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Annual Report 2007-2008: Chapter 9 - Race Discrimination

Chapter 9
Race Discrimination

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Photo of Tom Calma
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Mr Tom Calma
Race Discrimination Commissioner



This report covers my fourth year as the Acting Race Discrimination
Commissioner at HREOC, a position I occupy in addition to my position as the
aboriginal and torres Strait islander Social Justice Commissioner. During the
period on which I report, Australia elected a new government, ending almost 12
years of a coalition government.

In the second half of 2007, up to the caretaker period before the Federal
Election, I put on the public record my discontent with the way in which the
then government was treating a number of minority groups in Australia.

It was indeed a low point, but one that was indicative of an increasingly
accepted and politically licensed practice in which the race card was played to
garner political support from segments of the community. It was such a practice
that led to Arabic speaking people being subjected to the proposal for a
different questioning regime when seeking permanent visas.

Then there was the Dr Haneef affair, which revealed a government’s
haste to capitalise on people’s fears and insecurities. Not long after
this episode, the government proposed that the intake number of African refugees
would be cut under our humanitarian program on the basis that they apparently
found it too difficult to ‘integrate’. Finally, the nadir was
reached when the government moved to suspend the Racial Discrimination Act in
order to pave the way for a raft of legislation referred to as the
‘Northern Territory Intervention’.

In Australia, we have long accepted that people should not be treated
differently on the basis of their race or ethnic origin. Our African communities
experience immeasurable hardship when official credence is given to the already
existing prejudices against them. The singling out of Muslim Australians in the
same way also provoked an outcry from those of us who see this as damaging to
our entire community. Indigenous people have also borne the brunt of
stereotyping and racist attitudes.

As we move forward with a new government, more than ever we have an
obligation to ensure that government policy provides a strong and sustainable
social framework to fight racism, xenophobia and discrimination, as well as
promote social inclusion and community relationships.

in august last year i released Multiculturalism: A Position Paper by the
Acting Race Discrimination Commissioner
, identifying the human rights
principles that provide the cornerstone for such a program. As a policy of
community harmony, multiculturalism has worked well over the past two decades,
replacing the failed policy of assimilation. It was and remains our most
successful anti-racism strategy. It needs ongoing support and reinvigoration so
that it can meet the new challenges that a culturally diverse society continues
to present.

In the coming years we must also address the new challenges of racism by
ensuring that our laws provide strong remedies to redress discrimination and
promote equality.

To assist in this process I have released the first of a number of background
papers entitled An International Comparison of Racial Discrimination
This paper compares the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 to similar legislation in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and
the European Union.

Since its enactment in 1975, thousands of individuals and organisations have
used the Racial Discrimination Act to address racism, either by making
complaints of discrimination, or by negotiating policy changes based on the
broader principles of racial equality. The legislation has also made possible
important developments in the area of Indigenous land rights, culminating in the
recognition of native title in 1993.

While these are important achievements, there is still a long way to go
before people from all backgrounds are able to participate fully in the life of
our nation. Presently, there is no capacity in the Racial Discrimination Act to
promote equality in key institutions such as government agencies or large
corporations. In this regard, Australia is trailing behind the UK and Canada
which have enshrined a duty to promote equality in government agencies as a
statutory requirement. In addition, the evidentiary requirements under the
Racial Discrimination Act are proving so onerous that it is difficult for
complainants to succeed in an action for unlawful discrimination.

During the year, HREOC has also made significant progress implementing its
Community Partnerships for Human Rights Program, which we are pursuing as our
National Action Plan-funded initiative. The purpose of this program is to work
with Australia’s Muslim communities to assist with their connectedness and
participation in the social, cultural, economic and political life of the
nation, and to help decrease the marginalisation and discrimination Muslim
communities, particularly young Muslims, face.

HREOC’s approach to this initiative is to be as inclusive and as broad
in our areas of action as possible. While we are working to achieve human rights
objectives for our fellow Australians of Muslim faith, I hope that our work will
benefit other groups who may be able to use the resources or research that are
developed. It is also a small contribution to building a wider Australian
society that respects human rights and says ‘no’ to discrimination
on the grounds of race or religion.

