Perceptions of Racism in Australia: Indians and Lankans most victimized– says Kevin Dunn

Stuart Rintoul, in The Australian, 21 September 2011

 Professor Kevin Dunn

Kevin Dunn, lead researcher of the decade-long Challenging Racism Project, said new analysis suggested Indian and Sri Lankan-born Australians reported higher levels of racism in such areas as the workplace, in education, when renting or buying a house, at shops and at sporting or public events.

The findings suggested the 2009 attacks on Indian students in Melbourne were a sign of a wider problem, he said. The study found:

  • 40.8 per cent of Indian and Sri Lankan-born Australians said they had experienced racism in the workplace, compared with 12.8 per cent of Australian-born respondents and 29.7 per cent of overseas-born respondents.
  • 42.6 per cent of such respondents had experienced racism at a shop or restaurant, compared with 15.5 per cent Australian-born and 22.4 per cent of overseas-born.
  • 38.5 per cent had experienced racism at a sporting or public event, compared with 13.8 per cent of Australian-born and 23.1 per cent of overseas-born.
  • 28.4 per cent said they had experienced racism in education, compared with 14.5 per cent Australian-born and 21 per cent of overseas-born.
  • And 43.2 per cent said they had experienced discrimination in the form of name-calling and similar insults, and 41.9 per cent said they had been treated less respectfully because of their ethnic origin.

The study suggested people of Indian and Sri Lankan background were an average of 18 per cent more likely to experience discrimination and racial intolerance than other Australians. Writing in the Geography Bulletin, Professor Dunn said the findings suggested the experience of racism for Indian-Australians was high even when compared with other non-Anglo Australians. Professor Dunn, head of social sciences at the University of Western Sydney, said the data samples were too few to indicate where racism was most pronounced, but indicated experience of racism was up to 11 per cent higher for central western Sydney than for NSW generally.


Geography Bulletin, Autumn Volume 43, No. 3 — 2011

  • Editorial
  • 2011 National Geographic Channel Australian Geography Competition
  • Racism in the Tertiary Education Sector: a case of Indian student attacks inAustralia
  • Globalisation: coffee from bean to café
  • Defence:Australiain its regional and global links
  • AGTA news in brief
  • Geographia
  • Benefits of GTANSW membership
  • Advice to contributors


A Project based at the University of Western Sydney:  In 1998, a research Project team was initiated on the geography of racism in NSW. The Chief Investigators included:

  • Professor Kevin Dunn (Geography, UWS),
  • Associate Professor Jim Forrest (Geography,Macquarie), and
  • Associate Professor Ian Burnley (Geography, UNSW).

In 2001 a database on racist attitudes was collected for NSW and QLD, using a telephone survey (sample 5056), funded by an Australia Research Council (ARC) Large Grant. Key findings of the Racism project included:

  • While racism is quite prevalent in Australian society its occurrences differ from place to place.
  • These variations have been largely overlooked by anti-racism campaigns inAustralia.
  • Most Australians recognise that racism is a problem in society.
  • Racist attitudes are positively associated with age, non-tertiary education, and to a slightly lesser extent with those who do not speak a language other than English, the Australia-born, and with males.  

The database was extended in 2006 with a reproduction of the survey funded by VicHealth (sample 4016). VicHealth released a report using data in the 2006Victoria survey.

Between January – March 2006 a new database was collected, funded by a second ARC Discovery Project Grant. The second database covers all of Australia’s states and territories, except Tasmaniaand the results are available on this website. The telephone survey (sample 4020) provides:

  • A sense of the types of racism experienced, covering forms of racist talk, unfair treatment, exclusion and attack.
  • Respondents were also asked questions on how they felt after a racist experience, what they did about it, how frequently they experienced forms of racism and where this happened.

The work on racism in Australiawas further encouraged by an ARC Linkage Grant awarded in May 2007 to A/Prof Kevin Dunn, Prof Loosemore and Dr Phua of the Universityof NSW. The four year project entitled Managing cultural diversity on Australian construction sites involved collaborating organisations such as Multiplex Construction, Mirvac Group and the Construction, Forestry, Mining, and Energy Union.

