Australians are seen as nothing like the caring, friendly and hospitable mob so often assumed, with an extensive new survey of recent migrants reporting high levels of ethnic or religious discrimination.
As the Abbott government prepares to strike down part of the racial discrimination law, the Monash University study has found many migrants regularly fear walking alone at night or becoming a victim of crime.
The survey is the latest in a series ''mapping social cohesion'' funded by the Scanlon Foundation and Australia's federal government, and the first to allow researchers to compare the experience of recent migrants to the wider Australian population.
It shows migrants settling over the past two decades often feel singled out because of their skin colour or faith - and report a disturbing lack of trust, both in other people and political institutions compared to the rest of the population.
They are less likely to be politically engaged, despite been regularly tuned to news and current affairs in their new home.
But it is findings about the national character that appear most stark. Asked to nominate what they ''least like'' about Australia, racism and discrimination are often the first choice for recent migrants.
Those from non-English-speaking backgrounds are almost twice as likely to report suffering discrimination than from English-speaking countries. People from India or Sri Lanka are most likely to list prejudice as the least desirable aspect of Australians - but a significant number of New Zealanders also noted discrimination.
Asked what they ''most like'' about Australia, barely 3 per cent of recent migrants describe Australians as ''caring, friendly, hospitable'', a dramatic drop from similar surveys in the 1990s.
But the latest findings also points to general satisfaction from migrants with their new home, the quality of services, pride in Australia and a belief hard work brings a better life.
The study found migrants no longer experience isolation as was the case in decades past, with technology, cheap airfares and geographic proximity keeping recent arrivals connected with friends and family in their old home.
People from China and India are also far more likely to adopt Australian citizenship than those from Britain or North America.
Chinese-born Ming Liu, who moved to Melbourne from Beijing in 2006 as a self-confessed sports lover, said he had not suffered discrimination living in Australia. But he said cultural misunderstandings did occur and could be taken ''too seriously'', and he had sought out the local football club to make friends soon after arriving in Australia.
He went on to play Australian rules, had a baby girl Anabelle on Australia Day last year - and recently joined the 94 per cent of Chinese-born migrants to Australia with at least a decade of residence who have become citizens.
This compares with 71 per cent of people moving from Britain, North Americans (70 per cent) and New Zealanders (45 per cent). Migration rates have doubled from the 1990s, shifting from an emphasis on family unification to job skills.
Study author Andrew Markus said the findings showed recent migrants had ongoing issues with discrimination. ''Racial discrimination in Australia is not a minor matter. More than 40 per cent of recent arrivals from a number of Asian countries report experience of discrimination over the last 12 months,'' Professor Markus said.
- The Age