What has become clear, as our Community Partnerships for Human Rights Program
rolls out, is the urgent need for greater and more co-ordinated action by
governments in the area of improving community relations. Respect and
understanding across cultural, religious and racial divides is essential for
Australia’s long-term economic

well being and social stability. Any investment in this area will be money
and actions well spent. It is with continuing disappointment I note, instead,
that HREOC must continue its works in an environment of ever-diminishing
financial resources and staff reductions at the very time that modest budget
supplementation could offer such significant benefits to the entire nation.

These are just some of the issues that need to be reviewed in order to ensure
that the national legal and policy framework designed to fight racism in
Australia continues to be responsive to the changing makeup and attitudes of
Australian society in the coming years.

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9.2.1 Multiculturalism position paper

On 17 August 2007, HREOC launched its position paper, Multiculturalism: A
Position Paper by the Acting Race Discrimination Commissioner
. The paper was
released at a time when the government was wavering in its commitment to the
policy of multiculturalism.

The paper identifies the human rights principles that lie behind the policy
of multiculturalism, including the right to racial equality and the right of
minority groups to enjoy their culture and religion. It argues that these
principles should guide government’s social policies and programs.

At the launch of the position paper, HREOC hosted a panel discussion on
multiculturalism with the then Shadow Minister of Multicultural Affairs, Urban
Development and Consumer Affairs, Laurie Ferguson; Deputy State Director of the
DIAC, Mr Jose Alvarez, who spoke on behalf of the Assistant Minister for
Immigration and Citizenship, the Honourable Theresa Gambaro MP; Australian
Greens Senator for New South Wales, Senator Kerry Nettle; and Professor Duncan
Ivison, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, University of Sydney.
The speakers brought a range of perspectives to the debate on

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9.2.2 An International Comparison of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975:
Background Paper No.1

On 8 April 2008, the Commissioner launched a background paper comparing the
Racial Discrimination Act to similar legislation in the UK, Canada, USA and the
European Union.

Such a comparison assists in considering whether the Racial Discrimination
Act continues to be an effective tool in preventing racial discrimination and
promoting racial equality in contemporary Australian society.

The report provides a brief outline of the enactments or codes that regulate
race discrimination and vilification in the four jurisdictions. It also
identifies in detail the differences and similarities in key areas, such as:
standing to commence proceedings; the grounds on which an action for
discrimination can be taken; the burden and onus of proving discrimination;
provisions on racial vilification; and legislative mechanisms for promoting

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9.2.3 Australian Citizenship Test

In 2007-08, HREOC made a number of contributions to the public debate on
citizenship. Building on previous submissions made prior to the introduction of
the test (see HREOC Annual Report 2006-07), HREOC’s most recent
submission in May 2008 was directed to the operation of the Australian
Citizenship Test since its implementation in October 2007. The submission
expressed concern at the negative impact that the test was having on refugees
and people from non English speaking backgrounds. On 28 May 2008, HREOC attended
and contributed to the public consultation being conducted by a government
appointed review committee.

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9.2.4 Australian Research Council (ARC) Project: Developing Regionally
Appropriate Anti-Racism Strategies

HREOC, along with a number of state and territory Equal Opportunity
Commissions, is a partner in an ARC Linkage project with the University of New
South Wales, which conducts attitudinal studies to understand the types of
racist attitudes that exist in various regions of Australia. The Anti-Racism
Research Project is headed by Professor Kevin Dunn. HREOC intends utilising the
project findings to develop a best practice resource for local governments
seeking to develop anti-racism strategies.

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9.2.5 National Race Relations Roundtable 2007

A National Race Relations Roundtable meeting was held on 29-30 October 2007
at the Araluen Centre in Alice Springs. The meeting was attended by
representatives of state and territory Equal Opportunity Commissions and the New
Zealand Human Rights Commission.

The purpose of the annual National Race Relations Roundtable meeting is to
provide Commissioners with an opportunity to share strategic dialogue on race
relations matters and develop collaborative human rights leadership. Roundtable
meetings are held annually and chaired by the Race Discrimination

The October 2007 meeting focused on the status and delivery of the Northern
Territory intervention. ms olga havnen, Coordinator of the Combined aboriginal
organisation, provided an Aboriginal perspective on the intervention. Mr
Jonathan Nicholl, Head of Task Force, reported on the work of the National
Indigenous Violence and Child Abuse Intelligence Task Force. Commissioners met
with the Board Members of the Tangentyere Council and visited local town camps
during their visit to Alice Springs.

