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Racism exists in Australia – are we doing enough to address it?

Race Discrimination

Racism exists in Australia – are we doing enough to address it?

Dr Helen Szoke
Race Discrimination Commissioner
Australian Human Rights Commission

Queensland University of Technology
Brisbane, Qld
16 February 2012

Introduction and acknowledgements

I would like to begin by
acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we are meeting on tonight. I
pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I’d like to thank
the Honourable Michael Lavarch, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Law at
Queensland University of Technology, and his staff for their kind invitation to
speak on tonight as part of their Public Lecture Series. I am somewhat honoured
to speak from the perspective of Race Discrimination Commissioner, given
Michael’s direct involvement in strengthening the provisions of the Racial
Discrimination Act during his time as Federal Attorney General.

This is
my first opportunity to speak publicly in Queensland, and I must say as a
Victorian, I am always astonished at the breadth and diversity of this state,
the richness of its beauty but also the challenges of its proximity to the more
tropical rigours of climate fickleness! I am sorry to see that yet again parts
of your beautiful state have been impacted by natural elements, as floods ravage
communities in the south.

One of the unexpected realisations in taking on
the role of national Race Discrimination Commissioner has in fact been the
diversity of what makes up Australia. This diversity is of landscape as much as
climate, of distance as much as density and of ways of life as well as hardship
in life. It is a sunburnt country in part and a snow capped island in others.
We have the variable terrains, and the variable challenges that come with that,
as numerous other countries have in conglomerate. And so this makes it all the
more astonishing that we, mainly, comfortably and easily define ourselves as

Australia Day this year will be remembered for many
different reasons. Sadly it may be remembered for the images of the protests
associated with the Tent Embassy that flicked around the world, depicting a most
un-Australian image of a head of country being bundled into a car. It will be
remembered because yet again the actions of a few people are used to attack our
First Nations people. It will be remembered for the debate about whether we
should have flags flying from cars – is this triumphalism, is it
patriotic, is it just popular? It will be remembered for the NSW Australian of
the Year, Dr Charles Teo, reminding us all that racism exists still in this

The diversity of who we are in all of our aspects as a country
came together around these events. The views may have differed, but the
interest, the connection, and the extent of the dialogue demonstrated that we
are keenly interested in the Australia that is made up of many parts and many
cultures. We are part of a small club of countries that has both an indigenous
population and a multicultural population that defines who we are.

inherent in all of this complexity, there is inevitably a history of
dispossession, a fear of difference and a damage that appears in different ways,
at different times and with different impacts that we call racism. In order to
continue to promote the positives of who we are as a country, we must ensure we
address the negatives, and that is the focus of my presentation

Racism exists in Australia

In my opening comments
tonight, I took the time to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and
to pay my respects to elders past and present. This acknowledgement is a
relatively recent feature of our history as a country, as we know that
colonisation and white settlement paid little respect or acknowledgement that
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were the original and first inhabitants
of this land. It is worth remembering how breathtakingly audacious that was,
particular when we know that the First Nations people of this country were here
just a little bit longer, by tens of thousands of years. Our history as a
country of predominately white settlers has not been good in this regard. So it
is true to say that our time since white settlement has quite obviously racist
overtones. It is also true to say that prior to white settlement, the continent
that we now call Australia was in fact multicultural, with many different First
Nations peoples living across the vast expanse of land.

Racism does
exist in Australia. We know this is a fact. Our own complaints at the
Australian Human Rights Commission tell us that.

It is also identified
in research. National data from the Challenging Racism
Project[1] was released in 2011 and
gave us information about the prevalence of racism and attitudes about racism.

