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Launch of the 'Race for Business' Employment Package: Zita Antonios(1998)

Race Race Discrimination

Launch of the 'Race for
Business' Employment Package

Speech by Zita
Antonios, Race Discrimination Commissioner, 21st August 1998, Sydney

Minister, distinguished
guests and colleagues, let me begin as always by acknowledging the traditional
owners of the land upon which we stand - the people of the Eora nation.
And let me extend a very warm welcome to all of you too who have joined
us tonight for the launch of the Race for Business employment package.

The package is about
stamping out racial discrimination in the workplace.

For all of us, work
occupies a major part of our lives. Regardless of our backgrounds we have
a right to work and a right to a workplace which is safe and harassment-free.
Every one of us deserves the opportunity to work in dignity in an inclusive
environment where we feel comfortable, where there is mutual respect and
where we can contribute our utmost potential. And the good news is that
these ideals are matched in reality in many Australian workplaces today
- where employees (whether from our first nations or the huge variety
of nations who came later) work side by side efficiently, productively
and creatively. As Australians we can be proud of the best practice examples
some of our employers have set.

Yet if it is vital
to recognise the important role that work plays in people's lives, it
is also vital to recognise and act on the challenges and opportunities
that workplace diversity brings.

How diverse are we?
The latest ABS statistics show that in a population of about 19 million,
around two percent of us are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders -
a huge forty-two percent of us were born overseas or had one parent born
overseas. Around 17.5 percent of us are from non-English speaking backgrounds.
In addition to the numerous first nation languages, we speak 161 other
languages and we have representatives from 100 countries from all corners
of the earth. In the world, we are second only to Israel in our diversity.

We live in nuclear,
extended and single parent households with parents or partners who are
heterosexual, homosexual or somewhere in between. We nourish our spiritual
lives in churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and the bush. We drink
scotch, sangria and saki. We eat snags, sushi, souvlaki and sate. And
why is it with all this choice our children only ever want to eat McDonalds?

Our response to this
diversity is critical. There is always the moral, the ethical imperative
to acknowledge our differences and respond with mutual respect and acceptance.
There can be no social cohesion without it. And there is, too, an economic
imperative - an awareness that our diversity represents an unsurpassed
opportunity for growth, for opportunities to enhance business goals through
the breadth of our language competencies, our cultural knowledge and enviable
networks.

But if our precious
differences are an asset, not everyone recognises this. Sometimes the
response to our differences is irrational and negative.

I began the preliminary
work on this programme in 1995. I was concerned that for years on average
around half of all federal race complaints were in the area of employment
and most if not all of these complaints could have been prevented if employers
had taken a few simple positive steps.

What I didn't know
in 1995 was the degree of resonance Race for Business would have
in addressing the very issues which have been pushed into the forefront
of the so-called race debate today.

So the launch of
the package couldn't be better timed.

We developed this
programme after researching the information needs of employers. We talked
to people in huge multinationals, as well as employers in medium and small
business. We asked: how can we at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity
Commission best meet the needs of business? As you might expect different
employers had different information needs. And because we at the Human
Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission believe that always treating people
the same doesn't necessarily result in fairness - we produced different
resources for different people.

So there are four
parts to this package - detailed guidelines and advice on the Racial Discrimination
Act, a training video, a training manual and a plain English brochure
for small employers which covers the broad spectrum of discrimination.

In concluding these
introductory remarks let me say that there's been a great deal of talk
in the public domain today about leadership. I believe that talk is too
narrowly restricted to the political domain alone. Too often we forget
the significant leadership role business can play in the broader community.

Business has the
power to influence an enormous cross-section of our society simply by
insisting that discriminatory behaviour in the workplace is unacceptable
and by capitalising on the many benefits our differences bring. The Race
for Business
package has been developed to help in achieving this
goal - I commend it to you.

Speakers who followed
and endorsed the package:

  • Philip Ruddock,
    Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.
  • Mark Paterson,
    Chief Executive, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
  • Rod McGeogh, lawyer
    and businessman

Last
updated 1 December 2001