In addition, the meeting discussed issues of common concern for many of the
Commissioners attending, including racism in the media and racism in

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9.3.1 International Metropolis Conference 2007

The International Metropolis Conference took place in Melbourne on 8-11
October 2007. The Metropolis Conference is an international gathering of
community organisations, government agencies and academics to discuss research,
policy and practice on migration, diversity, economic growth and social

Representatives of the Commissioner contributed to the planning and delivery
of two workshops:

  • Efficacy in Racism Policy: A Comparative Analysis of Practice,
    which compared mechanisms for addressing racism in Australia, Canada and the
  • Communicating Hope and Fear: Media, Cultural Discourses and the
    Alien Presence,
    which explored a range of media issues in culturally diverse
    communities, during which HREOC presented on the issue of human rights and

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9.3.2 The Second International Conference on Racism in the New World

HREOC and the Gold Coast University co-hosted the Second International
Conference on Racism in the New World Order from 6-7 December 2007 on the Gold
Coast. Representatives of the Commissioner gave a plenary session presentation
about HREOC’s complaint process and presented a workshop on the future of

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9.3.3 National Conference on Racism in a Global Context – Murdoch

On 10 November 2007, HREOC co-hosted the National Conference on Racism in a
Global Context with Murdoch University WA. The conference brought together
international academics and researchers, local and national government
representatives, nGos, indigenous leaders, and groups and individuals from the
community. The conference explored the experiences and effects of racism with
particular focus on Indigenous and African communities issues. A representative
of the Commissioner presented a keynote speech entitled The Global Context
for Racism in Australia,
which outlined how the international discourse on
terrorism is fuelling and intensifying a racial divide in Australia.

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9.4.1 Australia’s Report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial

In April 2008, HREOC provided comments and additional material to the
Department of foreign affairs and trade in relation to the draft of
australia’s report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination. The Department will send its updated draft report to HREOC for
further consideration in the near future. Australia’s report must be
provided to the Committee by 30 October 2008.

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9.4.2 Gay McDougall: The Fight Against Racism and for the rights of
minorities in the 21st Century

On 8 April 2008, HREOC and Amnesty International co-hosted the Sydney Centre
for International Law and the Sydney Democracy Forum, a seminar by Dr Gay
McDougall, the UN Independent Expert on Minority Rights and Chairperson of the
Coordinating Committee of UN Human Rights Special Procedures. Dr
McDougall’s presentation was entitled The Fight Against Racism and for
the Rights of Minorities in the 21st Century

Photo of Dr gay McDougall
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Dr Gay McDougall spoke and answered
questions at an evening seminar at
HREOC in April 2008

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In 2005, the 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 state and territory based Muslim
communities and other faith and community leaders.

Building on HREOC’s substantial body of work in this area (such as IsmaÚ, Unlocking Doors and Living Spirit projects, referred to in
earlier Annual Reports), HREOC received funding from the Australian
Government’s four-year initiative to implement the National Action Plan
(NAP) to Build on Social Cohesion, Harmony and Security.

As a result, HREOC established a new Education and Partnerships Section as
part of the Race Discrimination Unit in early 2007. The role of the section is
to implement HREOC’s NAP activity in line with HREOC’s functions
through the Community Partnerships for human rights Program.

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9.5.1 Program projects

HREOC, while broadly interpreting the NAP and its role under this program,
has a particular focus on two areas. These are working with young Muslim
Australians, and addressing issues related to law enforcement and the
administration of justice.

In its work with young Muslim Australians, HREOC is developing education
strategies and resources associated with civic responsibility, discrimination,
human rights and responsibilities and education aimed at young people. It is
also exploring the arts and culture, as a means of positive engagement, and
conducting research relevant to issues relating to Muslim youth. HREOC is also
working 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 is currently working on a wide range of innovative projects to
implement these initiatives and help build community capacity and social
inclusion. The Community Partnerships for Human Rights Program, working
with and for Muslim communities, is working in a total of ten action areas, some
of which have multiple sub-projects, including comprehensive evaluation
processes and a community engagement strategy. A summary of those projects that
had commenced by the end of June 2008 are given below. Up-to-date information
about the projects can be read at