We know from this research that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
peoples continue to experience high levels of racism, across multiple settings.
The research found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents
returned much higher rates of experiences of racism: in relation to contact with
police and seeking housing, their experiences of racism were four times that of
non-Aboriginal Australians.[2]

Similarly, 2008 other research found that 27% of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander peoples over the age of 15 reported experiencing discrimination
in the preceding 12 months; in particular by the general public, in law and
justice settings and in employment.[3] Further recent research has found that three out of four Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander peoples regularly experienced race discrimination when accessing
primary health care, and that racism and cultural barriers led to some
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples not being diagnosed and treated
for disease in its early stages, when treatment is most

More generally,
the Challenging Racism research resulted in the following findings:

  • around 85% of respondents believe that racism is a current issue in

  • around 20% of respondents had experienced forms of race-hate talk (verbal
    abuse, name-calling, racial slurs, offensive gestures etc)

  • around 11% of respondents identified as having experienced race-based
    exclusion from their workplaces and/or social activities

  • 7% of respondents identified as having experienced unfair treatment based on
    their race

  • 6% of respondents reported that they had experienced physical attacks based
    on their race[5]

research also found that people born overseas experienced higher rates of racism
than those born in Australia, and were twice as likely to experience racism in
the workplace.[6]

and linguistically diverse communities in Australia are themselves diverse, each
community and generation having quite different experiences of migration and
settlement. As a result, their experiences of racism vary considerably, and have
also varied over time. For example, research suggests that ‘settled’
immigrants tend to experience lower levels of racism or racist attitudes than
more recent arrivals to Australia.[7]

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s recent work with
Arab[8] and Muslim Australians and
African Australians[9] suggests that
these communities are at a higher risk of experiencing discrimination and
prejudice. This supports previous research undertaken by the Commission that
found “visible" ethnic and religious minorities such as Arabs, Muslims,
Africans, Jews, Palestinians and Turkish people, are groups more likely to be
regularly subjected to racism. Members of these communities identified that
their "difference" in terms of skin colour, dress or cultural/religious
practices singles them out as targets of

There are also
particular groups within culturally and linguistically diverse communities which
appear to particularly experience racism. For example, so-called shock jock
radio presenter’s frequently veer into racial stereotyping and demeaning
of asylum seekers and refugees.

Similarly, the Commission’s work
with international students[11] makes clear that these temporary residents are often taken advantage of –
or discriminated against – by health providers, migration agents,
employers and real estate agents because of their race or colour or their
ethnicity, their sex or their age, and sometimes because of a combination of
these factors.

Alarmingly, some research indicates a significant increase
in racism over recent years: the Scanlon Foundation’s Mapping Social
Cohesion 2011[12] report found that
in 2010 there was a marked increase in reported racial discrimination, and that
this increased reporting was maintained in the 2011 survey. Disturbingly, this
research also highlighted the lack of awareness of most Australians about the
issues faced by our First Nations peoples.

What is racism?

the evidence says that racism exists in Australia.

This should not
surprise us as racism is to be found in every society on earth in different

I want to talk a little bit about what racism is and how it
impacts in the Australian context. My concern is that while the data suggests
that racism does exist, we do not have much of a community dialogue about how
racism manifests and the harm that it causes.

Without such
understanding, it is difficult to see how we can move forward to eradicate

Racism takes many forms. In general, it is a belief that a
particular race or ethnicity is inferior or superior to others. Racial
discrimination involves any act where a person is treated unfairly or vilified
because of their race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, religion or
belief. Racism impacts directly on the full enjoyment of individual’s
human rights, and in particular the right to equality.

Racism is
experienced across a spectrum. It may occur in a passive way by excluding people
socially or by being indifferent to their views and experiences.

may take the form of prejudice and stereotyping of different groups in our
community; in name calling, taunting or insults; or in actively and directly
excluding or discriminating against people from services on opportunities on the
basis of their race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, religion or
belief; for example, in relation to employment opportunities, access to
education, or participation in sport.

It can manifest through commentary
or drawings in the media, speeches at public rallies or assemblies and abuse on
the internet – including in e-forums, blogs and on social networking

Sometimes racism can be reflected in not telling the history of
an event or the experience of a group of people in our country.

In its
most serious manifestation, racism is demonstrated in behaviours and activities
that embody hate, abuse and violence – particularly experienced by groups
who are visibly different as a result of their cultural or religious dress,
their skin colour or their physical appearance.

