Date: 
Thursday 30 November 2017

The Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane appeared before the United Nations’ Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in Geneva this week, flagging his particular concerns about the rise of extreme nationalist organisations that have gained prominence.

Commissioner Soutphommasane – representing the Australian Human Rights Commission – said that the Committee reporting process is critical to Australia’s progress on race relations and fighting racial discrimination.

“Australia’s success as a multicultural society is one worthy of celebration – but it must not induce complacency. It remains of urgent importance that the Racial Discrimination Act continues to set a standard for racial equality and tolerance, that there are steps taken to strengthen Australia’s multiculturalism, and that Australian governments respond to findings of racial discrimination,” said Dr Soutphommasane.

“There are some clear indications that racial intolerance and racial discrimination are on the rise. It is especially concerning that, as in many other countries, extreme nationalist organisations have grown in prominence within public debates about race and immigration,” he said.

The CERD Committee was established to monitor states’ compliance with the Convention, and is made up of independent experts from countries around the world. Australia implements CERD primarily through the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) and the work of the Commission.

“There was strong interest from the Committee in the protections of the Racial Discrimination Act, including against racial hatred, Indigenous and migrants’ experiences of institutional and structural racism, and the state of public discourse about race,” said the Commissioner.

Dr Soutphommasane listed three 'priority areas':

- data collection, to enable a better understanding of racial disparities in health, eployment, educaiton and the criminal justice system

- the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, urging authorities to implement recommendations

- discriminatory police practices, recommending police be trained in cultural competency and anti-racism and independent review compliance to enure police are acting in line wiht the Convention and the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Committee’s summary of discussion notes that the Committee Experts welcomed the adoption of the National Anti-Racism Strategy, among other measures, but “nevertheless expressed concern that hate speech and counter-terrorism measures were fuelling racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and ethnic-based discrimination” in Australia.

The Committee considered Australia’s implementation of its racial discrimination obligations and highlighted issues such as constitutional referendum and the recognition of the rights of Indigenous Australians, the incarceration rate of Indigenous peoples, and citizenship laws. 

The Country Rapporteur for Australia, Professor Verene Albertha Shepherd, noted that “peace required justice, equality, equity and the reversal of the wrongs of history”, and that the Australian Government “needed to target the minority that did not want to embrace multiculturalism.”

Dr Soutphommasane also participated in a thematic discussion on 'racial profiling, ethnic cleansing and current global issues and challenges'.

The Commissioner reflected on racial profiling in Australian institutions and society, as well as ongoing challenges of community harmony, racial literacy, and understanding racism in its more insidious forms.