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Speech: Research hopes to offer insight into experiences of African Australians (2009)

Race Race Discrimination

Research hopes to offer insight into experiences of African Australians

Launch of the discusssion paper for the African Australians: a report on human rights and social inclusion issues project

Speech by Tom Calma
National Race Discrimination

‘Everyday People Everyday Rights’
Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s Human
Rights Conference

Melbourne Park Function Centre
Batman Ave,

Monday 16th March 2009

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on
which we stand, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation and their elders past
and present. 

Thank you, Helen, for your kind introduction. The Victorian Equal Opportunity
and Human Rights Commission should be congratulated on bringing so many people
together for this important conference.

Abeselom Nega, Steering Committee member of the African Australians project
and also immediate past chair of the Federation of African Communities Council,
thank you for co-launching with me today.

I would also like to acknowledge:

  • The Chair and members of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights
  • My fellow Commissioners:
    • Rosslyn Noonan from the New Zealand Human Rights Commission;
    • From interstate – Linda Matthews from South Australia; Susan
      Booth from Queensland; Yvonne Henderson from Western Australia and Lisa Coffey,
      acting Anti-Discrimination Commissioner for the Northern
  • Graeme Innes, my colleague from the Australian Human Rights Commission who
    is the Human Rights Commissioner and Disability Discrimination Commissioner.

Can I also extend a special thanks to others who are here
representing our partners in the African Australians project:

  • Samia Baho
  • Steve Francis from Australian Red Cross
  • Community Reference Group members
  • Maria Dimopoulos, lead consultant for the African Australians project
  • Teresa Angelico from AMES Victoria, and
  • Anne Brown from the Department of Families and Housing, Community Services
    and Indigenous Affairs.

Distinguished guests and friends, I am sure you have found this
first day of the Everyday People, Everyday Rights conference to be most

Before you leave for the day, let us revisit the theme of the everyday
of human rights.

Some of you would have heard from Kavitha Chandra-Shekeran and David Vincent
earlier today, about the Victorian Commission’s recent report
Rights of passage’.

This report examined the experience of Australian-Sudanese young people in
the City of Greater Dandenong, here in Melbourne.

The main purpose of ‘Rights of passage’ was to provide a
voice for African-Sudanese young people by directly quoting their everyday lived
experience, often involving racial discrimination and vilification.

For example, at a community meeting with the South Sudan Equatorians
Association in Victoria, one participant said:

I went for a job and was told, ‘(I’m) wary of employing
Sudanese as they are always late’.

At another session at the South Eastern Region Migrant Resource Centre
Homework Program, a 17-year old male said:

I can’t wait at bus stops as I get abused.

These statements are powerful. It is not easy to ignore what real voices are
saying about:

  • decreased feelings of safety and security in public and community
  • experiencing insulting, racially-based language
  • unfair treatment by police based on race
  • unmet education, health and employment needs

Similar experiences involving racial discrimination and unmet need
are echoed in other recent research about African Australians from around
Australia, including:

  • Dropped from the moon[1] which describes settlement experiences of refugee communities in
  • The Voices of Refugee Youth[2] - a survey from South Australia
  • Integration into the Australian Labour
    Market[3] -
    experiences of three
    “visibly different” groups of recently arrived refugees in Western

Other reports recently completed in
Victoria[4], the Northern
Territory[5] and
Queensland[6] look at ways to address
discrimination experienced by African Australians and how to enable better
engagement with communities.

This takes me to the reason why I am here today.

Today I am here to launch the Discussion paper for African Australians: A
report on human rights and social inclusion issues

I launch this Discussion paper on behalf of the Australian Human Rights
Commission and our project partners:

  • Australian Multicultural Education Services (AMES) in Victoria
  • Australian Red Cross
  • Diversity Health Institute, and
  • The Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community
    Services and Indigenous Affairs

We recognise that it is time, at the national level, to find out
about human rights and social inclusion issues for African Australians.

