9: Race Discrimination
9.1 Statement from the Commissioner
This report covers my third year as the Acting Race Discrimination
Commissioner at HREOC, a position I occupy alongside my role as the Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. Over these past three
years I have become concerned by an increasing ambivalence and at times
antagonism towards multiculturalism, both as a set of principles and as a
government policy framing social relations within Australia.
What is of particular concern is that the debate on multiculturalism tends to
respond to, and be framed by, either international incidents involving terrorist
attacks or, at the local level, incidents of racial tension or conflict. These
events often lead to assertions by politicians or commentators, that such
incidents result from the freedom multiculturalism gives people to practice
cultures and religions that are anathema to the core values of Australian
I have argued in a number of places that these responses fail to take account
of global trends. For instance, such responses fail to take account of the
unprecedented increase of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity within
contemporary societies. This diversity is part of the unstoppable movement of
people, commodities and ideas at the global level.
For many people these are welcome developments that have opened the space for
recognition of minority cultures in the public sphere. For others, these new
realities activate old suspicions about other cultures and ethnic groups.
As Race Discrimination Commissioner, I see multiculturalism as a sound policy
framework to promote understanding, respect and friendship among racial and
ethnic groups in Australia. Multiculturalism also provides a basis for combating
prejudices that lead to racial discrimination. Multiculturalism correlates with
HREOC’s legislative mandate to achieve equitable access and harmonious
community relations. I have pursued a number of projects over the preceding year
towards this goal and these are outlined below.
I have pursued in particular, a number of projects aimed at supporting Muslim
communities in defending themselves against religious abuse and hatred. While
this targeted work is necessary to ensure the concerns of particular communities
are addressed, it is equally important that strategies are in place to educate
the Australian community about the principles of non-discrimination enshrined in
the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA).
9.2 Research and Policy
9.2.1 The Unlocking Doors Project: Engaging
Muslim Communities and Police
The aim of the Unlocking Doors Project was to facilitate a dialogue
between Muslim communities and police in order to build on the capacity of
police to respond to incidents of racial or religious hatred and abuse. The
project was funded by the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and
Multicultural Affairs (DIMA).
The project was a response to the concerns expressed by Arab and Muslim
organisations during HREOC consultations conducted through the Ismaﻉ
project in 2003 about the rise in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice in
Australia. The Ismaﻉ Report advised that mechanisms were required to
build trust between Muslim communities and law enforcement agencies in order to
reduce the risk of further marginalisation of Arab and Muslim communities, in
particular, young people and women.
The first phase of the Unlocking Doors Project included consultations
and workshops with key stakeholders and Muslim community members involving more
than 80 meetings and 15 workshops. Following this, a forum was held in September
in Victoria and NSW . More than 200 people attended these forums, including
uniformed and non-uniformed police, Muslim community members and their
representatives, young people, Muslim women, and government representatives. A
report of the project will be on HREOC’s website later in 2007.
9.2.2 Muslim Women and Human Rights Forum
A Muslim women’s forum on human rights, entitled Living Spirit:
Muslim Women and Human Rights Project – the right to participate in
social change, was held in Victoria in September 2006.
The Forum was co-hosted by the Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of
Victoria (IWWCV) and funded by DIMA. The project was supported by: the Equal
Opportunity Commission of Victoria (EOCV); the Islamic Council of Victoria
(ICV); the Islamic Girls and Women’s Group (IGWG); the Federation of
Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA); the Ethnic
Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV); the Centre for Multicultural
Youth Issues (CMYI); the Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition
(VIRWC); and the Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE.
Prior to the forum, HREOC held meetings with more than 60 key organisations
and individuals in Victoria and NSW to determine how the project could best
address human rights issues for Muslim women.
The Living Spirit project won an award for excellence in the field of
projects/initiatives beneficial to Australian Muslims in this country, and in
particular, Victoria, presented by the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) and the
Department of Family and Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaCSIA).
The forum aimed to promote common goals of harmony and understanding between
Muslims and non-Muslim women in Australia. It was attended by more than 130
women from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds, most of whom were Muslim
women home-makers, students, service providers, community workers, religious
leaders and professionals, including lawyers. Non-Muslim participants included
church leaders, police, community workers, service providers,
anti-discrimination agencies, media, government representatives and individuals.
The one-day forum included a hypothetical session called ‘Righting the
Wrongs: How would you respond?’ which addressed the policy standards used
by decision makers to respond to incidents of discrimination and abuse. There
was also a morning tea with politicians and a 'Why Women Matter' exhibition
profiling achievements and contributions to Australia by 10 everyday Muslim
women. 'Veiled Ambition' and other DVDs were screened and 10 concurrent
workshops were held exploring human rights issues facing Muslim women. The
workshops included: Islam and human rights; the effects of anti-terrorism laws;
media issues including freedom of speech and racial vilification; complaints
mechanisms and anti-discrimination law; confronting stereotypes and
misconceptions; and participating in social change and strategies for the
Participants also wrote their ideas and thoughts about the day, human rights
and Islam onto a canvas mural which has been donated to the Islamic
Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria.
9.2.3 Meeting of state equal opportunity managers
working in the Race Discrimination Area
HREOC hosted a meeting on 2 November of state equal opportunity commissioners
or their representative and the New Zealand Race Relations Commissioner. The
purpose of the meeting was to:
- share information and experiences about race discrimination and the
strategies being adopted to combat racism across Australia and New Zealand;
- identify common issues and possible partnerships; and
- develop common strategies on race-related issues.
It was agreed to continue to hold regular meetings of State EOC managers
working in this area and to further identify common strategies.