Just as other forms of
discrimination may relate to a number of attributes, so will the experience of
racism. Racism may compound the experience of discrimination of a woman, who is
treated less favourably on the basis of her race and her gender –
or an older person, who is discriminated against on the basis of their skin
colour and their age.

On occasions, racism can occur more
systemically, as when people with overseas skills and work experience are
overlooked for employment,[13] or
when job applicants without Anglo-Saxon names have difficulty being offered job

And it
often is linked to poverty and social and economic status, as is the experience
of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples generally.

A key
feature of racism in Australia is denialism.

Such denial may be a
genuine response that suggests a lack of understanding that an act may be
racist. However, there are also deliberate falsehoods, misinformation or
evasion. Suggestions of racism may also be dismissed as an overreaction, where
people think that telling a racist joke, for example, should be taken as just a
bit of fun. Too often, stories start with “I’m not racist,

Ultimately, racism:is a denial of human relationship. Yet for many people it remains almost
invisible, unnoticed except when violence is involved. Those who do not
experience it often fail to understand how profoundly offensive it

Racism is bad for

There is also significant research that demonstrates the damage
that racism causes to individuals and society as a whole. I don’t intend
to explore this tonight, as I want to focus on what we can do about it. But some
of the research is referenced for your further
information.[16] This research
clearly demonstrates – among other things – that racism, literally,
makes you sick.

More broadly, racism undermines social cohesion within
the community. To ensure social inclusion, individuals need the opportunity to
‘secure a job; access services; connect with family, friends, work,
personal interests and local community; deal with personal crisis; and have
their voices heard’.[17] Racism towards any individual or community undermines the achievement of each of
these goals.

Racism also impacts adversely on the development of
Australia as a multicultural society. If we conceive multiculturalism as a set
of norms or principles in which the human rights of all are respected, protected
and promoted, then the adverse impacts on groups in the community who may be
treated less favourably on the basis of their race, colour, national or ethnic
origin or religious belief is obvious.

Multiculturalism supports the
ideals of a democratic society in which every person is free and equal in
dignity and rights. Racism undermines these very foundations.

existing framework for addressing racism in Australia

In this country,
the first national anti-discrimination law to be passed addressed

Australia became a signatory to the International Convention on
the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in 1966 and then ratified it in
1975. The ICERD outlines Australia’s obligations to safeguard human
rights in the political, economic, social, cultural and other fields of public
life so that human rights are ensured to everyone without racial discrimination.

The Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), was then passed in 1975. It seeks to
promote equality before the law for all persons and implements the principle of
prohibiting discrimination against people on the basis of their race, colour, or
national or ethnic origin.

The RDA has provisions against direct and indirect discrimination. Among
Australian anti-discrimination laws it has unusually broad coverage. Most
Australian anti-discrimination laws provide a list of areas of life or
situations in which discrimination is prohibited.

The RDA takes a different approach. It makes it unlawful for a person or
organisation to act in a way that, on the basis of a person’s race,
colour, national or ethnic origin, nullifies, negates or impairs their
recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of any human
right or fundamental freedom in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.

I should note that while this approach is designed to provide a most
extensive protection it is also a drafting approach which has some complexities
and potential uncertainties of its own, including in asking domestic Australian
courts to interpret international law concepts of human rights directly.

Perhaps for this reason, the broad and general prohibition of discrimination
in section 9 of the RDA is accompanied by specific prohibitions of
discrimination in a number of areas of public life:

  • access to places and facilities;

  • land, housing and other accommodation;

  • provision of goods and services;

  • the right to join trade unions; and

  • employment.

In practice most complaints have been made by reference to these more
specific provisions. But the general prohibition of racial discrimination
affecting any human right remains both an important legal safety net and an
immensely important statement of principle, reflecting the indivisibility of all
human rights.