* In September 2007 a further survey was conducted across SA and ACT (sample 1484 and 454 respectively). These were commissioned by the Equal Opportunity Commission (SA) and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (ACT). The Human Rights Commission (ACT) also funded 50% of the costs of the ACT survey. The ACT/SA survey included additional questions on:

  • Anti-racism legislation, as well as national and state anti-discrimination agencies.
  • Participants’ awareness of the function of anti-racism agencies and the Racial Discrimination Act were surveyed.

The most recent step in the racism project has been the funding of a Linkage Project by the ARC in late September 2007, titled, ‘Constructing regionally appropriate anti-racism strategies forAustralia’. The Project was funded for three years from 2008. Our official partners to the grant were:

  • The Australian Human Rights Commission.
  • The Equal Opportunity Commission ofSouth Australia.
  • The Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission.

Our aims have been to:

  • Generate regional racism typologies across every jurisdiction for which we have data
  • Generate anti-racism suggestions (anti-racism responses) for each regional typology
  • Consult with stakeholders on the utility of the anti-racism materials we have developed.

Typologies for South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria have been generated. Regions are being grouped using the entropy method for classification (except in the case of Victoria). Results are available on this website.

Meanwhile, a further survey was conducted across the states ofWestern Australia(sample 851), Tasmania(sample 351) and theNorthern Territory(sample 300). This survey was sponsored by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. We now have a combined data set covering the whole nation which is available on this website.

This website includes various data sets on racist attitudes, incidences and experiences. The findings of our research have appeared in numerous formats, including articles and conference papers. Our hope is that these data and publications will assist federal, state and local governments, and also local communities, in the development of anti-racism strategies.

In 2011 members of the Challenging Racism Project and other researchers were awarded an ARC Linkage Grant for a project titled ‘An exploration of the frequency, outcomes enablers and constraints of bystander anti-racism’. The project will run from 2011 to 2014 with the collaboration of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation.

Project History




Filed under accountability, australian media, cultural transmission, discrimination, disparagement, fundamentalism, immigration, life stories, politIcal discourse, racist thinking, violence of language, welfare & philanthophy, world events & processes

4 responses to “Perceptions of Racism in Australia: Indians and Lankans most victimized– says Kevin Dunn

  1. Charles Schokman

    With due respect to the author of this article Professor Kevin Dunn he appears to generalise all Sri Lankans overlooking the fact that Sri Lanka is a country that is made up of a heterogeneous society, consisting of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims & Burghers, just to mention a few.
    I do not wish to comment on other nationalities but as a burgher and speaking on behalf of the burgher community, though the burghers are normally addressed as Sri Lankans, they have to my knowledge never faced any type of discrimination or victimization since they set foot on the soil of Australia.
    In this context the burghers as Sri Lankans does not fit into this article and would not want to be identified as victims of racism.

    On the other hand the burghers have assimilated well into the Australian society. They hold their allegiance to this country and received the highest honour at the appointment of Professor David de Kretser, a burgher, as the Governor of Victoria.

  2. Cappetipola

    Charles Schokman, how can you possibly speak on behalf of all Burghers? Have you inquired from each and every single one? Certainly, there are some Sinhalese & Tamils as well that have never experienced racism like my self in this country. That is not to say that there aren’t others who have been victimised. A broad statement like that goes to dis serve those who have experienced racism in the Burgher community. Sounds to me as if though I sense a tone of superiority which I find rather discomforting given the readiness to disassociate from the broader Sri Lankan category. Maybe you haven’t quite assimilated that deeply yet and you still tether on to the Sri Lankan identity given you felt compulsion to leave a comment, rather than fully embrace being an Australian and ignore this article.

  3. Charles Schokman

    Cappetipola—There is always an exception to the rule and this could be contributory. However, the Burghers, by and large do not wish to consider Australians to be likened as racists and this may include you as a Sri Lankan as it is for me as a Burgher.
    I have fully embraced as being an Australian and thank God that I am here.

  4. Pingback: Debating Sinhala Only Language Policy and Burgher Out-Migration from Ceylon – A Spin-Off from “Tropical Amsterdam” | Thuppahi's Blog

Leave a Reply to CappetipolaCancel reply