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Opinions about Issues Affecting Indigenous Australians and Motivators of Social Action

Researcher Lisa Hartley

Supervisors Professor Craig McGarty and Dr Ngaire Donaghue

Date: 23rd April, 2010

The context
The current study explored the opinions of supporters of an Indigenous rights activist group about issues affecting some Indigenous Australians and the factors that may influence whether they take action, or not, about these issues.

Method and outline of the survey

  • An advertisement was included in an email newsletter of the activist organisation in September 2009 that invited people to fill out the survey by clicking on a web link.
  • The survey took approximately 20 minutes to complete and contained a range questions including:
  • Participants’ attitudes towards government approach to reconciliation
  • Participants’ level of identification with the reconciliation movement and social movement organisations
  • The number of hours of participation in reconciliation movement and related organisations
  • Perceived disadvantage of Indigenous Australians and possible emotional reactions to that such as anger and guilt
  • Opinions about six issues affecting Indigenous Australians. These were Close the Gap, the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), treaty, housing, sexual abuse and violence, and compensation to the Stolen Generations.
  • Participants’ perceptions about the consensus that each of these six issues have from within the reconciliation movement and the social movement organization.
  • Attitudes towards the Close the Gap initiative and the NTER
  • A range of demographic questions

Who were the participants in the study?

  • 248 people completed the survey, the majority were female (75 %), the average age was 48 years (range 20 - 82 years of age) and 80% of participants had completed a bachelor degree or above.
  • Participants tended to support left-wing orientated political parties, with 50% supporting the Australian Greens Party and 27% supporting the Australian Labor Party.
  • Participants came from every Australian state and territory, with 40% residing in New South Wales, 24% in Victoria, and 24% from the ACT, Queensland and South Australia.

Participant’s past and future activity level

  • Participants had spent an average of 5.3 hours per month participating in generic reconciliation movement activities, ranging from 0 to 150 hours.
  • Participants had spent an average of 6.4 hours per month participating in activities of their own social movement organisation ranging from 0 to 150 hours.
  • Regarding past social actions about issues affecting Indigenous Australians, 98% of participants had challenged people with opposing opinions, 96% had signed a petition, 50% had put up a poster, 68% had participated in a protest march and 70% had lobbied a politician (in writing or face to face).
  • On a seven point scale ranging from 1 (very unlikely) to 7 (very likely), the average participants’ score as to whether they would be involved in activities that are in line with the goals of the reconciliation movement in six months time was 6.3, and in 5 years time, 6.1.

Opinions about issues affecting some Indigenous Australians

  • Participants were asked to rate the degree to which they wanted action taken on six issues affecting Indigenous Australians. On a seven point scale where 1 (Not strongly at all) and 7 (Very strongly), the results are as follows (from strongest to weakest)*:
  • Close the Gap (average score = 6.8)
  • Fix housing (average score = 6.6)
  • Address sexual abuse and violence (average score = 6.4)
  • Implement treaty (average score = 5.9)
  • Provide financial compensation to the Stolen Generations (average score = 5.6)
  • Stop the NTER (average score = 5.4)
  • Close the Gap.98% of participants supported action to be taken to bridge gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in health, employment, education and other outcomes, 2% did not support nor oppose.
  • The Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER).56% of participants supported action to stop the NTER immediately, 23% supported continuing the NTER, with improvements where necessary. 20% of the sample did not support either of these options.

Perceived level of consensus about action to address issues affecting Indigenous Australians

  • Consensus in reconciliation movement. Participants were asked to rate the degree to which they thought that there was consensus amongst members of the reconciliation movement about the following actions about issues affecting some Indigenous Australians. On a seven point scale where 1 (No consensus at all) and 7 (Complete consensus), the results are as follows*:
  • Close the Gap (average score = 6.3)
  • Fix housing (average score = 6.2)
  • Address sexual abuse and violence (average score = 6.0)
  • Implement treaty (average score = 5.3)
  • Provide financial compensation to the Stolen Generations (average score = 5.2)
  • Stop the NTER (average score = 5.0)
  • Consensus in social movement organisation. Participants were asked to rate the degree to which they thought that there was consensus amongst members of the social movement organisations about the following actions about issues affecting some Indigenous Australians. On a seven point scale where 1 (No consensus at all) and 7 (Complete consensus), the results are as follows*:
  • Close the Gap (average score = 6.2)
  • Fix housing (average score = 6.1)
  • Address sexual abuse and violence (average score = 5.7)
  • Provide financial compensation to the Stolen Generations (average score = 4.8)
  • Implement treaty (average score = 4.6)
  • Stop the NTER (average score = 4.3)

Factors that predict when participants will engage in social action for the ‘Close the Gap’ initiative and the NTER

  • Pro- Close the Gap (number of participants = 244). For participants who supported efforts to close the gap, their willingness to take action to close the gap was predicted by strong feelings of anger about Indigenous Australian injustice, believing that there was a high degree of consensus within the reconciliation movement about the close the gap initiative, feeling less identification and connection with being ‘Australian’, and sharing a sense of identity with other members of the reconciliation movement and with those who share the same opinion about efforts to close the gap.
  • Reform the NTER (number of participants = 54). For the people who supported reforming the NTER, their willingness to take action on this issue was predicted by two factors: the belief that that taking action about the issue will have an effect (we call this factor, collective efficacy) and a strong opinion that the NTER should be reformed.
  • Stop the NTER (number of participants = 140). For the people who supported stopping the NTER immediately, their willingness to take action on this issue was predicted by strong feelings of anger about Indigenous Australian injustice, lower levels of guilt about Indigenous Australian injustice and increased opinion-strength

Discussion and conclusions

  • Overall, participants in this study were highly active. They intended to remain involved in the field for the short-medium term and were highly committed to the reconciliation movement and the social movement organization with which they were affiliated.
  • Compared to other issues affecting Indigenous Australians, such as housing, compensation to the Stolen Generations, and closing the gap, the NTER was the most contentious issues for the participants. There was particular apprehension regarding the degree to which stopping the NTER was supported within the reconciliation movement and social movement organizations. However, people who supported stopping the NTER perceived their position to be the majority position within reconciliation movement.
  • In terms of the steps that participants provides as important next steps that the government should take to foster the reconciliation process, almost half of involved were the issue of the NTER (e.g., stopping the NTER, reinstating the Racial Discrimination Act).
  • The factors that predicted participants to take action about the ‘Close the Gap’ initiative and the NTER issue are in line with past research that has found that perceptions of injustice (e.g., anger), believing that undertaking action will foster change (i.e., efficacy), and feeling part of a collective of people that share a common cause will predict people’s willingness to take action (e.g., van Zomeren, Postmes, & Spears, 2008). However, our results go further by suggesting that this can be powerfully changed depending on the issue considered.

References
van Zomeren, M., Spears, R., & Leach, C. W. (2008). Exploring psychological mechanisms of collective action: Does relevance of group identity influence how people cope with collective disadvantage? British Journal of Social Psychology, 47, 353-372.

Author notes
Many thanks to the participants who took part in this survey. If you have any questions about these results, or would like further information, please do not hesitate to email me, Lisa Hartley at lisa.hartley@murdoch.edu.au