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Annual Report 2008-2009: Chapter 9

Annual Report 2008 - 2009

Chapter 9:
Race Discrimination

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Mr Tom Calma, Race Discriminaton Commissioner

9.1 Statement
from the Commissioner

This report covers my final year as the Race Discrimination Commissioner, a
position I have occupied for five years alongside my position as the Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.

Something that is often asked of me in these roles, particularly following incidents involving racial tension or attacks, such as the Cronulla riot or the attacks on Indian students, is ‘Is Australia a racist country?’ I find this an interesting question to ask in such situations, more because of what it tells me about those posing the question, than the response it elicits. What it appears to be asking for is some reassurance that, despite the reports, despite how it looks on the news, the fundamental values of tolerance and a fair go are still operating and are still matters over which we can feel national pride.

What I say to this question is ‘yes’, these values are still part of our social framework and are still matters over which we can feel some pride. But I also say that we cannot go on indefinitely relying on our recent history as a tolerant multicultural society to support our present self image as a tolerant country.

We have to renew our national commitment to racial equality and respect for diversity. We have to take an active approach to maintaining these values as fundamental to our relations with each other.

Racism, like any anti-social practice, needs to be challenged to prevent it becoming an accepted norm. The real question we need to ask is not whether Australia is a racist country, but whether Australia is doing enough to stop racism becoming more prevalent.

In my view, the answer to that question is ‘No’.

We have no national action plan to combat racism, no multicultural policy since 2006 and little political commitment to the ideals of multiculturalism and racial equality before that. These ideals now need to be reaffirmed and reinvigorated so that they can meet the new challenges that a culturally diverse society continues to present.What we need is a multilayered approach. In the short-term, we need to ensure the safety and security of those who are vulnerable to racially motivated hatred and attack. In order to secure their safety, we need to strengthen legal protections against serious racial vilification by making it an offence punishable by
law which, despite our international obligations, it currently is not. This issue was discussed at a forum hosted by the Commission in November 2008 entitled, Words that wound: freedom of speech and race hate speech in Australia. Participants in the forum also discussed the new manifestation of hate speech taking place on the internet.

The longer-term solution is to work at the community and policy level to promote respect and tolerance. For example, the Commission’s participation in the Sport, Race and Diversity Conference, affirmed the potential of sport as a vehicle for anti-racism activities and promotion. We also need to look at how the media represents the diversity of the Australian community and seek to promote standards that prevent the demonisation of particular groups. The Commission’s publication of Face the facts in 2008 provides extensive factual information that can assist in this regard.As part of a longer term strategy we also need to develop a policy framework to ensure that services such as education, aged care, housing and policing are delivered consistently with

respect and
tolerance. Reinvigorating our multicultural policy would provide benchmarks by which to evaluate these essential services against the human rights standards of equality and cultural diversity. Hand in hand with this policy development, we need further investment in social research which produces clear direction on where racism is occurring and how it can best be addressed. To this end the Commission is participating in the research being coordinated by the University of Western Sydney, entitled Constructing Regionally Appropriate Responses to Racism.

It is also timely to take a fresh look at the Racial Discrimination Act to ensure it remains relevant to contemporary Australian society. As the first federal anti-discrimination law in Australia, the Racial Discrimination Act declared unambiguously to the Australian people that racism and discrimination were no longer acceptable in our society. Over time, the Racial Discrimination Act has slipped behind similar racial equality legislation in other Western countries in its capacity to protect our citizens from racial discrimination and equality.

In the five years that I have been Race Discrimination Commissioner, little was done to maintain the infrastructure of tolerance and respect inherited from our previous national multicultural policies. Unless a concerted effort is made towards renewing this infrastructure, I’m afraid the next Race Discrimination Commissioner may not be able to give a positive response to the question of whether our fundamental values of tolerance and a fair go are still matters over which we can feel national pride.

Ms Hanifa Deen and Commission President, Catherine Branson QC

Author, Ms Hanifa Deen and Commission President, Catherine Branson QC were
two of the three featured speakers at the Words that wound: freedom of speech
and race hate speech in Australia seminar on 18 November 2008.

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9.2 Research and policy

9.2.1 Constructing Regionally Appropriate Responses to Racism Project

The Commission, along with the South Australian Equal Opportunity Commission and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, are official partners in the Constructing Regionally Appropriate Responses to Racism Project.

