It’s almost the end of the year, one that has presented some challenges for race relations. Thank you to all those who have stood up against racism and have spoken up for equality and tolerance.
The Racial Discrimination Act
We saw a second attempt to change section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act this year. Following a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry, a bill to amend the RDA was introduced in the Senate in March. The bill was defeated, though the parliament did amend the Australian Human Rights Commission Act’s provisions concerning the Commission’s complaints-handling.
Answering questions about the Racial Discrimination Act
It was welcome that the Senate voted down the proposed changes to the RDA, and that the RDA remains in its current form. As I have said in a number of media interviews and statements, we must not do anything to embolden any racial discrimination or hatred.
Speaking with News 24 about the Parliamentary Joint Committee’s report
There also remains an important task in ensuring people understand how laws such as the RDA work. Within media reports and commentary, there have been inaccurate characterisations of me having ‘urged’ or ‘encouraged’ complaints. As Commissioner, I regularly inform people about their right to lodge a complaint if they believe they have experienced racial hatred. It is wrong to suggest that giving this information amounts to soliciting complaints.
Racism. It Stops with Me
In October, we released a set of new community service announcement videos, which highlight everyday and casual acts of racism in public places. As I said in my opinion article in the Sydney Morning Herald, it is important all of us do our part in stopping racism – and this involves responding to it whenever we can. I was also interviewed on ABC Weekend Breakfast.
With Commission President Rosalind Croucher and panellists Tracy Howe, Verity Firth and Jeremy Fernandez at the CSA launch for Racism. It Stops With Me.
In November, we followed up with two additional videos, featuring conversations about sport, sledging and racism. The message: whatever our differences, together we can all stand up to racism. Do take a look at them and share them with #standup.
Screenshot of our ‘rugby’ #standup video
So far, the four videos we have released the past two months for the campaign have attracted about 1.5 million views on Facebook and YouTube — a fantastic response, and something we hope has started many new conversations about fighting racism.
Racial tolerance and community harmony
Where does hatred come from? And how must we respond? Many have been asking these questions, in light of the alarming rise of white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements internationally. Here in Australia, there are also concerning signs that racism and bigotry have been emboldened – and, as I said to the BBC, have been normalised in public debate.
In this opinion article for the Sydney Morning Herald, I make clear that we mustn’t give any ground to racist extremism. It’s not enough to be non-racist; we must also be anti-racist. This includes responding to racism not only when it emerges in dramatic and violent forms, but also when it exists in structural and institutional forms. And it includes ensuring that multicultural voices are not shut out from our public debates.
Delivering the UNESCO Chair Annual Oration at Deakin University, where I spoke about institutional dimensions of racism
We were honoured this year to have Dr Jackie Huggins, the co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, deliver this year’s Kep Enderby Memorial Lecture. The lecture has now had its third successful year. Newcastle student Kupa Matangira, of Hunter Christian College, took out this year’s Student Prize through her essay on racism, ugliness and kindness.
With Jackie Huggins, this year’s Kep Enderby Memorial Lecturer
Delighted to award Kupa Matangira this year’s Student Prize
It was also wonderful to have various community organisations, advocates and researchers participate in our forum on racial tolerance and community harmony.
Facilitating discussion at our forum
Along with my friend and colleague Kevin Cocks, the QLD Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, I visited the Hervey Bay, Sunshine Coast and Townsville communities — where we hosted forums with local residents about social inclusion and diversity.
Hearing from the Sunshine Coast community
Cultural diversity and leadership
The Leadership Council on Cultural Diversity, a group of CEOs that advocates for greater cultural diversity in leadership, met around the country throughout the year. Members spoke on panels in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane — starting and building on conversations about issues including merit, targets and organisational culture. In 2018, the Leadership Council will be hosting a summit on cultural diversity.
With some of the new Leadership Council members at our Sydney event in March
With Leadership Council members and panellists at our Melbourne event in August
In November, the Commission and the University of Sydney Business School launched a pilot leadership program on cultural diversity. The program is an executive education course designed to promote leadership on cultural diversity in business and government. The pilot recognised 27 inaugural fellows drawn from Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, Woolworths, Deloitte, EY, KPMG, Clayton Utz, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Herbert Smith Freehills, King & Wood Mallesons, Attorney-General’s Department (Commonwealth), Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Reserve Bank of Australia, NSW Police, QLD Police, NSW iCare, Thermo Fisher, and Chartered Accountants ANZ.
With the 27 inaugural cultural diversity and leadership fellows
It has been encouraging to see further coverage of the under-representation of cultural diversity in Australian institutions, and to see, among other things, leaders of the legal profession pledge to undertake more work to get more out of their cultural diversity.
With the Managing Partners of the Law firms who have signed the Cultural Diversity pledge
Multiculturalism and citizenship
Proposed changes to Australian citizenship laws, including the citizenship test, have generated significant debate. I know many, particularly those in our multicultural communities, have been concerned with the idea that immigrants from non-English speaking countries must demonstrate university-level English in order to pass the citizenship test.
Speaking at FECCA’s biennial conference in Darwin
The Commission made submissions into the proposed legislation, and also to a Senate inquiry into strengthening Australian multiculturalism. I also addressed these issues in speeches to FECCA, Diversity Arts Australia and Victorian school principals, where I have highlighted it is unfair and unreasonable to hold naturalised citizens to a standard (namely, command of English), which many Australian-born citizens would not possess.
And I’ve continued to challenge people to think about Australian multiculturalism not as merely about food and festivals — great though those things are — but about realising our country’s potential. I contributed this essay to Asia Society’s Disruptive Asia volume and have spoken in a number of interviews with ABC TV and ABC RN’s Life Matters about the meaning of multiculturalism.
Interview with ABC’s Australia Wide program
In November I attended the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s session at which Australia appeared — part of Australia’s periodic reporting to the UN treaty body on racial discrimination. In my statement to the Committee, I highlighted that while progress has been made, there remains much work to be done in eliminating racism in Australia.
Delivering my statement to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
While in Geneva I also spoke at a forum hosted by the Committee to discuss global challenges in combating racism, racial profiling and ethnic cleansing.
With civil society representatives, who were in the audience at the UN Committee’s forum
In July I was honoured to be part of the Australian Government’s delegation to Laos to participate in the 5th Australia-Lao PDR Human Rights Dialogue. The Human Rights Dialogue is a biennial meeting between the Australian and Lao governments to discuss a range of human rights issues.
Participants in the 5th Australia-Lao PDR Human Rights Dialogue
While in Vientiane, I had the opportunity to speak to students at the National University of Laos and participate in a workshop on social inclusion.
With students from the National University of Laos
Taking part in the social inclusion workshop
In case you missed it …
Here’s where you can find my speeches and articles from 2017.
Thanks for all your support and work in anti-racism over the past 12 months. I look forward to seeing you — whether in person or on-line — in 2018.
Until then, best wishes for the season,