30 April 2014
The Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee has recommended the Federal Government not proceed with proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA).
In it submission to the Attorney-General’s draft amendment to the RDA, the Close the Gap Campaign says addressing racism is a critical component of efforts to close the unacceptable health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.
The submission details the significant evidence that links Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s experience of racism with negative impacts on health.
The Close the Gap Campaign has advised the Attorney-General that strong anti-racism measures, including protections of the type currently included in the RDA, are required to combat interpersonal and systemic racism.
The submission makes two recommendations:
- That the Australian Government does not proceed with introducing the Freedom of Speech (Repeal of S.18C) Bill 2014 (Cth) into Parliament;
- That prior to introducing an amendment to Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth), the Australian Government, utilising the existing evidence base, assess the impacts the proposed changes could have to the physical and mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and that this assessment be made publicly available.
The Close the Gap Campaign is Australia’s biggest public movement for health equality. It is a coalition of Australia’s leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous health and human rights organisations.
Key research on racism and its impact on health
A significant proportion of Australians experience racism and discrimination. In 2013, 19 per cent of Australians surveyed said they had experienced discrimination because of their skin colour or background. Around one in five Australians say they have experienced race-hate talk, such as verbal abuse, racial slurs or name-calling. Around one in ten Australians say they have experienced race-based exclusion in the workplace or at social events. More than one in 20 Australians say they have been physically attacked because of their race.
In the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2008 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 15 years and over were asked whether they felt they had experienced racism (in the 12 months prior to interview). Twenty seven per cent of respondents reported having experienced discrimination.
Consistent with the broader literature, racism and discrimination was associated with poorer health outcomes in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2008. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who had experienced discrimination were more likely than those who had not experienced discrimination to report high or very high levels of psychological distress (44 per cent compared with 26 per cent) and to be in fair or poor health (28 per cent compared with 20 per cent).
Racism is linked to or associated with poor self-assessed health status, anxiety, depression, poor mental health, psychological distress, suicide risk, diabetes, smoking, alcohol and substance misuse and emotional and behavioural difficulties. Consequently research indicates that experiences of racism are associated with both poor health outcomes and health risk behaviours.
Recent prevalence data is provided by the Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity (LEAD) Experiences of Racism project which surveyed 755 Aboriginal people from Victoria. The survey found that in the past 12 months:97 per cent had experienced at least one racist incident
- 34 per cent had experienced 12 or more racist incidents
- The average across the sample had experienced 13.7 racist incidents (in the 12 month period)
- 92 per cent had experienced racist names, jokes, teasing or comments that rely on stereotypes
- 84 per cent had been sworn at or verbally abused
- 67 per cent had been spat at or had something thrown at them
- 66 per cent had been told they do not belong in Australia or that they should “get out” or “go home”
- 55 per cent reported having property vandalised.
The LEAD Experiences of Racism survey suggests that the volume of racism being experienced can contribute to poorer mental health. In particular it found that:
- racism at any level was associated with poorer mental health
- mental health impacts were most significant for those who reported more than 11 racist incidents in a year
- people who experienced high levels of racism were much more likely to be above the threshold for high or very high psychological distress compared to people who experienced less racism
- 76 per cent felt that racism has affected the lives of friends and family to a great or moderate extent
- 62 per cent felt that racism had affected their life to a great or moderate extent
- experiences of social exclusion have a negative impact on mental health.
The LEAD Experiences of Racism survey demonstrates the cumulative effect of experiencing racism. Once someone reaches a threshold of one racist incident per month their mental health significantly declines. Sixty-five per cent of survey participants that had experienced 12 or more racist incidents reported high or very high levels of psychological distress.
The strong association between experiences of racism and negative mental health outcomes is of particular concern to the Campaign Steering Committee. It has been estimated that mental health conditions are the second leading contributor to the disease burden in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Cardiovascular disease as the leading contributor accounts for 17 per cent of the burden; mental disorders accounts for 15 per cent.
Click to see Close the Gap Campaign members
 A Markus, Mapping Social Cohesion 2013: the Scanlon Foundation Survey (2013). At http://www.arts.monash.edu.au/mapping-population/scanlon-foundation-surveys.php (viewed 4 April 2014).
 The Challenging Racism Project included research based on random phone surveys with 12,500 people conducted between 2001 and 2008. K Dunn, Challenging Racism: The Anti-Racism Research Project. At http://www.uws.edu.au/social_sciences/soss/research/challenging_racism/findings_by_region (viewed 4 April 2014).
 As above.
 As above.
 Updated national data will be available in June 2014 when the Australian Bureau of Statistics releases the data from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey which will include discrimination and social and emotional wellbeing.
 Defined in the survey as “treated unfairly in certain situations because they are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander”.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4704.0 - The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Social and Emotional Wellbeing: Discrimination (2010). At http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/lookup/4704.0Chapter450Oct+2010 (viewed 4 April 2014).
 Y Paradies, R Harris & I Anderson ‘Exploring the Health Effects of Racism for Indigenous people’ The Impact of Racism on Indigenous Health in Australia and Aotearoa: Towards a Research Agenda, Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health Discussion Paper Series: No. 4 (2008); Y Paradies, Y. (2006a). Race, Racism, Stress and Indigenous Health. PhD thesis, Department of Public Health, The University of Melbourne (2006); Y Paradies & J Cunningham ‘The DRUID study: Exploring mediating pathways between racism and depressive symptoms among Indigenous Australians’ (2012) 47 Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 165; S Zubrick, S Silburn, D Lawrence, F Mitrou, R Dalby, E Blair, J Griffin, H Milroy, J De Maio, A Cox & J Li Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey: The Social and Emotional Wellbeing of Aboriginal Children and Young People, Curtin University of Technology and Telethon Institute for Child Health Research (2005); L Jamieson,Y Paradies, W Gunthorpe, S Cairney & S Sayers, ‘Oral health and social and emotional well-being in a birth cohort of Aboriginal Australian young adults’ (2011) 11 BMC Public Health 656. At http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/11/656 (viewed 4 April 2014); N Priest, Y Paradies, W Gunthorpe, S Cairney & S Sayers, ‘Racism as a determinant of social and emotional wellbeing for Aboriginal Australian youth’ (2011) 194(10) Medical Journal of Australia 546. At https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2011/194/10/racism-determinant-social-and-emotional-wellbeing-aboriginal-australian-youth (viewed 4 April 2014).
 A Ferdinand, Y Paradies & M Kelaher, Mental Health Impacts of Racial Discrimination in Victorian Aboriginal Communities: The Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity (LEAD) Experiences of Racism Survey, The Lowitja Institute (2013). At https://www.lowitja.org.au/sites/default/files/docs/LEAD%20Report-WEB_0.pdf (viewed 4 April 2014).
 As above.
 As above.
 T Vos, B Barker, L Stanley & A Lopez, The Burden of Disease and Injury in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 2003, School of Population Health, The University Queensland (2007). At http://www.lowitja.org.au/sites/default/files/docs/Indigenous-BoD-Report.pdf (viewed 4 April 2014).