Why are new Australians our greatest champions of democratic values?

Mark Evans

Professor Evans is the Director of the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra

Max Halupka

Max Halupka is a research fellow at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra. He is also Managing Editor of 'The Policy Space'

At a time when satisfaction in Australian democracy and trust in politicians and political institutions are at their lowest levels, one group of Australians remain vigilant in their support for democratic values – new Australians.  New Australians are defined as citizens taking up permanent residency in Australia since 2006 and 49% are satisfied with the way that democracy works in Australia.  This is in contrast to 39% of established Australians. 

New Australians are also far less critical about the activities of politicians than other citizens. Only 35% of new Australians have negative perceptions of the standards of honesty and integrity in Australian government.  This is in contrast to 59% of established Australians.

Moreover, the majority do not share the perception of the majority of their fellow citizens that standards of integrity are on the decline.  Only 35% of new Australians believe that the standards of honesty and integrity in government are declining.  This is in contrast to 53% of established Australians.

35% of new Australians believe that politicians can be trusted. This is in contrast to only 24% of established Australians.  However, they do share concerns that government is influenced too much by sectional interests.

Confidence in Government

On the whole, new Australians are confident in the ability of the government to handle a broad range of policy issues including the economy, education, healthcare and national security. However, it is notable they are less confident in the government’s ability to handle the issue of refugees/asylum seekers (39% negative), or climate change (38% negative). Management of the economy, refugees/asylum seekers, and healthcare/Medicare all emerge as the most significant issues for new Australians.  So there is one key issue that new Australians are particularly concerned about with regard to the quality of government – the policy management of refugees/asylum seekers.

Why do new Australians feel more positively about their new political system?

New Australians know how important it is to experience a stable and peaceful political history.  Many of our newest citizens come to Australia from conflict or post conflict states where basic democratic values such as freedom of expression, popular control through free and fair elections, and political equality supported through the rule of law no longer exist. Moreover, access to social entitlements such as public housing, education and primary health services is at best limited.

It is therefore unsurprising that many new Australians appear to be relishing the prospect of a peaceful and stable life in a mature democracy. 

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