Speech given at the 5th Annual Kep Enderby Memorial Lecture
I would like to thank Aunty Ann Weldon for her moving welcome to country. I also wish to acknowledge that the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation never ceded the lands we are standing on tonight.
I am happy to welcome you all to the 2019 Kep Enderby Memorial Lecture. This lecture is an annual event for the Australian Human Rights Commission and provides an opportunity to reflect on Australia’s progress towards racial
Tonight’s lecture, honours the memory of Kep Enderby. Kep Enderby was, from 1970 until1975, the Member for the ACT and the Member for Canberra in the House of Representatives in the Federal Parliament. He would later serve as a judge on the NSW Supreme Court. As Attorney-General, Kep Enderby introduced the bill that would become the Racial Discrimination Act.
It was 44 years ago today, that the Racial Discrimination Act came into effect as law. The Act was Australia’s first Commonwealth human rights and anti-discrimination legislation and remains an important symbol of and mechanism to progress Australia’s commitment to overcoming racial discrimination and building a socially cohesive community.
Empowering a socially cohesive community is central to the work of countering racism. Human rights work best when individuals understand their rights and are empowered to protect themselves and each other when these rights are threatened or traversed. Indeed, we cannot protect our rights without ensuring the rights of others in our community.
When he introduced the Racial Discrimination Bill in 1975, Kep Enderby said that there was an educative role for the law – it was about making ‘people more aware of the evils … of discrimination [and] the hurtful consequences of discrimination’. In my role as Race Discrimination Commissioner I am reminded daily of this as I know are my colleagues. This is especially so for those at the front line assisting with investigating and conciliating discrimination matters or who are providing help and information to the many people who come to the Commission to share their experiences of discrimination, vilification and harassment.
And as a society we continue to work towards overcoming this challenge of the evils of discrimination. We have had some steps forward – wins in the area of marriage equality for example, and we have had some steps backwards such as in the fight to protect the rights of asylum seekers.
It remains vital that the Racial Discrimination Act continue to set the standard; that the Act continue to express our society’s rejection of racial discrimination and racial hatred in our public life. All the more so, given the resurgence of far-right elements in Australia and overseas.
The Australian Human Rights Commission is continuing the work started by Kep Enderby. To educate and empower the Australian community on their human rights and to develop a positive approach to human rights in Australia. Each of my colleagues approach this work through their individual spheres while the Commission as a whole, works to consistently advocate for and defend the rights of all Australians.
Tonight’s speaker has ever been a strong advocate of the human rights of the most vulnerable in the community.
Thomas Keneally has for a very long time been the conscience of many Australians. It is an honour to have him to speak with us tonight. So without further ado I will hand over to Thomas. Thank you.
Race Discrimination Commissioner