The project, which commenced in 2006 and is being conducted over four years, is coordinated by the University of Western Sydney. The research focuses on attitudes about race and peoples experiences of racism. Data has been collected through staggered national telephone surveys.

The purpose of this project is to:

  • map racist attitudes and experiences of racism across Australia▪ develop typologies of racism across Australia
  • develop context sensitive anti-racism strategies to respond to
    local variations of racism and intolerance.

Project data, racism typologies and anti-racism strategies will be available shortly on the University of Western Sydney website.

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9.3 Education and promotion

9.3.1 Face
the facts 2008

In 2008, the Commission launched the 2008 edition of Face the facts, a publication which provides answers to frequently asked questions regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. The Commission also produced a teaching resource based on Face the facts, which is linked to curriculum requirements. Face the facts is an evidence-based publication that contains current statistical and policy data from a number of sources, including the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It is one of the Commission’s most requested resources and is used widely by teachers, students, non-government organisations and state and federal government departments. Face the facts is available online at:

9.3.2 Australia and New
Zealand Annual Race Relations Roundtable

The annual Australia and New Zealand Race Relations Roundtable meeting was
held at the University of Auckland, New Zealand on 27 August 2008. The meeting
was co-chaired by the Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner and the New
Zealand Race Relations Commissioner. Attendees included Commissioners and staff
from Australian state and territory equal opportunity commissions.

The Roundtable meeting was held concurrently with the New Zealand Diversity
Action Program and the UNESCO Roundtable on Religious Diversity.

A number of agenda items were discussed at the meeting, including
developments in the Northern Territory Intervention, the Close the Gap Campaign,
climate change, media and racism, international students and discrimination as
well as the New Zealand Diversity Action Program model.

Two guest speakers delivered presentations to roundtable members. Dr Henare
Manuka, Associated Dean, School of Maori and Pacific Development, University of
Auckland, forecast a picture of success for Indigenous peoples from 2008 to
2028. Ms Nareen Young, Chief Executive Officer, Diversity Council Australia,
presented research that focused on strategies for improving the employment
retention rates of Indigenous peoples.

9.3.3 Sport, Race and
Ethnicity Conference

The Sport, Race and Ethnicity Conference: Building a Global Understanding,
was held from 30 November to 2 December 2008 in Sydney. The conference was
co-hosted by the Commission, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and
the University of Technology, Sydney. It was attended by local and international
academics, athletes, diversity practitioners, sports administrators and
policymakers. Conference themes included:

  • anti-racism initiatives in sport
  • sport and social inclusion
  • sport, race and identity
  • sport, race and youth engagement
  • race and gender in organised sport.

As part of the conference
program, the Commission held a session that focused on persistent and emerging
issues regarding sport and racism in Australia.

9.3.4 Universal
Declaration of Human Rights

On 18 November 2008, as part of its promotion of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Commission
hosted a public seminar entitled Words that wound: freedom of speech and race
hate speech in Australia.

Participants in the forum focused on the relationship between the right to
freedom of expression and the right to non-discrimination on the basis of race
and religion, both at international law and within the Racial Discrimination
Act. Participants also discussed the new ways in which extreme forms of race
hate were being expressed, particularly through the language of care, including
care for the environment and care for national values. The forum attracted a
diverse audience including community members, legal practitioners, media workers
and government officers.

2008 Face the Facts cover

An updated 2008 edition of Face the facts was produced in late

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9.4 International

9.4.1 Durban Review

The Durban Review Conference took place from 20 to 24 April 2009 in Geneva,
Switzerland. The Commission was one of 39 National Human Rights Institutions
that attended the conference.

The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) and Outcome Document,
adopted at the Conference, provided a comprehensive framework for states, NHRIs
and civil society to work together to combat racism. For more information, see:

The Commission participated in a number of events at the conference

  • panel discussion and presentation on the role of National Human
    Institutions in implementing the Durban Declaration and DDPA
  • panel discussion on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
    and its contribution to the realisation of the DDPA
  • panel discussion on policing in diverse societies.

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9.5 Community
Partnerships for Human Rights Program

In 2005, COAG examined the emerging issues around Australia’s social
cohesion, harmony and security. This led the Ministerial Council on Immigration
and Multicultural Affairs to develop a national action plan, which builds on
recommendations and principles agreed between state and territory based Muslim
communities and other faith and community leaders.