9.3 Education and Promotion
9.3.1 New Racisms: New Anti-Racisms Conference
HREOC co-hosted a conference entitled ‘New Racisms: New
Anti-Racisms’ with the University of Sydney on 3-4 November 2006. The
University convened the conference in order to link the work being done at a
theoretical level to combat racism with that being done within the broader
community at an institutional and organisational level. The conference
facilitated information sharing on how to address the new forms of racisms
operating at the global, national and local levels.
9.3.2 Sport and Racism project
The Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) funded HREOC
to survey and compile a list of existing strategies to combat racism within
sport that have been adopted by selected national sporting organisations, codes,
government and non-government sporting agencies and human rights
institutions. The report has been provided to the Department (now known as
the Department of Immigration and Citizenship) and will be released in the
latter part of 2007.
The report also gathers available baseline data on the level of participation
by culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities and individuals
in sport as well as information on any projects which aim to increase
Indigenous and CALD participation.
9.3.3 HREOC’s new ‘Community
Partnerships’ for Human Rights Program
In response to increasing concerns expressed by Muslim organisations about
the rise in anti-Muslim prejudice, HREOC commenced a series of consultations in
2002 through a project entitled, Ismaﻉ - Listen: National
consultations on eliminating prejudice against Arab and Muslim Australians
in which more than 1 400 people participated. These consultations culminated in
a report of the same name published in 2003. This is available online at
In 2005, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) examined the emerging
issues around Australia’s social cohesion, harmony and security. This led
to the Ministerial Council on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs developing a
national action plan building on recommendations and principles agreed between
Muslim community leaders, state and territory leaders and other faith and
Building on HREOC’s substantial body of work in this area, HREOC
received funding from the Australian Government's $35 million four-year funding
package to implement the National Action Plan (NAP) to Build on Social Cohesion,
Harmony and Security
As a result, in early 2007 HREOC established a new Education and Partnerships
Section as part of the Race Discrimination Unit. The role of the new section is
to implement HREOC’s NAP activity in line with HREOC’s functions
through the ‘Community Partnerships for Human Rights Program.’
HREOC is focusing on two areas under the NAP: working with young Muslim
Australians and law enforcement .
In its work with young Muslim Australians, HREOC will develop education
strategies and resources associated with civic responsibility, discrimination,
human rights and responsibilities education aimed at young people. HREOC will
also work with law enforcement agencies across Australia to build their
engagement with Muslim communities and to help address discrimination and
vilification targeted at Muslim Australians.
HREOC will undertake a wide range of innovative projects to implement these
initiatives in order to help build community capacity and social cohesion.
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock announced in June a number of HREOC’s
projects under the NAP. A summary of these projects is given below.
- ESL Teachers’ Human Rights Curriculum Resources Project: This
project will develop a new set of education resources to be used by English as a
Second Language (ESL) teachers who teach English to non-English speakers about
human rights and discrimination of all types and how Australian laws protect
- Community Languages Australia (CLA) Human Rights Project: This
project is another education-oriented project in which HREOC is partnering
Australia’s peak national body for community language schools, the CLA.
The project will develop classroom material about discrimination, human rights,
cross-cultural respect, and where and how to make a complaint if discrimination
or vilification occurs.
- Community Police Partnership Project: This project will build
partnerships between police and Muslim communities across Australia. It will
focus on working with young Muslim Australians and law enforcement agencies to
help address discrimination and vilification.
It is anticipated that
through joint projects, local networks will be established and a stronger sense
of social participation, respect and inclusion within communities will be
- Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 21st entury project:
This project will see HREOC partner with a range of organisations including
the Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations (APRO, the community
sector and tertiary institutions, to renew the 1998 HREOC Report on Freedom of
Religion and Belief.
HREOC also intends to use the ‘Community Partnerships for Human
Rights’ initiative to refocus on the critical issues relating to
religious harmony. The human rights impacts of religious belief, cultural
practice and spirituality in a globalised world threatened by fundamentalism,
need to be closely examined.
In recognition of this issue, the Commissioner joined the Australian
Government delegation to Waitangi in New Zealand in May to represent HREOC at
the Building Bridges Third Asia-Pacific Regional Inter-faith Dialogue.
HREOC is also supporting the Australian Partnerships of Religious Organisations
to conduct national dialogue on inter-faith issues, and one of its future
research projects will focus on this area.
The Race Discrimination Unit contributes to legislative development by making
written and oral submission to Parliamentary and other inquiries. A list of
these submissions can be found in Chapter 3 of this report, Monitoring Human
9.5 Commissioner’s Speeches
A selection of public addresses made by the acting Race Discrimination
Commissioner and his senior staff during 2006–07 is listed below. Speeches
can also be accessed on the HREOC website at:
Australian Partnership of Religious Organisation (APRO) National
Inter-Faith Forum, presented by Conrad Gershevitch, Director of
HREOC’s Education and Partnerships Section, Race Discrimination Unit, on
behalf of the Race Discrimination Commissioner, Sydney, 18 June, 2007.
Eliminating Racism: Valuing Diversity Conference, presented by
Margaret Donaldson, Director of HREOC’s Race Discrimination Unit, on
behalf of the Race Discrimination Commissioner, Melbourne, 21 March, 2007.
International Day of the Imprisoned Writer, Adelaide, 15 November,
Refugee Week, Adelaide, 18 October, 2006.
Cultural Competency Conference, Sydney, 8 September, 2006.
Local Government New Zealand Conference, Wellington, New Zealand, 18