and welcome to my monthly update.
The office and title of Race Discrimination Commissioner
There has been some commentary about the office of Race Discrimination Commissioner. Some have even suggested that the role is not necessary because racism is so rare and isolated. It’s easy to say that if you don’t experience racism yourself — but there are no alternative facts for racism’s existence.
It is only right and fitting that the statutory officer under the Racial Discrimination Act is called the Race Discrimination Commissioner. The legislation is concerned with racial discrimination. So is the office. As I explain in this speech on 12 June, you can’t fight racism if you can’t even name it.
As for suggestions the role of Race Discrimination Commissioner is somehow ‘divisive’, let’s be clear about how the real division comes from racism.
The Racial Discrimination Act
The talk about the title of Race Discrimination Commissioner may just be the prelude to another attempt to weaken the Racial Discrimination Act. This is because the only way you can change the title or function of the office is to amend the Act, which sets those terms.
Those who may want to change the Racial Discrimination Act should know that the mainstream of our society backs our legal protections against racism.
The 4th Kep Enderby Memorial Lecture
The Racial Discrimination Act was placed in some focus by Marcia Langton, who delivered the 4th Kep Enderby Memorial Lecture on 12 June in Sydney. It was a powerful lecture from Professor Langton, who explained the significance of the legislation in underpinning the development of native title and in civilising Australian society on matters of race.
We had a full house at the State Library of NSW, and I was pleased to see so many come out in support of the lecture — which I hope will continue next year. At the lecture, I was also delighted to award my annual Commissioner’s Student Prize to Emma Tam, a year 11 student from Pembroke School in Adelaide.
The National Forum on Racial Tolerance and Community Harmony
On 12 June, we also held our annual forum on racial tolerance and community harmony. Community representatives, anti-racism advocates and researchers, and policymakers discussed a range of issues including identity politics and media debates, the challenges in changing attitudes and behaviour, and the role of civil society advocates in anti-racism.
In my opening remarks to the National Forum, I reflected on the state of our race relations and on some of the major achievements of the past five years: none greater than standing with communities and people of goodwill in defence of the Racial Discrimination Act.
National Anti-Racism Strategy: Youth, Institutional Racism and Racism. It Stops with Me
It has been a big month or so on anti-racism.
In Melbourne, from 4-6 June, we ran the National Youth Anti-Racism Initiative, a leadership workshop for 20 youth anti-racism advocates from across the country — and one of our major projects this year for the National Anti-Racism Strategy.
The two-and-a-half days included workshops on building advocacy and leadership skills, and also visits to the Victorian Parliament and the AFL. Thanks to the Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network for partnering with us to help nurture the next generation of anti-racism leaders, and also to EY, Deakin University, SBS, and Victorian Multicultural Affairs Minister Robin Scott for their support.
In Canberra, on 14 June, we held a one-day forum and workshop on institutional racism — a second major project of the National Anti-Racism Strategy.
The 100 attendees were leaders from more than 60 organisations, drawn from Commonwealth, State and Territory government departments and agencies, and professional bodies. The event was conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission in partnership with The University of Sydney’s National Centre for Cultural Competence (NCCC).
There was enormous energy at the day, which focused on strengthening leadership on institutional racism in law and justice, health, education and human services.
Racism. It Stops with Me
We were also delighted to return to the University of Sydney to relaunch the university’s commitment to Racism. It Stops with Me.
Diversity and leadership
The Leadership Council on Cultural Diversity (which I chair) hosted its inaugural Cultural Diversity and Leadership Forum on 7 June. The forum brought together more than 80 leaders from business, government, media and higher education. This included leaders from the Council’s member organisations, including PwC, EY, Commonwealth Bank, ABC, The University of Queensland, Springfield City Group, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Speakers included Council members Raynuha Sinnathamby (Managing Director, Springfield City Group) and Tony Johnson (CEO, EY Oceania). The forum also featured a panel discussion with Violet Roumeliotis (CEO, Settlement Services International), Lisa Chung (Chair, Urbis; non-executive director) and Angus Armour (CEO, Australian Institute of Company Directors). It was a very productive day of discussions about data and targets, recruitment, and mentoring and professional development.
I was also pleased to speak at B&T’s Changing the Ratio diversity and inclusion conference for media and communications executives in Sydney, at St Andrew’s College at the University of Sydney, and to deliver the inaugural Asian-Australian Foundation Oration in Melbourne.
In my appearance on ABC TV’s The Drum, the panel and I also reflected on some of the findings about millennials’ attitudes to issues including diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Advocates in profile
As I enter the final two months of my term as Commissioner, I want to say thank you to all those who have spoken out against racism and to advance equality and multiculturalism. One way I’m doing that is by profiling some of the anti-racism and multiculturalism advocates I’ve had the privilege of working with and coming across.
In the next few days, we’ll be posting some profiles on our Racism. It Stops with Me page online. You can also expect an email from me to highlight the profiles.
Until next month,