I would like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the Bunurong Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation. I would like to recognise and pay my respects to Elders past and present and to emerging leaders, as well as to First Nations people who may be present today. I acknowledge their connection to land, waters, and community. This land always was and always will be Aboriginal Land.
May I extend my sincere thanks to FECCA for the invitation to speak on this panel today, alongside my esteemed colleagues Brydie, Molina, Denisse, and Mario. Each of my fellow panellists are vital contributors to making the experiences of communities visible, and to anti-racism through the work they undertake within their organisations and institutions. I look forward to hearing from each of them today and to the rich discussion I am sure will follow.
I also want to acknowledge the expertise and lived experience of those in the room joining us today. I thank you for this opportunity to discuss why “Racism still sucks”. I am honoured to share with you this morning the findings from the work the Australian Human Rights Commission has been undertaking on a National Anti-Racism Framework and our plans to facilitate progress on this work.
In March 2021, the Commission released a proposal for a National Anti-Racism Framework in response to enduring community calls for national action and heightened experiences of racism and racial inequality during the pandemic.
From March 2021 to April 2022, the Commission consulted with peak and community organisations, experts, service providers, human right agencies, and government at all levels on the scope and vision for a Framework. In total, 100 consultations were undertaken with over 300 organisations. We were fortunate enough to partner with some of those organisations and agencies on 10 community consultations across the nation, as well as receive feedback from many organisations who hosted their own consultations on the Framework within their organisations and with their networks and communities.
Our call for public submissions in October 2021 saw an unprecedented number of submissions made on the National Anti-Racism Framework project, with submissions from individuals making up more than a third of the 171 total submissions received. Organisations such as FECCA generously aided us in getting the call out far and wide and in making the process as accessible as it could be with the resources we had at the time.
Yet, there are many for whom this process could not be made accessible during the initial scoping phase, but whose input into a National Anti-Racism Framework is nothing less than essential. And so, there is much work yet to be done to ensure comprehensive community-level input, which is critical to this Framework. I will return to this point, but first, I would like to outline the key findings identified from this initial scoping phase. There were several themes identified consistently across sectors and communities at this priority-setting level, which provide a solid grounding for the project’s continued work.
The leading piece of feedback that we received from all participants, including First Nations and non-Indigenous organisations and individuals, was that First Nations sovereignty must be central to the Framework and inform all strategies across national outcome areas.
Many shared their strong view that a National Anti-Racism Framework must acknowledge the historical violence of European colonisation and the ongoing impacts of settler colonisation on First Nations peoples. Recognition of First Nations sovereignty and truth-telling were seen as necessary foundations for anti-racism in the Australian context.
The Commission received feedback that an effective definition of racism is needed in a Framework. Participants told the Commission that it must be one that reflects a nuanced and intersectional understanding of racism, one that is victim-centric, and again, one that acknowledges First Nations peoples’ sovereignty and the history and ongoing impacts of settler colonisation. The systemic nature of racism must therefore be acknowledged and addressed.
Consultation participants and those who made submissions shared their view that there was a need for comprehensive, national data on the prevalence and impacts of racism. Data was highlighted as an important means of raising awareness about the extent of racism experienced by communities and individuals. Data was also seen as an important means of securing the appropriate resources and funding to address racism. Establishing mechanisms to collect data was a main priority, as well as ensuring ethical approaches and processes around data collection that would protect communities from unethical data collection, management, and reporting that often result in deficit understandings of First Nations and culturally and linguistically diverse peoples.
Education and raising public awareness were priorities for almost all participants in this process. Improving understanding about race and racism in Australia was identified as an opportunity to connect people through common understanding and build momentum for change, including through anti-racism initiatives and actions. In addition to, and as part of, ensuring broad-based racial literacy, participants advocated for anti-racism within education institutions. This includes truth-telling about Australia’s colonial and migration history, as well as anti-racism training and education for students and teachers.
Cultural safety in the workplace and in the provision of services was another cross-cutting theme in the consultations and submissions. While diversity and representation are critical components of this, cultural safety also requires centring First Nations communities, taking a strengths-based approach to workplace and clientele diversity and representation, and embedding anti-racism at the institutional level through staff training, staff accountability, safe complaints mechanisms, and crucially, centring wellbeing across these processes. Embedding cultural safety as a workplace health and safety imperative was consistently identified as a necessary step.
The need for enhanced visibility and responses at the intersection of different forms of discrimination was also a key priority for many stakeholders. Participants shared concerns that those who experienced racial discrimination and who were also part of LGBTQIA+ communities, who were refugees, who had precarious visa or citizenship status, who came from certain religious backgrounds, who also experienced caste discrimination, who were people with disability, women, or young people, amongst others, needed significantly improved protection in terms of policy, programs, and the law.
In addition to the above cross-cutting issues, there were three additional areas of concern raised by many participants.
The Commission heard about the importance of legal protections that are enforceable and that reflect Australia’s commitments under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Many participants advocated for the need for a rights-based framework to adequately protect these rights. Enhanced access to rights, the safety and accessibility of reporting mechanisms, and the need for improved understanding and measures in relation to hate crime were also urgent priorities for many communities.
Oversight and accountability within the justice system, particularly in relation to the systemic discrimination experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, were called for by many organisations, service providers, government departments and agencies, and community members. Participants advocated for the provision of safe complaints mechanisms, community-led support and services for those caught in the criminal justice system, as well as culturally safe and unhindered legal assistance.
Finally, the need for media regulation and standards was also a very prominent theme across the feedback received. The Commission heard about the importance of representation in fostering inclusion, and conversely, the harmful impacts of racial profiling and stereotyping in public perceptions of communities and their perceptions of themselves. Feedback from participants strongly advocated for improved regulation and community standards in relation to the media, including digital media and in relation to online hate.
Thanks to the generous and critical support and contributions from participants in the consultation and submissions process, who shared with us their priorities and visions for a Framework, I am very pleased to now let you know that the Commission has successfully secured government commitment for the National Anti-Racism Framework project’s future. We now have the means to continue this work—guided by human rights principles of representation and participation, and in a community-led, co-design approach—and the opportunity to make the development process of the Framework accessible to all.
First Nations peoples and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds have long led the way in addressing racism and are best placed to advise on the necessary approaches and strategic outcomes of this work. We anticipate that this resourcing commitment will enable comprehensive, community-led consultation on this Framework that prioritises cultural safety and accessibility, and ultimately a Framework that reflects shared understandings and community-centric strategies and outcomes.
The Commission is privileged to facilitate this conversation and work collaboratively in a community-centric approach to bring into effect a central reference point for anti-racism action by government, business, community, and all sectors of society.
Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to share this feedback on the project to date and the exciting news about the project’s future. I welcome questions and discussion about these findings and our planning for the next, crucial phase in the development of this Framework.
Thank you again to FECCA for putting on such an excellent program over the course of these two days. The conference, as always, has been an invaluable opportunity to learn and connect with one another. Congratulations on a wonderful and important event.