The RDA is also distinctive among Australian anti-discrimination and equality
laws in its general provision for equality before the law, in section 10. Unlike
most other provisions of the RDA, section 10 is enforced directly through the
courts rather than through complaints to the Commission. While the number of
cases brought under section 10 has been small, I think it’s only necessary
to name one of them – Mabo No 1 – to confirm the importance
of this provision.[18]

Without this case’s finding that it was a breach of section 10 of the
RDA for the Queensland government to seek to confirm that it had retrospectively
and permanently extinguished any remaining native title over the Torres Strait
islands, Eddie Mabo and his co-plaintiffs would have lost the right to even
bring forward the argument that there was such a thing as native title that
could be recognised under Australian law.

Importantly, the RDA was amended in 1995 to incorporate specific provisions
that relate to actions which are likely to offend, insult, humiliate or
intimidate a person or group of people. Mr Lavarch is particularly familiar with
these provisions, having been the Commonwealth Attorney-General at the time.
These provisions are important in providing additional protections against, for
example, race hate.

Supporting ICERD and the RDA in a practical sense,
Australia has had a Commissioner attached to the RDA since 1975, although the
position has sometimes been filled on a part time basis. In 2011, the position
of Race Discrimination Commissioner was again filled in a full time capacity.

The role of the Commissioner includes leading the work of the Commission
in promoting an understanding and acceptance of, and compliance with, the RDA;
developing and conducting research and educational programs and other programs
for the purpose of combating racial discrimination; promoting understanding,
tolerance and friendship among racial and ethnic groups; and supporting the
purposes and principles of the International

These three
elements – ICERD, the RDA and the role of Race Discrimination Commissioner
– provide a strong structural foundation for tackling racism in Australia
at a national level.

Current opportunities to strengthen our response
to racism

Right now, we are at an interesting juncture.

There are
three key initiatives playing out at a national level which address racism
– the consolidation of Commonwealth Anti-Discrimination Laws, the
development of a National Anti-Racism Strategy and, of course, the discussion
about whether or not we need Constitutional reform to recognise Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islanders in our Constitution.

There are few occasions in
a nation’s history where we have the opportunity to simultaneously look at
the legal foundation document of our country, specific domestic law reform and
also a nation-wide strategy – all aimed at strengthening our response to
racism. The possibility of Constitutional reform, legislative reform and
awareness raising: a powerful trifecta that we need to harness in order to
continue to promote and support the cultural diversity and social cohesion of
Australia as a country.

I hope we win the trifecta! But it will need
concerted action on the part of all Australians.

Let me look briefly at
these three opportunities in turn.

Constitutional Reform

It is
interesting how little most Australians know about our Constitution. This is in
contrast with countries like South Africa, where every person was given a copy
of the Constitution when it was adopted in 1996.

In late 2010 the Prime
Minister established an Expert Panel to look at possible Constitutional reform
to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people formally in the
constitution. The report and recommendations arising from the Expert
Panel’s extensive consultative process was handed to the Prime Minister on
19 January this year.[20] The
question of when a referendum will be held on this important issue is yet to be
determined by the Government.

The Panel has made a number of
recommendations that seek to address the embedded racism in our country’s
Constitution. This racism was not addressed at the time of the 1967 referendum
that changed our Constitution to give the federal parliament the power to make
laws in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to allow
for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be included in the census.
Nor can it been addressed through the passage of domestic laws.

The Panel’s report reminds us that two sections of the Constitution
still enable the Commonwealth Government to make laws that discriminate on the
basis of race: section 25 and the ‘race power’ in section 51 (xxvi).

Section 25 allows State laws to disqualify people of a particular race from
voting at State elections. Such a provision has no place in a modern democracy
like Australia.

Section 51 (xxvi) allows the Commonwealth Parliament to make special laws for
people of a particular race. There are examples where this has been relied upon
in order to introduce laws that negatively discriminate against Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Expert Panel has recommended that these two provisions be repealed.

The Panel has recommended that a new section 51A be inserted in the
Constitution that explicitly respects and acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander peoples and promotes the advancement of those peoples.