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

As a result, in early 2007, the Commission established a new Education and
Partnerships Section as part of the Race Discrimination Unit. The role of the
section is to implement the Commission’s National Action Plan activity in
line with its functions through the Community Partnerships for Human Rights

9.5.1 Program

The Commission, while broadly interpreting the National Action Plan 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, the Commission is developing
education strategies and resources associated with civic responsibility,
discrimination and human rights and responsibilities. It is exploring arts and
culture as a means of positive engagement, and conducting research relevant to
issues relating to Muslim youth. The Commission is working with law enforcement
agencies across Australia to build their engagement with Muslim communities and
to help address discrimination and vilification that is targeted at Muslim

The Commission 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 active in a total of ten
areas, some of which have multiple sub-projects. It includes evaluation
processes and a community engagement strategy.

A summary of the Commission’s current Community Partnerships for Human
Rights Program projects are given below. Up-to-date information about the
projects can be read at:

  • Adult English as a Second Language, Human Rights Curriculum Resources for
    New Arrivals:
    In partnership with Adult Multicultural Services Victoria,
    this project developed a new set of education resources for use by English as a
    Second Language 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. The resource,
    It’s your right!, was launched at the inaugural Settlement Council of
    Australia Conference in Canberra by the Attorney-General, the Hon Robert
    McClelland, on 28 May 2009. More information about this project, as well as a
    copy of the teaching resources, can be downloaded from the Commission’s
    website at:
  • African Australians: their human rights and social inclusion: This
    project is the first national assessment, from a human rights perspective, of
    the experiences and issues faced by African communities. The project is about
    hearing the many voices of African communities and other stakeholders through
    national consultation processes. The final report will reflect these voices as
    well as research, findings and recommendations. The project is co-funded by
    several partner agencies: Australian Red Cross, the Department of Families,
    Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Adult Multicultural
    Education Service (Vic) and the Diversity Health Institute.

2009 African Australians cover

The African Australians project is the first national assessment, from a
human rights perspective, of the experiences and issues faced by African
communities in Australia.

  • Human Rights E-Network: In partnership with the Institute for
    Cultural Diversity, this project establishes an electronic forum and clearing
    house to communicate across the community, government, service provision,
    non-government/advocacy, academic and other relevant sectors with an interest in
    racism, cultural and religious diversity and the promotion of human rights.
    There will be a specific focus on issues relevant to the Muslim community.
  • Community Language Schools Human Rights Curriculum Resource and Campaign
    This is another education-oriented project in which the Commission
    is partnering with Australia’s peak national body for community language
    schools, Community Languages Australia. The project is developing a
    learning–a-language-other-than-English resource about discrimination,
    human rights and cross-cultural respect. Over this year the project has
    established a Project Advisory Group, which has advised and supported the
    content development. The resource is called Being ME: Knowing You. Trialling of
    the story board and content with different stakeholders and audiences is
  • 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. Details of the projects can be
    found on the Commission’s website at:
  • A Community Arts and Culture Initiative with Muslim Australians: Under this initiative, arts and community cultural development are being
    explored as a safe and constructive environment for self-expression and
    inclusion. Delivered over three years as a national partnership with the
    Australia Council for the Arts, the Commission is working with various
    organisations across Australia in different settings. The following projects are
    currently supported under this initiative:

    • The Young Muslim Women’s Short Animation Film Project: The
      Commission has partnered with the Bankstown Area Multicultural Network for this
      project. This project has brought together ethnically-diverse young women to
      develop creative expression and skills in digital animation and produce a short
      film, Huriyya and Her Sisters, which is to be launched in July 2009 at the Arab
      Film Festival Australia.
    • Arab Film Festival Australia: The Commission has partnered with the
      Information and Cultural Exchange for this project. The project includes the
      annual festival held in Sydney, as well as forums, workshops, and a national
      touring festival. Films in the festival reflect the diversity of identities and
      experiences within the Arab world and communities within the diaspora.
    • The Islamic Spectrum in Australia project: The Commission has
      partnered with Nexus Multicultural Arts Centre for this project. It is a program
      of events that will explore the many faces of Islamic culture in Australia: art,
      architecture, food, religion, history and music.
    • The Frontline Project: The Commission has partnered with Darwin
      Community Arts for this project. It will involve Muslim/African/African Muslim
      and Indigenous youth participation in locative media


Held in Sydney in July, the Arab Film Festival is one of the Community Arts
and Culture Initiatives with Muslim Australians, supported by the Commission in
partnership with the Australia Council for the Arts.