  • Adult English as a Second Language (ESL) Teachers’ Human
    Rights Curriculum Resources for New Arrivals:
    In partnership with Adult
    Multicultural Education Victoria, this project will develop a new set of
    education resources to be used by ESL teachers who teach English to non-English
    speakers. The resources are about human rights and discrimination of all types
    and how Australian laws protect people. The materials also address where and how
    a complaint can be made if discrimination or vilification occurs.
  • Community Language Schools Human Rights Curriculum Resource and
    Campaign Project:
    This project is another education-oriented project in
    which HREOC is partnering with Australia’s peak national body for
    community language schools, the Community Languages Australia. The project is
    developing classroom material about discrimination, human rights and
    cross-cultural respect.
  • Community Policing Partnership Project: To Build Social Cohesion
    and Harmony with Australian Muslim Communities:
    This program is building
    partnerships between police and Muslim communities across Australia. It focuses
    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 established. In
    April 2008, the Race Discrimination Commissioner announced the first 19
    community/police partnerships across Australia.
  • Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 21st Century Project: For this project, HREOC is partnering with the Australian Multicultural
    Foundation in association with RMIT University and Monash University to prepare
    a report. This team will also consult with a range of organisations including
    the Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations. The objective of the
    project is to renew the 1998 HREOC Report on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
  • Arts Initiative with Muslim Australians: The purpose of this
    initiative is to explore the arts and community cultural development as a safe
    and constructive environment for self-expression and inclusion. Delivered as a
    national partnership with the Australia Council for the Arts over three years,
    HREOC is working with various organisations across Australia in different
    settings and in different media.
  • African Australians: Their Human Rights and Social Inclusion: As one of the most visible and recently arrived settlement waves in
    Australia, Africans face a range of direct and indirect discrimination. This
    project is the first national assessment of the issues faced by African
    communities from a human rights perspective. The project is being co-funded by
    partner agencies and has a particular focus on vulnerable sub-groups such as
    Muslim Africans, women and youth.
  • Intersections between the Law, Religion and Human Rights: A
    Roundtable between Judicial Officers, Academics, Religious and Community
    This project brings together community representatives, members of
    the judiciary and their professional bodies to examine religious and cultural
    accommodation in the Australian justice system. It has a particular focus on
    issues faced by Muslim Australians.

HREOC is also using the opportunities provided by 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. HREOC is contributing to policy
development and to international reports on these issues.

Photo at filming for an ESL
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Filming for an ESL Education resource, for
which HREOC partnered with Adult Multicultural
Education Victoria

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The Race Discrimination Unit also contributes to legislative development,
including 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 Rights.

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A selection of public addresses made by the Race Discrimination Commissioner
during 2007-08 is listed below. Speeches can also be accessed on the HREOC
website at

Multiculturalism, a Measure of Justice, Federation of Ethnic
Communities’ Council of Australia National Congress, Hobart, 30 July

Keynote speech, delivered by Conrad Gershevitch, Director of the
Education and Partnerships Section, on behalf of the Commissioner, Shaping the
Future: Third Regional Multicultural Conference, Mount Gambier, Sa, 21 September

Addressing Racism in Australia, delivered by margaret donaldson,
Director of the Race Discrimination Unit, on behalf of the Commissioner,
International Metropolis Conference, Melbourne, 11 October 2007.

Unlocking Doors Project, International Counter-terrorism conference,
Melbourne, 16 October 2007.

Racism in a Global Context, delivered by Margaret Donaldson, Director
of the Race Discrimination Unit, on behalf of the Commissioner, National
Conference on Racism, Murdoch University, Perth, 9 November 2007.

Reflection on the 1967 Referendum and the Commissioner’s
Multiculturalism Position Paper
, Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria
annual General meeting, melbourne, 27 november 2007.

Diversity in Health Conference, delivered by Graeme Innes, Disability
Discrimination Commissioner on behalf of the Commissioner, Multi-Lingual Mental
Health Brochures and Fact Sheets launch, Sydney, 10 March 2008.

Indigenous Rights and the Debate Over a Charter of Rights in
, Human Rights Law Resource Centre Annual Human Rights Dinner,
Melbourne, 4 April 2008.

Keynote speech, Social Inclusion for New and Emerging Communities
Conference, Adelaide, 26 June 2008.

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