The Expert Panel has also recommended the insertion of a new section 116A,
prohibiting the Commonwealth, and States and Territories, from making laws that
discriminate on the basis of race, colour or ethnic or national origin, but
permitting laws or measures which aim to overcome disadvantage, ameliorate the
effects of past discrimination, or protect the cultures, languages or heritage
of any group.

A further new section 127A proposes the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander languages as the ‘original Australian languages’,
whilst acknowledging that English is the national language of Australia.

My Commission has supported these
recommendations.[21] Obviously, we
have a long way to go before we come to a referendum on these issues. But it is
incumbent on us all to think about these issues, to know what they really mean,
to raise them in our dinner party discussions, in our sporting activities, at
our work, to dispel the myths that will inevitably fly around in the media and
be promoted by people who do not understand or accept how important it is to
ensure racial equality and recognition of our First Nations

Consolidation of Commonwealth Anti-Discrimination Laws

The project to consolidate Australia’s anti-discrimination laws
into a single Act was announced by Australian Government in April 2010 as a key
component of Australia’s Human Rights

The Commission
has welcomed this project, as we consider that discrimination law can be made
easier to understand, comply with, and where necessary to enforce, through
greater simplicity and more consistency – both across grounds of
discrimination and between Commonwealth discrimination law, industrial law, and
State and Territory anti-discrimination and equal opportunity

We have also
welcomed the commitment by the Government that there should be no reduction in
the level of protection currently
provided.[24] This commitment is an
essential benchmark against which draft legislation should be measured during
its development and against which it will be measured when it becomes

It is our
view that beneficial and best practice features of legislation currently
applicable to one ground of discrimination be maintained and as far as possible
applied to all covered grounds of
discrimination.[26] Some of the key
features of the RDA have therefore been recommended as model provisions for new
draft legislation. For example, one of the strengths of the RDA – its
broad human rights based approach to the areas of public life it covers in
section 9 – has been recommended as a preferred approach for a general
human rights or equality based test, in any area of public life, in the new
draft legislation – rather than placing sole reliance on the more specific
regimes in the Sex Discrimination, Disability Discrimination and Age
Discrimination Acts.

Similarly, the Commission has recommended the
inclusion of an equivalent to RDA section 10 within a consolidated Commonwealth
equality law: a general equality before the law provision applying to all
protected attributes under Commonwealth discrimination law.

consolidation process offers an opportunity to not only embrace the stronger
features of the RDA, but also address some of its deficiencies. If we were to
ask what would improve the current legislative regime, there are two key
responses: reviewing who can act and how people or organisations can act to
enhance racial equality under the Act – and enhancing the current
compliance framework.

To take the first issue: all Commonwealth
discrimination laws include capacity for complaints by or on behalf of persons
aggrieved by discrimination, leading to investigation and dispute resolution
functions for the Commission.

The Commission views complaints as an
important part of a compliance framework directed to achieving the objectives of
the legislation, in addition to providing a means of access to

The Commission considers that the consolidation process offers
opportunities to consider measures for improved access to justice for people and
organisations seeking to assert rights, and for increased certainty for people
and organisations seeking to comply with their

set of issues about access to justice is presented by the fact that capacity to
take action at the Federal Court or Federal Magistrates Court stage is more
restricted than at the Commission stage. A complaint to the Commission can be
made by any person or organisation on behalf of a person aggrieved by
discrimination – and the Commission itself has power to launch its own
inquiries into human rights and discrimination issues.
But at the court
stage, complaints can only be made by a person or persons aggrieved – not
by representative or advocacy organisations in their own right or by the
Commission or other bodies seeking to enforce the law.

There are of
course issues to consider about how and how far a body which provides an
impartial complaint handling service could have an advocacy role, and we look
forward to further discussion of those issues.

