Police confront a major trust deficit when dealing with people born in South Sudan, according to a new survey of our attitudes to races, religions and cultures.

About 81 per cent of people born in Australia report “a lot of trust” or “some trust” in the local police – a figure that is even higher for people from Afghanistan, Iran and India. But the rating among South Sudanese stands conspicuously lower, at just 26 per cent

South Sudanese are also far more likely to mistrust employers and trade unions, though their trust in public institutions, such as schools, doctors and Medicare is on a par with average ratings throughout the population.

The findings, from a detailed new survey conducted by Monash University, also show people from the South Sudanese community report a very low level of trust in their personal dealings.

Asked if “most people can be trusted” or if “you can’t be too careful in dealing with people”, South Sudanese reported only a 4 per cent level of personal trust.

“There has been a lot in the media about gangs, that sort of stuff. So we’re trying to better understand what is going on in that community,” said Andrew Markus, who co-ordinated the survey.


Professor Markus said it appeared the experience of life – after South Sudan endured years of conflict – has left the community generally suspicious.

People born in Iran, India, and China were more likely to report a much higher level of trust – about 50 per cent.

Anyaak Abiel, 25, a youth worker, came to Australia from South Sudan in 2004. He said the mistrust in police resulted from a lack of communication. Media reporting about South Sudanese youth had also caused uproar.

“After these types of issues, people slowly lose trust. Some people probably don’t understand the power of how the police work, and the media.”

“It leaves scars in the back of people’s minds,” Mr Abiel said.

The report showed about 10 per cent of South Sudanese nominate “racism and discrimination” as what they least like about Australia – a rate lower than people from New Zealand, India and Afghanistan.

Mr Abiel, who works in the Carlton area, said there was no doubt racism does exist in Australia. “It’s just that it affects different individuals and groups differently,” Mr Abiel said.

“With South Sudanese in particular, they feel the way they are being portrayed in the media sometimes, they can attribute that to their ethnic background.

“They are just a small number of young people and that shouldn’t represent a whole community. South Sudanese are quite a big community in Australia, as well as in Melbourne.”

“So therefore people do feel disappointed, and that disappointment leads to mistrust.”

Victoria Police declined to comment on the survey findings, but said in a statement it had made “significant inroads” in improving relationships and trust with new communities.

The statement said dedicated officers are based in high migrant and refugee settlement communities and “help to improve communication and build mutual understanding”.

A matter of trust

Percentage responding ‘a lot of trust’ or ‘some trust’ for Australian institutions/organisations. Other possible responses were ‘a little trust’ and ‘no trust.’

Aus UK NZ India Afghan. Sth Sudan
Police 81 80 68 87 90 26
Legal system/ Courts 59 80 52 79 81 53
Centrelink 48 49 38 70 93 80
Employers 69 73 63 64 61 20
Dept. Immigration 37 41 27 77 76 35
Federal Parliament 30 29 17 63 58 24
Real estate agents 23 37 22 36 55 14
Source: The Australia@2015 Scanlon Foundation Survey