Date: 
Friday 24 August 2012

Launch of the National Anti Racism Strategy - Opening Comments

Dr Helen Szoke
Race Discrimination Commissioner
Australian Human Rights Commission

Friday 24th August 2012, Melbourne


I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, the People of the Kulin Nation and to pay my respects to elders past and present.

I would also like to thank the Attorney General, the Hon Nicola Roxon, who will be arriving a bit later, and the Minister for Multicultural Affairs, the Hon Kate Lundy, for being part of this important event.

Australians have always had a talent for calling things as they see them. From our pragmatic and sometimes irreverent approach to politics, to our no-nonsense demands for a fair go, Australians are usually prepared to speak up - clearly and plainly - about the things that matter.

We know, for example, that to end violence, we must name and expose it. To stop bullying or sexual harassment, we must talk openly about where and how they occur. It takes confidence, guts and maturity, but we do it. We concede that these things exist without feeling this does us collective disservice. In fact, we take pride in our readiness to assume responsibility.

Why, then, do Australians have such trouble talking about racism? Why do we shirk from it as an automatic smear, or assume that it relates only to the most extreme views and therefore not to us? Why do many consider the infamous ‘I’m not racist, but...’ sufficient disclaimer from a tag which has, itself, been repackaged as offensive?

Perhaps it stems from a shared unease about historical truths; or from a misconception of difference as inherently dangerous – a belief that, if people just behaved the same way, then there wouldn’t be any problem. Whatever the reason, the development of this Strategy confirmed both the difficulty some have in identifying racism; and the fact that, far from just sticks and stones, racism can take a real and lasting toll on individual lives and communities.

Well, we’re here to acknowledge a simple reality. We’re here to say that - whether displayed online or on the street; whether through the cultural glass ceiling, or the systemic disadvantage experienced by our First Peoples - racism exists in Australia.

To say so is not to condemn Australia as a racist country. To say so is not being precious or ‘politically correct’ – a neat, if unimaginative, label used by many to sidestep critique. Nor is it a way of curtailing freedom of speech – a phenomenon often curiously mortgaged by those with an existing platform for expression.

Far from an affront to national pride, our readiness to acknowledge and address racism - just like any other injustice – shows that we’re setting our sights on greater possibility. It recognises that discrimination costs us financially and culturally; that, when parts of our community are locked out, we all lose.

The spectrum of people here demonstrates that we are ready to talk about racism - and do so in a way that builds a better future. From Nina Quinn and Ambika Wakhlu, emerging leaders from Methodist Ladies College, to the energetic Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle, who will also join us at around 11; from the Federal Opposition, through Senator Helen Kroger; to the Greens, through Senator Di Natale – there are Australians here from all walks of life that are ready to work together for a better nation.

Tyrone Bean is here from the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence and Melinda Cilento is here from Reconciliation Australia. There is sporting leadership here, from James Sutherland of Cricket Australia (who has taken time out from watching Howzat!), through to Ben Buckley of the Football Federation of Australia, Lisa Alexander who is coach of the Diamonds, Shane Mattiske from the NRL and Jason Mifsud from the AFL Mark Anderson from Hockey Australia, and Michael Martin from Surf Life Saving Australia. Thank you to the many players and club officials who have taken time out of their busy schedules to be here today. Your leadership is very important and appreciated.

The Police Commissioner, Ken Lahey, also offers us his support.

Business, too, is represented and I welcome people such as Peter Nolan from the Australian Industry Group, Kimberley Poynton from Corrs, Westgarth Chambers, Colin Radford from Delloites and Julie Bisinella from the ANZ, who just signed up as a supporters of the Anti Racism Campaign Racism. It Stops with Me. Yesterday I had coffee with the CEO of Elders, Malcolm Jackman, who could not be here at the launch but sends his best wishes and is pleased that Elders is also signed up to support the campaign. Welcome to Ms Ged Kearney from the ACTU, representing the interests of 2 million Australian workers.

As a Victorian I am proud of this state’s multicultural record - a tradition progressed through the passionate support of the Victorian Minister for Multicultural Affairs, the Hon Nick Kotsiras and the work of Chin Tan from the Multicultural Commission; as well as the important work done by State Equal Opportunity Commissions and I particularly want to acknowledge the Acting Victorian Commissioner Karen Toohey; Chair of the Commission, Mr John Searle and the President of the New South Wales Commission Mr Stepan Kerkysharin

Of course, there are many others here today representing the hard work of community organisations such as the Red Cross, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples , the Brotherhood of St Laurence and and , the arts sector, government officials, as well as People of Australia ambassadors. Clearly, the People of Australia policy has gained real momentum and, as part of it, the National Anti Racism Strategy is an initiative that should not be underestimated, and one which I have felt privileged to lead.

The Strategy builds on the longstanding efforts of many; as well as on work around cultural diversity, cultural sensitivity and economic and social development that recognises difference as a quality we all share, enriching and equipping us to function in a globalised world.

With a number of components and running over three years, this Strategy looks to all of us to make it happen – from sportsgrounds and schools, to boardrooms; from community organisations to the arts, which so often holds a mirror to a nation. It will take robust, unambiguous leadership - at a community, business and political level. It will take collaboration... and an eye on the prize of a more cohesive, resilient Australia.

Racism is a curb on our potential, and on our full humanity. It holds us back; it slows us down, and stops us bringing our best to the table. Let’s not shirk from this one, then. Let’s use our talents not only to call racism when we see it, but to envisage a nation beyond it – one confident enough to own its challenges; one capable enough to meet them, one fortunate enough to share in the results.

One mechanism that is part of this strategy is the launch today, also, of the National Anti-Racism Campaign – Racism. It Stops with Me.

I hope you enjoy the opportunity to come together today – to enjoy the wonderful entertainment on offer, from the humour of Nazeem Hussein, our MC, through to the array of artistic talent brought to us with the assistance of Multicultural Arts Victoria. I hope you take time to see the impressive array of organisations that have already signed up to the Anti-Racism Campaign – Racism It Stop with Me. Finally, I hope you will stay with us on this journey over the next three years.

Thank you to all of the Commission staff and my Partnership colleagues who have brought this celebration together, and to my fellow Commission Members, Gillian Triggs and Mick Gooda.

Thank you.

Address

Australia