In terms of compliance
provisions – there are a range of mechanisms provided (although not
consistently across grounds) in the RDA, SDA, DDA, ADA and AHRCA for achievement
of their objects. The present review of these Acts provides an opportunity for
consideration of possible improvements in the compliance framework for
Commonwealth discrimination law to ensure that it meets, or better meets, the
goals of efficiency and effectiveness in promoting the objectives of the

I want to emphasise that even the best anti-discrimination
law will in itself only be part of an effective and comprehensive strategy to
eliminate racial discrimination and promote equality. Parties to the ICERD
undertake a much wider range of obligations than simply enacting legislative
prohibitions against racial

I will
discuss the development of a new and comprehensive Anti-Racism Strategy for
Australia in a moment.

Before moving on from the consolidation process,
though, I want to refer very briefly to the race hate provisions in the RDA.
These were not canvassed in the Attorney General’s Department discussion
paper, and therefore the Commission has not referred to these provisions in its
submission. The Commission is looking to see what comes out of the submissions
and further steps in the process in relation to these provisions.

provisions have recently been tested of course in the Bolt
case.[29] For any of you who have
somehow missed this case – perhaps by spending the last year without
access to newspapers, the internet or any other form of communication –
Justice Bromberg provides an admirably concise summary of his findings of fact
and of law at the beginning of his statement of reasons for judgment.

Justice Bromberg found that the imputations conveyed by articles written
by Mr Bolt and published by the Herald and Weekly Times included that:

There are fair-skinned people in Australia with essentially European
ancestry but with some Aboriginal descent, of which the individuals identified
in the articles are examples, who are not genuinely Aboriginal persons but who,
motivated by career opportunities available to Aboriginal people or by political
activism, have chosen to falsely identify as

Justice Bromberg said:

I am satisfied that fair-skinned Aboriginal people (or some of them) were
reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to have been offended, insulted,
humiliated or intimidated by the imputations conveyed by the newspaper

Bromberg further found that:

I have concluded that the conduct of Mr Bolt and the Herald & Weekly
Times is not exempted by section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act from being
unlawful because:

(i) it was not done reasonably and in good faith in the making or
publishing of a fair comment, within the requirements of section 18D(c)(ii) of
the Racial Discrimination Act; or

(ii) done reasonably and in good faith in the course of any statement,
publication or discussion, made or held for a genuine purpose in the public
interest, within the requirements of section 18D(b) of the Racial Discrimination

There will no
doubt be continuing debate about these provisions. The issue of balancing the
right to equality on the basis of race and the right to freedom of expression
will often incite dramatic commentary of one sort or another. The balance is
important. At times, one is tempted to ask – how would you feel??? I can
tell you that if someone said to me – you are only pretending to be part
Hungarian so you could get the job as Race Discrimination Commissioner, I might
find that offensive!!!

The development of a National Anti-Racism

Finally, I want to talk about a key initiative that I have
direct responsibility for: the development of a National Anti-Racism Strategy.

This is very much linked to multiculturalism. The need for a strategy
had been clearly articulated by the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council to
the Government in April 2010.[33] This advice was taken up in February 2011, when the establishment of a national
partnership to develop and implement a National Anti-Racism Strategy for
Australia was announced as a key component of Australia’s new
multicultural policy, The People of

Government’s intention is that the National Anti-Racism Partnership will
draw on the existing expertise on anti-racism and multicultural matters across
three government departments – the Department of Immigration and
Citizenship, the Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of
Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs – together
with the Australian Multicultural Council and the Australian Human Rights
Commission. The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and the
Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) also
participate in the Partnership as non-government representatives.

membership of the Partnership makes clear that while the National Anti-Racism
Strategy was born in the multicultural context, we are looking at its
development through a broader focus – encapsulating both the experience of
Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and our culturally,
linguistically and religiously diverse communities.

The Partnership has
been tasked with designing, developing and implementing the Strategy, with five
key areas of effort:

• research and consultation;

• education resources;

• public awareness;

• youth

• ongoing evaluation.

It is anticipated that the
Strategy will be drafted by 30 June 2012 and implemented over three years,

The aim of the National Anti-Racism Partnership and Strategy
is to promote a clear understanding in the Australian community of what racism
is, and how it can be prevented and reduced.