  • Evaluation Project: Evaluation plays a central role in the program.
    The evaluation project uses a program-logic approach and works across the eight
    initiatives. The evaluation will provide information that internal and external
    stakeholders will be able to use to make decisions about program design and
    delivery, accountability, strategic direction, policy and future funding. The
    Commission’s partnership and participatory approach has meant
    collaboratively creating the evaluation plans for the eight initiatives with its
    partners and stakeholders. The evaluation encompasses processes, impacts and
    outcomes across the main evaluation domains, which are implementation, scope,
    usage, reach, awareness, perceived value and quality achievement of objectives,
    changes in attitudes, confidence, skills, knowledge and behaviour.
  • Intersections between the Law, Religion and Human Rights: a
    roundtable between judicial officers, academics, religious and community
    leaders. This project brings together members of the judiciary, key legal
    representatives, academics and religious and community leaders to examine
    religious and cultural accommodation in the Australian justice system through a
    series of roundtable meetings. Partnerships and collaborations have also been
    established with the Research Unit for the Study of Society, Law and Religion at
    Adelaide University; the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration; the
    Department of Justice, Victoria; and the Victorian Multicultural Commission. The
    principal focus of the project is on issues affecting faith communities. Issues
    so far identified for further discussion include freedom of religion,
    anti-discrimination legislation and alternative dispute


The Freedom of religion and belief in the 21st century discussion paper was
released on
17 September 2008. The Commission has partnered with the
Australian Multicultural Foundation, RMIT and Monash Universities on this

  • Freedom of religion and belief in the 21st century
    For this project, the Commission 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 revise the Commission’s 1998 report on
    freedom of religion and belief given, since that time, the complexity and
    prominence of faith-based issues that have emerged (including faith-based
    violence) in global and local affairs.

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9.5.2 Additional,
related, policy development work

The Commission is using the opportunities provided by the Community
Partnerships for Human Rights initiative to refocus on the critical issues that
relate to religious harmony. The human rights impacts of religious belief,
cultural practice and spirituality in a globalised world need to be closely
examined. The Commission is contributing to policy development and to
international reports on these issues.

For example, the Commission prepared a detailed report to the Office of the
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on General Assembly resolution
62/154 on combating the defamation of religions, submitted July 2008 (
and the Director of the Commission’s Education and Partnerships Section
attended inter-faith related seminars in Auckland, New Zealand, in August 2008;
in Brisbane in November 2008 (arranged by the Commonwealth Secretariat on
Respect and Understanding to review the Civil Paths to Peace report from
an Australia-Pacific youth perspective), and in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in May
2009, to share the Commission’s experience in promoting community harmony
in a multi-faith, multicultural society.

Similarly, the Commission is using the opportunities provided by the
Community Partnerships for Human Rights initiative to focus on the critical
relationship between societal harmony, social inclusion, human rights,
‘race’-related discrimination and culture. For example, the
Education and Partnerships Section coordinated two submissions to the
Commonwealth Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts,
supporting the ratification of two important international treaties: the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural
and the UNESCO 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the
Diversity of Cultural Expressions

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9.6 Speeches

The Race Discrimination Commissioner delivered a number of speeches during
the reporting period, a selection of which appear below. Full transcripts of the
speeches are available on the Commission website at:

Human Rights, Multiculturalism and Indigenous Rights – the
Multicultural Development Association, Reconciliation Strategy Launch, Brisbane,
30 July 2008.

Keynote speech - International Unity in Diversity Conference,
14 August 2008.

Like Oil and Water? The Intersection of Freedom of Religion and Belief
with Human Rights
- Launch of the Freedom of religion and belief in
the 21st century
discussion paper, Canberra, 17 September

Indigenous Issues in the Durban Review Conference - Castan
Centre Public Forum: ‘Can the UN Combat Racism’, Melbourne, 20
February 2009.

Research Hopes to Offer Insight into Experiences of African
- Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights
Commission’s Human
Rights Conference, Melbourne, 16 March 2009.

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