It is time to compile all the work that has been done (including those I have
just mentioned) and build a national picture about the everyday
of African Australians.

It is important to hear African Australian voices from across the
country telling us what is really happening in communities.

We aim to construct a comprehensive, national, evidence-base around human
rights and social inclusion issues for African Australians.

In order to do this, we want to hear from African Australians and other
interested people about their:

  • Experiences
  • Concerns
  • Solutions

On a related topic, some of you may know that in December the
Australian Government announced a national consultation on human rights
protections in Australia.

The Australian Human Rights Commission recently began a series of workshops
to build community capacity in this area to contribute to the Government’s
consultation process.

Just last week one of my staff members was in Queensland speaking with a
group of African leaders, as part of this process. Some of the issues that were
raised were similar to those mentioned in other community workshops. However it
was clear from the discussion that participants felt that there were particular
issues for African Australians.

They talked about feeling there is an ongoing stigma about African
Australians. They said that racism is part of their everyday life, and that
they, and other African Australians, often feel uncomfortable on public

These are not isolated incidences. When we held a series of meetings last
year with the Community Reference Group, we heard of similar experiences.

However, while it is critical to hear about what is bad, it is also important
to hear about what is good, and what are the many positive contributions made by
African Australians across the country.

While this links to the idea of the everyday experience of human
rights, those everyday experiences are not always the same for every person.

As I indicated earlier - racism, discrimination, social inclusion or
exclusion can happen. Not everyone is able to understand or appreciate a
situation or experience that is different to their own. Myths and negative
stereotypes can lead to misunderstanding and fear.

At the Australian Human Rights Commission we value the power of personal
stories. You need not be directly involved in the human rights sector to know

  • Children in Detention
  • Same Sex – Same Entitlements; and possibly most well-known:
  • the Bringing Them Home report

These reports have helped share and raise awareness of other
people’s everyday experience of human rights – often unlike
your own.

These reports have made people think. They have also helped people to
understand. In this way, they have helped foster a stronger, more inclusive
human rights culture which promotes greater respect and understanding among all

But – these reports have also led to important policy changes. The
impacts have been significant for those involved but, I believe, have advanced
Australia as a nation.

In essence, the power of the everyday experiences of human rights
cannot be underestimated. Stories need to be told. It is not easy to ignore what
real voices are saying. African Australian voices must be heard.

So, by launching this discussion paper today, I ask you to contribute in
whatever ways you can. Please consider the discussion paper and write a
submission to us and participate in national consultations. I also encourage you
to tell your networks to do the same.

We have brought a number of copies of the discussion paper with us today and
we also have some translated information available – so please take these
with you.

To close, let me repeat the four central values for today’s

  • Freedom
  • Respect
  • Equality
  • Dignity

As we say in the Australian Human Rights Commission: human rights
are for everyone, everywhere, everyday. It should be no
different for African Australians.

Thank you.

I would now like to invite Abeselom to say a few words.

[1] Flanagan J, Dropped from the
moon: The settlement experiences of refugee communities in Tasmania
Anglicare Tasmania Social Action and Research Centre, (2007).

[2] Opi B, The Voices of Refugee
Youth: A Survey of the Issues and Challenges for Young People At Risk from New
and Emerging Communities
, Migrant Resource Centre of South Australia,

[3] Colic-Peisker V and F. Tilbury, Integration into the Australian Labour Market: The Experience of Three
“Visibly Different” Groups of Recently Arrived Refugees
(2007) 45(1) International Migration pp 59-85.

[4] Berman G, Harnessing
Diversity: addressing racial and religious discrimination in employment
, A
collaborative partnership between the Victorian Multicultural Commission and the
Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission (2008).

[5] Abu-Duhou I, Engagement of
the African Community in the Northern Territory: Their Settlement, Education,
Workforce and Community Participation
, Northern Territory Government
Department of the Chief Minister (2006).

[6] New Futures: The Queensland
Government’s engagement with African refugees,
Queensland Government
Department of Communities (2008).