We are looking at three
broad objectives – to create awareness of racism and its impact, to build
on good practice to prevent it and reduce it and to build capacity for people to
address it.

Over the coming month we will release a discussion paper, run
an online survey to try and gauge people’s reaction to what will work with
a campaign and also define an overarching concept. We want business, sport,
corporate Australia, academia, school kids, community sector organisations,
political and community leaders – all to sign up to work towards ensuring
that racism does not impact on the day to day life of Australians.

If I
return to my earlier description of racism, it amounts to a denial of human
relationship. The implication of this is that racism is a matter for all of us
– not just those who are targeted or suffer directly from it.

National Anti-Racism Strategy is about making Australia a racism free zone and
articulating what role each of us have in achieving this. So it requires all of
us to play a part – by not perpetrating racist actions ourselves, by not
passively standing by while others perpetrate such actions and by committing
ourselves to the notion that the ‘fair go’ is for everyone in our
society and not restricted according to race, national or ethnic or religious
background or some historical precedent.


are many initiatives that already exist at local, state and federal level that
work towards building a cohesive and safe community in Australia. My role as
Commonwealth Race Discrimination Commissioner provides an opportunity to focus
on some of those initiatives.

As I have said, I do think this is a unique
opportunity at the moment to get our settings as a country right –
Constitutional reform, legislative reform and a national campaign to address
racism. This complements our policy as a multicultural country, and other
initiatives in play.

But there is a challenge in this for all of us. We
share a common humanity, and we all have a role in respecting the right of all
to enjoy it equally, with dignity and with the same opportunities to thrive.

I hope tonight I have enthused you to join with me in that

Thank you.

