Social Cohesion in Australia - Where have we been and where are we now?

Australian society is rich in all types of diversity: cultural, religious, tradition, and racial to name a few. It is currently seen as a preeminent example of a multicultural nation. However, as our diversity naturally grows, the parameters which define our identity and collective values are increasingly at the centre of public discourse, causing us to return to fundamental questions around who we are and where we want to be.  

 

More than ever the pressures of our global interdependence are being felt. New dynamics of migration have challenged our economic, political and social constructs yet broadened our understanding of our common humanity. Although we acknowledge that we are interdependent and communal in nature, community members, political leaders and even psychologists are expressing their concern that we are becoming increasingly fragmented. For many, preserving our social cohesion is one of the greatest challenges facing Australia.  

 

Exploring this challenge requires reflection on the complexity of the current discourse. Social actors across various fields are involved in diverse aspects of this evolving conversation, each identifying needs from their particular perspective and offering solutions from those specific viewpoints. Governments seek to define the policy within their sphere of influence and provide a flow of funds and resources to the communities they serve. Not for profit and private enterprise strive to provide, and seek support for provision of social services to various populations. And all kinds of groups and communities seek to establish their needs and safeguard their inclusion within society.

 

Furthermore, ‘social cohesion’ as a goal is commonly defined as a cohesive society which works towards the wellbeing of all its members, fights exclusion and marginalisation, develops a sense of belonging, promotes trust and offers its members the opportunity for upward social mobility.[1] While such notions have differing meanings, the constituent elements remain the same: social inclusion, the improvement of terms for individuals and groups’ participation in society, such as the empowerment of marginalised peoples to take advantage of rising opportunities; social capital, the resources that result from cooperation towards common ends; social mobility, the ability of individuals or groups to move upward or downward in status based on wealth, occupation, education, or other social variables.[2] Yet, in the search of clearer definitions of these elements of social cohesion, it is challenging not to reduce it to an economic issue, one requiring only economic solutions.

 

In this landscape of increasing diversity and tribalism, currently explored through a complex and at times fragmented lens, a way forward must aim to advance the fundamental underpinnings framing the discourse itself as well as address the key question of what binds us together. Current circumstances then, while contributing to feelings of anxiety, uncertainty and social isolation in various community settings, have also created one of the greatest opportunities for Australia to consider closely what draws us together.

 

 

A National Conversation - Where do we want to be?

We are inviting you to be part of a national conversation to create an Inclusive Narrative for our country. A narrative, which is “a bigger story of us.[3] ” A story that “must speak to us all... speak to who we have been and allow for who we may become.[4]” We are at a critical juncture and opportune moment to take a step back and reflect on: Who are we? How do we transcend the countless permutations of “us” and “them” which define group identities? How do we build a sense of a common humanity whilst accommodating for the richness of diversity found in our country? What principles and qualities will help us to reflect our common humanity? What influences and shapes our identity and why are they held to be of significance? What do we want social cohesion and inclusion to look like for our future generations? How do we wish others to view our country? What are the values and norms we wish to carry forward which will strengthen inclusion, belonging and social harmony? This is an opportunity for a new and visionary description of our collective identity and shared values in today’s society and into the future. It is a narrative that should form a common centre around which Australians of all backgrounds can see themselves having a place and fulfil their yearning for a sense of belonging.

[1] OECD (2011), Perspectives on Global Development 2012: Social Cohesion in a Shifting World, OECD Publishing,

http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/persp_glob_dev-2012-en

[2] OECD (2011), Perspectives on Global Development 2012: Social Cohesion in a Shifting World, OECD Publishing, 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/persp_glob_dev-2012-en

[3] Tim Dixon (2019) “The Bigger Story of Us,” Life & Faith Podcast, Centre for Public Christianity.

[4] Stan Grant (2016) “Talking to My Country,” Harper Collins.

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