important community resource, Andrew says.

Overlapping with this research is an ARC-Linkage project looking at the contemporary Jewish community in unprecedented depth. More than 6000 respondents completed a questionnaire, which has provided a detailed picture of modern Jewish life.

The findings provide a rich resource for policymakers and people serving the Jewish community. The data allow for accurate projections to enable adequate service provision in areas such as education and aged care.  It will also help address the challenges of the modern world, such as how the communication revolution will affect Jewish life.

“For most issues under consideration for planning purposes our survey provides interesting and systematic data,” Andrew says. “We are able to provide organisations with data on topics of interest – and it is provided free of cost.”

This engagement is enhanced by the centre’s location at the university’s Caulfield campus, which lies in the heart of Melbourne’s Jewish population. The centre hosts seminars on contemporary Jewish life and is ideally located for meetings. “It facilitates our mission to actively engage with the community,” he says.