[1]Challenging Racism
. At: (viewed 27 November 2011). The project was based on random phone interviews with
12,500 people.
[2] Kevin Dunn et
al, Challenging Racism: the anti-racism research project, 2008 Attitudes to
cultural diversity, old racisms and recognition of racism, state level
comparisons (opens in new window),
4Rs Conference (University of Technology,
Sydney) 30 Sept - 3 Oct 2008. Accessed at (viewed 2 February 2012).
[3] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, The health and welfare of
Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: An overview
, note 42. At: (viewed 23 November 2011).
[4] Yin
Paradies, Ricci Harris, Ian Anderson, The impact of racism on Indigenous
health in Australia and Aotearoa: towards a research agenda,
Research Centre for Aboriginal Health: Discussion paper series No. 4, March
2008. Accessed at: (viewed
1 February 2012).
[5] Challenging
Racism project, as above.
[6] Kevin
Dunn et al, as above.
[7] The 2010
and 2011 Scanlon Foundation surveys indicated a long‐term change in
Australian opinion, with a large measure of acceptance of groups once
stigmatised: “The level of negative feeling towards immigrants from Italy
and Greece was found to be less than 3%; it was 7% towards immigrants from
Vietnam and 13% from China.”: Markus, A, Mapping Social Cohesion 2011:
the Scanlon Foundation Survey
, Monash Institute for the Study of Global
Movements, Monash University, Victoria. Accessed at (viewed 1 February 2012), Executive Summary,
[8] Australian Human Rights
Commission (2008) A dialogue on human rights and responsibilities (2008)
Report on the Commission's Muslim Women's Project 2006.
At: (viewed 1 February 2012); Australian Human Rights Commission, Ismae –
Listen, National Consultations on eliminating prejudice against Arab and Muslim
, 2004. At: (viewed 1 February 2012).
[9] Australian Human Rights Commission, In our own words African Australians: A
review of human rights and social inclusion issues
, 2010. At: (viewed 1 February 2012). See also: Australian Human Rights Commission, African Australians: human rights and social inclusion issues project: A
compendium detailing the outcomes of the community and stakeholder consultations
and interviews and public submissions
, 2010. At: (viewed 1 February 2012); Australian Human Rights Commission, Human
rights issues affecting African Australian communities: Western Sydney and
Perth Roundtables
, 2012. At: (viewed 1 February 2012).
[10] Australian Human Rights Commission, I want Respect and Equality: A summary of
Consultations with Civil Society on Racism in Australia
, 2001. At: (viewed 1 February 2012).
[11] In
the past two years, the Australian Human Rights Commission has been developing
the Minimum Standards for International Student Safety and Well Being – in
close consultation with international students; with stakeholders including
Universities Australia, the National Union of Students, the Council of
Australian Postgraduate Associations, the Council of International Students
Australia and international student service providers; and with input from
decision makers and regulators. More information about the draft Minimum
Standards is available on the Commission’s website. At (viewed 10 February 2012).
[12] Markus, A, as above.
[13] See,
for example, Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, ‘Real Jobs:
Employment for Migrants and Refugees in Australia’, ECCV Policy
Discussion Paper No 3
, 2008.At: (viewed 1 February 2012); Val Colic-Peisker and FaridaTilbury, ‘Refugees
and Employment: the effect of visible difference on discrimination’ (Final
Report), Centre for Social and Community Research, Murdoch University, January
2007. At: (viewed 1 February 2012).
[14] Alison Booth, Andrew Leigh,
Elena Varganova, ‘Does Racial and Ethnic Discrimination Vary Across
Minority Groups? Evidence From a Field Experiment’. Research School of
Economics, Australian National University. Accessed at (viewed 1 February 2012).
[15] International Council on Human Rights Policy, The persistence and mutation of
, Policy paper, 2000, Preface. Accessed at (viewed 12 February 2012).
[16] See, for example: Vic Health, ‘Making the link between cultural
discrimination and health’, Vic Health letter, 1 June 2007.
At (viewed 23 November 2011); Dr Yin Paradies, ‘A systematic review of
empirical research on self-reported racism and health’, International
Journal of Epidemiology
, August (2006) 35(4): 888-901, p 1. At: (viewed 23 November 2011); Vic Health, Research Summary 3 Ethnic and
race-based discrimination as a determinant of mental health and
,2009. At (viewed 23 November
[17] Australian Social
Inclusion Board, ‘Principles for Social Inclusion - everyone’s
job’, 2008. Accessed at (viewed 1 February 2012).
[18]Mabo v Queensland [1986] HCA 8; (1986) 64 ALR 1; (1986) 60 ALJR 255 (27
February 1986). Accessed at (viewed 12 February 2012).
[19] Section 20 – Functions of Commission, Racial Discrimination Act
[20] Report of the Expert
Panel, Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the
, January 2012. Accessed at (viewed 15 February 2012).
[21] Australian Human Rights Commission, ‘Constitutional recognition is a
chance to shape a better future for us all’, Media release, 19 January
2012. At: (viewed 15 February 2012).
[22] Attorney-General the Hon Robert McClelland MP and Minister for Finance and
Deregulation the Hon Lindsay Tanner MP, ‘Reform of Anti-Discrimination
Legislation’, Joint Media Release, 21 April 2010. At: (viewed 10 February 2012)
[23] Australian Human Rights Commission, Submission to the Attorney-General’s
Department, Consolidation of Commonwealth Discrimination law, 6 December
2011, para 3. At: (viewed 10 February 2012).
[24] McClelland and Tanner, as
[25] Australian Human
Rights Commission, Consolidation of Commonwealth Discrimination law, as
above, para 17.
[26] As above,
Recommendation 3.
[27] As above,
para 3.
[28] See ICERD Article 2
in particular.
[29]Eatock v
[2011] FCA 1103 (28 September 2011).Accessed at (viewed 15 February 2012).
[30] As above, summary, para 16.
[31] As above, summary, para 17.
[32] As above, summary , para 26
[33] Australian Multicultural Advisory Council (AMAC), The People of
, 30 April 2010. Accessed at (viewed 15 February 2012).
[34] Australian Government, The People of Australia: Australia’s Multicultural Policy, launched
on 16 February 2011. At (viewed 1 February 2012).