One in ten Australians believe some races are superior to others and Muslims are the most unpopular group in the country, the lead author of a new study said Sunday.
Professor Kevin Dunn from the University of Western Sydney said a 10-year study of 12,500 people found that Australians were generally tolerant, with more than 80 percent viewing cultural diversity as beneficial.
But about 10 percent of the population was racial supremacists.
"Only about one in ten people across the various states would hold those views nowadays," Dunn told AFP.
"It's better than in many other parts of the world, certainly in parts of western Europe where three in ten people would hold those views," he said.
"But one in ten is a lot. It means one person in every lunch room, one person in every locker room, five or ten people on a train," Dunn added.
Dunn, a professor of human geography and urban studies, said
Muslims were most often seen as the group that did not "fit in" to Australian life.
"They stand out at the moment as the group that people would be most concerned about," Dunn said. "There's stronger levels of social distance or fear of Islam or concern about Islam than of any other group at the moment."
Dunn said indigenous Australians were the second strongest "out" group while there was evidence of an emerging antipathy towards black Africans after greater immigration from countries such as Sudan and Somalia.
Despite being the focus for international migration, New South
Wales -- with a population of 6.5 million people and home to the country's largest city of Sydney -- was found to be the least tolerant state or territory.
Dunn said while in some states as many as 90 percent of people saw cultural diversity as a good thing, this percentage was only in the mid-80s in New South Wales, possibly because Sydney accommodated higher numbers of migrants.
There's stronger levels of social distance or fear of Islam or concern about Islam than of any other group at the moment
Prof. Kevin Dunn
Asked how they would feel if a close relative was to marry a Muslim, 54 percent of people in New South Wales would be concerned, he said.
And some 47 percent of people from the state indicated at least one group that didn't fit in Australia -- the highest percentage in the country.
"It means that in New South Wales there is more of a narrow idea of what constitutes Australian," Dunn said.
The study's results come as migrants account for a record high proportion of Australia's population of 21 million people, with 430,000 migrants arriving Down Under in the 12 months to March.
Dunn's group, which is yet to fully analyze all the figures from the study, hopes to use the information to develop anti-racism guidelines.
He said feeling about Muslims was strong across all of Australia, where Christianity is the most common faith, and that Muslims, who make up about 1.7 percent of the population, were the most unpopular group.
"I don't think there's any doubt about that and that tells something about what needs to be done in terms of reconstructing images of some groups," Dunn said.
Anti-Muslim sentiment flared on Sydney's southern Cronulla Beach in December 2005 when mobs of whites attacked Lebanese Australians there in a bid to "reclaim the beach."
The race riots, the country's worst of modern times, sparked a series of retaliatory attacks in which churches, shops and cars were attacked.