and welcome to my monthly update — the final update, given my term as Commissioner concludes on 19 August.
In my last public speech at the Whitlam Institute at Western Sydney University (6 August), I reflected on the past five years in race relations. It has been a turbulent period, with contests over the Racial Discrimination Act — but the community support for racial equality and multiculturalism remains strong.
As I warned in the speech, we are now unfortunately seeing a triple threat to our race relations: the return of race politics, the fueling of racism by some sections of the media, and sustained attempts to weaken our institutional stance against racial discrimination. Last night’s speech by Fraser Anning in the Senate, praising the White Australia policy and calling for a ‘final solution’ to Muslim immigration, just underlines the dangers.
The speech (which you can watch here) was reported on by The Guardian, The Conversation, The New York Times, The Monthly, the ABC, CNN and the Financial Times. I also elaborated on some of the speech’s themes in my final interview, with the Saturday Paper.
Thanks to the Whitlam Institute for hosting the speech, and to Mark Dreyfus QC MP and Prof John Hewson AM for joining me as part of a panel discussion on the night. And thanks to all those who joined us — it was a packed venue with many friends and supporters.
I have been honoured to join celebrations hosted by the Chinese Australian Forum and Arab Council Australia this past month. They have brought together many different communities and organisations I’ve had the pleasure of working with these past five years.
During the past month, I’ve been humbled by the many notes and expressions of support from different sections of the Australian community.
A special thanks to UTS, which this week gave me its inaugural Champion for Human Rights Award. It’s an honour to accept it from a university that has been a good friend of human rights and anti-racism, including our Racism. It Stops with Me campaign.
Cultural diversity, multiculturalism and leadership
Last month, the University of Sydney, in partnership with the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Australian Human Rights Commission, released the report ‘Beyond the Pale: Cultural Diversity on ASX 100 Boards’.
I contributed an essay to the latest issue of the Griffith Review journal. As I argue, the past five years have presented some debates about race and representation, which should prompt us to reflect on what we mean by ‘mainstream Australia’.
I joined leading international political scientist Professor Pippa Norris at a Sydney Ideas event to reflect on the populist backlash taking place across Western liberal democracies.
And I was delighted to welcome to the Commission Reverend Jim Houston, who served as Assistant Commissioner to Al Grassby in the early days of the Racial Discrimination Act (1975-81). It was wonderful to hear Jim’s reflections on the workings of the RDA, on the occasion of the publication of his memoir, A Multicultural Odyssey.
Yesterday, we released a review and evaluation of the past three years of the National Anti-Racism Strategy. It has been a successful period for the campaign, with a projects on early childhood, institutional racism and youth anti-racism advocacy.
Not to mention our Racism. It Stops with Me campaign, which last year saw our campaign videos receive more than 1.6 million views on social media. Thanks as well to the 370+ organisational supporters of the campaign.
Finally, a word of thanks to all that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with. There are some powerful anti-racism and multicultural advocates out there, and you’ve inspired me to keep pushing. Particular thanks to all those who spoke up in defence of the Racial Discrimination Act when it has been under attack.
I want to pay tribute to my talented and energetic staff at the Australian Human Rights Commission during the five years — they have been the elite special forces team of Australian anti-racism.
As I reflected last month, there have been some proud achievements: the successful defence of the Racial Discrimination Act, the National Anti-Racism Strategy, the work on cultural diversity and leadership. In each of those areas, I’ve tried always to give voice to people’s experiences, to empower communities, and always to speak without fear or favour.
It has been a privilege and honour to serve in this office. Thank you, and goodbye. Soutphommasane out.