Interfaith and social cohesion in Australia: looking to the future

The Australian Multicultural Council was commissioned by the Australian Government to examine aspects of Social Cohesion in Australia, and the role of interfaith dialogue in building and maintaining social cohesion. This report examines social cohesion, religion, national engagement in Interfaith Dialogue, and opportunities for strengthening interfaith dialogue. The various topics of roundtable discussion were – inter alia – Interfaith sector and social cohesion, Interfaith and anti-racism, Interfaith education and Inclusion in interfaith dialogue.

This report seeks to build on Australia’s strong levels of social cohesion by providing opportunities for the Australian Government to support interfaith dialogue and social cohesion in our nation.

Australia is a peaceful, harmonious and resilient nation. This is in large part due to our robust liberal democracy and our strong brand of multiculturalism. Australia’s approach to multiculturalism: recognises the economic and social benefits of diversity; balances the rights and responsibilities that are fundamental to living in Australia; and supports the rights of all to celebrate, practise and maintain their cultural traditions within the law and free from discrimination.

By international comparisons, Australia ranked among the top countries across a large number of topics related to social cohesion and wellbeing in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Better Life Index. The Scanlon Foundation’s 2013 Mapping Social Cohesion National Report also confirmed that, by international standards, Australia remained highly cohesive.

The Australian community reflects very high levels of acceptance of multiculturalism across all demographics, with 84 per cent of respondents agreeing ‘multiculturalism has been good for Australia’. A key ingredient of our socially cohesive society is support and participation from the Australian people. Our community is founded upon a generous, mutually supporting culture and promotes unity and civic responsibility, also evidenced in our active civil society.

While social cohesion remains strong at national and local levels, the 2013 Mapping Social Cohesion Report also identified some issues that warranted attention:

  • There was a sharp increase in the reported incidence of discrimination (19 per cent in 2013, up from 12 per cent in 2012).
  • There was a continued decline in personal and institutional trust (45 per cent of respondents in 2013 agreed that ‘most people can be trusted’, compared to 52 per cent in 2012).
  • Some localities of high migrant concentration also had lower socio-economic indicators and reported poorly on indicators of social cohesion (Scanlon Foundation 2013 Local Areas Report).

A successful multicultural society and a strong cohesive nation are essential to our national interest. Given the issues referred to above as well as incidences of community tensions discussed in our 2013 report The Australian Community, the Council is of the view that ensuring Australian communities remain cohesive and resilient should be a continuing priority for the Australian Government.

Structure of the report

Chapter One outlines the history and context of interfaith in Australia, including past Government interfaith activities. It tells a story of Australia’s increasing cultural and religious diversity, which creates a need for interfaith and intercultural dialogues to foster and sustain social cohesion. Chapter Two examines the main challenges and issues encountered when creating interfaith dialogues to foster social cohesion. Chapter Three explores opportunities for strengthening interfaith dialogue and social cohesion in Australia, and considers the Australian Government’s role in supporting interfaith dialogue.

Guiding principles

  • Interfaith dialogue should be inclusive, involving and engaging secular and non-faith groups, free thinkers, women, youth and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups.
  • Interfaith dialogue should promote social cohesion and anti-racism.
  • Interfaith dialogue should be about valuing diversity.
  • Interfaith dialogue has value at all levels, including local, national, regional and global levels.

Download Interfaith and social cohesion in Australia: looking to the future

Council members (seated) and presenters (standing) at the Australian Multicultural Council’s Interfaith Roundtable.