National survey finds Australians worried about relatives marrying Muslims


Nearly one in three Australians have negative feelings towards Muslim Australians, with 63% saying they would be concerned if a relative married a Muslim, according to a Western Sydney University study commissioned by SBS.

The online survey of six thousand residents was undertaken for the SBS documentary, Is Australia Racist?  The survey is largely representative of the Australian population, with a 52% - 48% female to male split, and 72% born in Australia.

Lead author Professor Kevin Dunn, head of the Challenging Racism Project, urges Muslims and other Australians with immigrant backgrounds to take heart despite the findings.

"Racism in Australia is a national calamity, but the good news is there's a vast amount of ground and it can be made up quite quickly," he says.

"While public discussion on these issues is welcome, it's important to be respectful. We must always remember to avoid racism at every opportunity and actually challenge it, particularly when witnessed in public."


Findings of the study include:

  • 63 per cent of respondents would be concerned if a relative married a Muslim, with 63 per cent expressing some degree of intolerance or discomfort with Muslim Australians
  • In contrast, Anti-British and anti-Italian sentiment was lowest across the sample at only 16 per cent and 18 per cent, with anti-Christian sentiment also relatively low at 22 per cent
  • Almost 80 per cent of respondents recognised racism is a problem in Australia, with 33 per cent of respondents having experienced racism within their workplace


"Australia's history contains some foundational aspects that are unfortunately racist, such as the theft of a continent from a people, and also the White Australia policy," says Professor Dunn.

"Yet despite our history, Australia has a strong recent track-record of anti-racism, especially since the introduction of multiculturalism in the 1970s, and we're in a good position to work together to realise an anti-racist future."

When looking at experiences of racism in relation to one's religious affiliation, the survey found Hindu Australians experienced the highest rates of discrimination, followed closely by Buddhists and Muslims. The most common setting for racism was on public transport or on the street.

  • Three quarters of Hindu and Buddhist respondents (75%) had experienced discrimination on public transport or on the street
  • 70% of Muslims surveyed said they had experienced racism on public transport or on the street
  • Only 23% of non-religious respondents and 27% of Christian respondents had experienced racism in this setting

The study uncovered widespread support for cultural diversity, but also a desire for assimilation.

  • 80 per cent of respondents were of the view that it is a good thing for a society to be composed of cultural diversity
  • 49 per cent believed that people from racial, ethnic, cultural and religious minority groups should behave more like 'mainstream Australians'
  • Older participants and those with non-tertiary education levels were more likely to say that some cultural groups do not belong

Professor Dunn says it's important to realise that immigrants are attracted to Australia for its democratic values, and there's no evidence of widespread segregation.

"The notion that immigrants would seek to impose another set of laws is surprising, as most immigrants actually come to Australia because of our democracy, freedoms and rule of law," he says.

"In fact, previous research on Muslims in Sydney found education and employment are the primary concern for Muslims, with a distinct lack of concern for international affairs."   

To find out more please visit the Challenging Racism Project.


26 February 2017

Mark Smith, Senior Media Officer