The United Nations defines a socially cohesive society where all groups have a sense of belonging, participation, inclusion, recognition and legitimacy. The most significant piece of work in Australia on social cohesion is conducted by the Scanlon Foundation.
On September 27, 2017, La Trobe University – partnering with the Shepparton Interfaith Network and the Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District – presented Social Cohesion in the Goulburn Valley: Looking Back, Looking Forward, a conference to revisit the issues explored in the 2007 Conference and to consider the issues facing us today going forward as a regional community.
Victoria – Building Resilient Communities
Building resilient communities is important because they are more likely to adapt in positive and healthy ways to changes or challenges in natural,
economic or social circumstances. Our social resilience in Victoria is built upon the diversity and strength of all our various individual and community
links and relationships. Division between people or groups in our communities reduces the diversity and strength of our networks, weakens our social
cohesion, and limits our ability to adapt pro-actively to change and unexpected events. Connected communities are resilient communities because they are ready to look after each other in times of crisis, whether that be a flood, a bushfire
or an incident of violent extremism. They function reliably and well when under stress; successfully adapt; are self-reliant; and have high levels of social support, social cohesion and social capacity. These social support systems include neighbourhood; family and kinship networks; intergenerational supports; good links between communities, institutions and services; and mutual self-help groups.
The Goulburn Valley region has been acknowledged as relatively successful at receiving and accommodating a large number of migrants of many different ethnic origins over a long period of time. The different groups and subsequent emerging communities represent diversity not only in nationality, culture and circumstance that has led to migration, but also in the way that migration has occurred. While earlier waves of migration were mostly self-driven in response to a variety of either push or pull factors, recent years have seen the arrival of many refugees and asylum seekers.
As the region is also home to Victoria’s largest Indigenous population outside Melbourne, the variety of cultures and nationalities, as well as the many diverse migration circumstances, suggests that the region is well-placed to be a source of valuable information regarding success factors and challenges facing a culturally diverse regional community.
Scanlon Monash Index
The elements of social cohesion as measured by the Scanlon Monash Index annually are:
- Belonging – shared values, identification with Australia, trust
- Social justice and equity – evaluation of national policies
- Participation – voluntary work, political and co-operative involvement
- Acceptance (and rejection), legitimacy – experience of discrimination, attitudes towards minorities, newcomers
- Worth – life satisfaction and happiness, future expectations
The project’s working definition of a socially cohesive society is one in which people:
- identify and feel a sense of belonging to Australia and pride in being Australian
- Actively participate in political, economic and civic life
- feel included in relation to social justice and equality of opportunity
- respect minorities and newcomers and value diversity
- have trust in other people and confidence in public institutions
- are satisfied with life and optimistic about the future.
Further Considerations of Social Cohesion
In building community resilience it is important to understand individual identity and belonging. This requires intercultural competence which encompasses key attitudes such as respect, openness and curiosity. This competence allows us assist the individual – and ourselves – to answer questions such as, “Who am I? How do my cultural values influence my words, thoughts and my behaviour?” (cultural awareness) Other questions needing to be addressed are “Why are people with a different cultural background not necessarily thinking, talking and behaving as I am expecting?” (cultural understanding) and “How do we understand/deal with difference?” (cultural sensitivity).
Social cohesion strategies pursued by governments and community organisations seek to identify the social, politicial, economic and cultural drivers of inequality and marginalisation and look to put in place strategies that reverse social exclusion, alienation and enhance community safety. This scopes to helping youth examine matters critically and think for themselves when confronted with challenging situations. Fostering of respectful and mutually supportive communities is a foundation of community resilience.
Safety of migration pathways is an important consideration of social cohesion; irregular arrivals and unlawful migrant behaviour are not strong foundations for resilience and capacity building. There is a need to look to media messaging about irregular migration and border policing yet be open to compassionate responses to human trafficking and slavery. Southeast Asia has the largest volume of irregular border crossings and eliciting human motivation for such crossings helps build understanding and creation of safer migrant pathways.
Migration and settlement occurs in regional cities throughout Australia in order to afford access to necessities of life and reasonable expectations of employment. Where community members have access to resources in the community (education, healthcare, employment, housing) this affects affects community resilience/connectedness, and community health and wellbeing. Where those who settle take up volunteering and participation in civic activities, this enhances inclusion, resilience and wellbeing.
A New Multicultural Policy
Recently the Prime Minister released a new multicultural policy based on a “fair go for all”
this has six elements:
- a shared story
- shared values
- shared rights and responsibilities
- shared vision for the future
- harnessing advantages of diversity and shared national interest