A critical part of successfully dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Australia and globally is ensuring that culturally and linguistically diverse communities have a good understanding of the health crisis and government directives.
We conducted a national online survey of 432 adults in Australia who self-identify as Asians or Asian Australians, and examined how they seek pandemic-related information, whether they trust government and whether they prioritise public health over individual rights.
Most respondents said they spoke English competently (61.8% ‘very well’ and 37.3% ‘well’), and most had lived in Australia for at least several years—63% of respondents born outside Australia arrived before 2011. Almost 30% identified themselves as Chinese and almost 23% identified themselves as Indian. A majority (67.8%) had at least a Bachelor’s degree, and the median annual household income was in approximately $75,000-$99,000.
The most sought-after source of information is traditional media
Our survey indicates that when Asian Australian communities seek information about the pandemic situation in Australia, traditional mainstream media such as newspapers, television and radio are the most widely used source at 81.7%, followed by Australian online news media (50.5%).
Almost 50% of respondents (49.5%) use Australian health authorities, such as the federal government’s COVIDSafe App or the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.
Another significant finding is that 47.7% of respondents source their COVID-19 information from their family members, which shows that families play a significant role in information distribution. (It was unclear from our research what the main sources of information were within the family and friends.)
Which are the sources of your news and information about COVID-19 in Australia? [Choose all that apply]
- Mainstream Australian news media (e.g., ABC News, Nine News, The Age): 81.7%
- Australian online news media (e.g. Guardian Australia, News.com.au, Crikey, Buzzfeed AU): 50.5%
- Australian health authorities’ website or portal, e.g. Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, the federal government’s COVIDSafe App: 49.5%
- Family members: 47.7%
- Close friends or neighbours: 41.0%
- News from your country of origin in your native language: 23.8%
- Australian news in your language, e.g., SBS and/or other ethnic language media: 23.1%
- Social networks news on smartphone apps, e.g., WeChat, Kakao, LINE: 22.7%
- Others: 1.6%
Those who arrived in Australia between 2011-2020 are more likely than those who arrived in Australia before 2011 to use multilingual resources.
Recent immigrants (2011-2020) are more likely than their more established counterparts (before 2011) to rely on personal networks, internet media, and social media to seek information about COVID-19.
Asian Australian communities have high levels of trust in governmentTrust levels in government sources were assessed by respondents as very high—4.18 out of 5.
Trust was far lower in ethnic community associations.
Another indication of trust in government is that the federal government’s COVIDSafe app was downloaded by 53% of respondents. This suggests that Asian communities in Australia were more likely to download the app than the general public—the app has been downloaded by approximately 40% of the population who could use the app on their smartphones.
[For those who have downloaded COVIDSafe app] What would be your main reasons for installing the app? [Choose all that apply]
- A sense of responsibility to the wider community: 65.9%
- It would let me know my risk of being infected: 62.0%
- It would protect my family and friends: 56.3%
- It would help me stay healthy: 53.7%
- It might stop the epidemic: 39.3%
- Seeing the “all clear” message would give me peace of mind: 36.2%
- It would help reduce the number of deaths among older people: 34.5%
- Other (please indicate in the field below): 2.2%
Public health is prioritised over individual rights such as privacy
One of the most interesting findings from our survey is how much Asian Australian communities value public health over human rights.
When asked to indicate the degree to which they agree with the statement ‘Protecting public health comes before individual privacy and human rights’, 69% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. Only 5.5% reported they disagreed or strongly disagreed.
In policy terms, governments can be confident about having gained a high level of trust from Asian Australians despite the negative perceptions of Asian communities in Australia displayed by some political leaders, individuals and the media.
However, governments should examine the utility of multilingual information resources that need to be more relevant and culturally sensitive, and the need to be vigilant in relation to misleading media reportage of critical health information. Effective communications across different ethnic groups are key to maintaining a cohesive and healthy society.
A longer version of this article was published by Melbourne Asia Review, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne.