- Table of Contents
- Executive Summary
- Chapter 1: Background
- Chapter 2: Experiences of discrimination, vilification & prejudice
- Chapter 3: Impacts and responses
- Chapter 4: Current Strategies
- Chapter 5: Future Strategies
5: Future Strategies
A major goal of the Ismaع project was to engage members of Arab and Muslim communities, government and non-government organisations in constructive discussion about future strategies to eliminate anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination. In each consultation, participants were asked about their understanding of what is being done and what more could be done to help address prejudice and discrimination against Arab and Muslim Australians.
As set out in Chapter 4 and on the Commission's website, the Commission found a wide range of existing initiatives aimed at dispelling anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination. However, in the light of the information provided by participants in the Ismaع project about the nature and extent of problems of discrimination and vilification faced by Arab and Muslim Australians, greater effort is needed to fight anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination more effectively.
The following discussion and recommendations may assist government and community organisations to map future directions for eliminating prejudice and discrimination against Arab and Muslim Australians. These recommendations were drafted by the Commission in consultation with the Ismaع project reference group (described in Chapter1). The reference group assisted the Commission by refining the recommendations ensuring they were practical and feasible, directed to the appropriate agencies and reflective of the broad priorities identified by consultation participants. It is important to note, however, that while the Ismaع reference group provided valuable guidance, the recommendations are those of the Commission alone.
This chapter includes the Commission's recommendations and suggestions for future action in six key areas: improving legal protections; promoting positive public awareness through education; addressing stereotypes and misinformation in public debate; ensuring community safety through law enforcement; encouraging effective community action and fostering public support and solidarity with Arab and Muslim Australians.
The proscription of discrimination and vilification on the basis of religion and belief in Australia is not a new concept. Laws exist in a number of states and territories and, in a limited way at the federal level, to deal with these issues. However, coverage across the states and territories is inconsistent and between those state and territory laws that do provide coverage there is a lack of uniformity. An overview of the current status of the laws across Australia that deal with discrimination and vilification on the basis of religion is as follows (a more detailed discussion can be found in Chapter 1):
The lack of consistency in federal, state and territory laws concerning discrim-ination and vilification on the basis of religion was identified as an important issue in the consultations and survey results carried out during the course of the Ismaع project.
Many consultation participants were critical of the fact that Muslims are not clearly protected from religious discrimination and vilification under federal law. The most vocal critics were from states and territories where discrimination and vilification based on religion are not unlawful.
Many participants called for federal and state laws to be changed or introduced to provide clear protection for people discriminated against or vilified because of their religion.
However, some participants cautioned that reform introduced solely to benefit Muslims may promote further backlash. Rather, as religious freedom is a universal value, the failure to protect Muslims should serve as one example of the inadequacy of federal law.
If people think that changes to the law are being brought about purely for the benefit of Muslims then they'll see it as another change caused by outsiders coming in ... it might actually get hard for the Muslim community ... If you make it a group effort on behalf of all religious groups then surely it will be ok. We have to show how it's affecting a large part of the community - not just Muslims.
Not all participants were convinced that extending federal anti-discrimination law will eliminate discrimination and prejudice against Muslim Australians.
In regards to the law, I don't think that having religion in the law is going to really have an effect, because people will go against the law regardless.
However, even those expressing some scepticism were of the view that the symbolic value of legal protection serves an important function in addressing racism. The Islamic Council of NSW has recommended that the law should be amended to cover religious discrimination in NSW and federal law. The Muslim Lawyers Group in Melbourne, Muslim Women's National Network of Australia and the Indonesian Muslim Community of Victoria also agreed that changing the law would send an important symbolic message.
To benefit fully from the symbolic value of legal protection, participants felt any change to the law should be accompanied by a comprehensive launch and public information strategy.
188.8.131.52 Previous proposals for a federal law making religious discrimination and vilification unlawful
The Commission has previously considered the lack of enforceable remedies at a federal level in relation to discrimination and vilification on the basis of religion. In 1997 the Commission launched a national inquiry into religious freedom in Australia. This began with the distribution of a discussion paper, Free to Believe?: the right to freedom of religion and belief in Australia which reviewed the relevant international human rights law and the legislative and constitutional framework for freedom of religion in Australia. The paper was widely distributed and 255 submissions were received in response. Of those submissions, 147 were from individuals and the remainder from both religious and non-religious organisations including representations from the Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Islamic, Jewish, Coptic, Buddhist and Lutheran faiths. A workshop on religion and human rights was subsequently held by the Commission in early 1998 to obtain advice on a number of core issues including the meaning of 'belief' as distinct from religion, exemptions from the proposed proscription of religious discrimination, and an appropriate model for federal religious vilification legislation. Some 75 religious and non-religious organisations were invited to send a representative and approximately 40 people attended.
In July 1998, as a result of the inquiry, the Commission produced its report Article 18: Freedom of religion and belief (Article 18 report).
A number of particularly contentious issues were highlighted by the organisations and individuals consulted with and were discussed in the Article 18 report, including
These issues remain relevant for consideration in the current report.
a) Defining religion and belief
The Australian legal system purports to treat Australia's many different religious communities equally. There is no established or state sponsored religion or church and religious laws are not imposed by civil authority. Under the Commonwealth Constitution, section 116 provides that
[T]he Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Common-wealth.
However, the Constitution does not provide a definition of what will constitute a 'religion'. In addition, none of the state and territory anti-discrimination laws that currently make religious discrimination and vilification unlawful provide a definition of religion.
The meaning of religion was considered in a case decided by the High Court. In that case, two members of the Court suggested that the following two elements were necessary:
Other members of the Court held that no single characteristic could define a religion and referred to the following as guiding principles:
Under international law, both article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 1(1) of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (Religion Declaration) use the expression 'freedom of thought, conscience and religion' as well as 'belief'. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has adopted a broad interpretation of 'freedom of religion or belief' covering freedom of theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs as well as freedom not to subscribe to any of these beliefs. The Committee has also made it clear that minority and non-mainstream religions are no less entitled to the protection of article 18 than traditional religions.
If federal legislation were to be enacted that made discrimination and vilification on the basis of religion unlawful, the Parliament may wish to take these matters into account in deciding whether or not a definition of religion should be included in the legislation.
b) Freedom of speech issues
In the consultations leading up to the preparation of the Commission's Article 18 report, numerous submissions were made opposing the introduction of federal religious vilification legislation. The reasons given were numerous, including that such legislation was unnecessary as Australians are already free to believe in the religion of their choice, that the courts may be inundated with petty grievances arising from statements which could turn into lengthy legal battles, and that legislation would hinder the rights of individuals to speak out on moral issues without fear of reprisal. Overwhelmingly, however, the submissions that were opposed to the introduction of federal religious vilification legislation expressed a fear that such legislation would constitute an unnecessary incursion into freedom of speech.
Submissions were also received that supported the introduction of such legislation. These argued that religious vilification, like any vilification, discourages participation in a free and democratic society on an equal basis and that because vilification intimidates it targets and thereby undermines their freedom of speech, it is inappropriate to consider only the right to freedom of speech of the vilifier, but not the vilified.
Under international human rights law, freedom of expression is a fundamental right which lies at the core of civil and political rights and is recognised in article 19 of the ICCPR. However, while international law requires that freedom of opinion be guaranteed without qualification (article 19(1) of the ICCPR), freedom of expression is not an absolute and unqualified right. Article 5 of the ICCPR limits the exercise of all of the rights and freedoms set out in the ICCPR by reference to the rights and freedoms of others. In addition, article 19(3) states that the exercise of freedom of expression carries with it 'special duties and responsibilities' and that the state may limit the freedom where necessary to respect the rights and reputations of others and to protect national security, public order, public health and/or public morals. Importantly, another article of the ICCPR, article 20, requires the prohibition by law of certain particularly harmful expression. Article 20 provides:
1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has commented upon the relationship between articles 19 and 20 by emphasising that the limitations required by article 20 'are fully compatible with the right of freedom of expression as contained in article 19, the exercise of which carries with it special duties and responsibilities'. Australia has expressed its agreement with this interpretation but declined to introduce further legislation to implement article 20. Australia's reservation or statement of interpretation and intention with respect to article 20 states:
Australia interprets the rights provided for by Articles 19, 21 and 22 as consistent with Article 20; accordingly the Commonwealth and the constituent States, having legislated with respect to the subject matter of the Article in matters of practical concern in the interests of public order (ordre public), the right is reserved not to introduce any further legislative provisions on these matters.
In Australian domestic law, the High Court has recognised certain implied rights and freedoms in the Commonwealth Constitution. In particular, the Court has held that, based on the constitutional provisions setting up a system of representative government, there is to be implied a freedom of communication as to matters of government and politics. While these cases did not enunciate a right to free speech per se, they did find that the representative nature of the Australian democracy was reflected in the Commonwealth Constitution and that the protection of political speech and communication was an inherent requirement of that democratic structure. Later High Court decisions clarified that the protected freedom is the freedom to communicate about political or government matters so as to enable people to exercise a free and informed choice as electors. The sections from which that freedom is implied preclude the curtailment of the freedom by legislative or executive power, but they do not confer a personal right to the individual of freedom of speech.
Australian domestic law also recognises the need to impose limits on freedom of expression (for example, laws relating to defamation, offensive language, contempt of court and film censorship are among those which traditionally and currently limit freedom of expression in Australia). As noted in Chapter 1of this report (and under paragraph 5.1.1 above), anti-discrimination laws already exist in Australia (including under the RDA) that limit freedom of expression by making it unlawful to vilify a person on the basis of their race, nationality and ethnic origin and already, in some of the states and territories, on the basis of religion.
In relation to the concerns that a federal religious vilification law would prevent opinions critical of religious beliefs being aired in public or prevent debates about particular belief systems being conducted, it is important to note that vilification of the individual (or, adopting the language of article 20 of the ICCPR, advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement of discrimination, hostility or violence against a person because of his or her beliefs) is the proper focus of the proposed legislation rather than critiques of the religion or belief itself. Criticism of the religion itself is borne by the institution which, as a public institution, should be open to questioning of its methods, beliefs and motives. This point was made in a speech by Sir Ronald Wilson, former President of the Commission, in which he stated:
Criticism or even ridicule of a religion is itself I think a conceptually different case from vilification of its adherents or promotion of intolerance against them, although the two may coincide. However genuine the offence which may be caused, I find it difficult to see a violation of human rights in the criticism of religion itself.
As a result of considering the issues raised during the Article 18 inquiry, the Commission recommended, among other things:
The Article 18 report was tabled in the federal Parliament on 11 November 1998. On 9 February 1999, in response to a question on notice in the House of Representatives, the then Attorney-General stated that the Government did not intend to implement the recommendation for a Religious Freedom Act.
In April 1999, the Minister for Foreign Affairs asked the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to inquire into Australia's efforts to promote and protect freedom of religion and belief, in particular the extent of violations of religious freedom around the world and the probable causes of those violations; implications for other human rights arising from a lack of religious freedom and religious differences; and the most effective means by which the Australian government and non government organisations can promote freedom of religion in the region and around the world. The report, Conviction with Compassion: A Report on Freedom of Religion and Belief was published in November 2000. While the Committee was of the view that federal legislation giving effect to the right of freedom of religion and belief was not necessary (as it was of the view that Australia is a tolerant country and the freedom to believe or not believe is not merely tolerated but accepted as a fact and a right), it did recommend that the Australian Government table a response to the other recommendations made in the Commission's Article 18 report, including those recommending legislation making discrimination and incitement to hatred on the basis of religion or belief unlawful. It also recommended that the Australian Government coordinate a review of Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation to ensure the maximum degree of domestic protection of freedom of religion, with a view to the introduction of a greater degree of uniformity of human rights law and practice in Australia. A recommendation was also made that the Australian Government continue to encourage and support the Commission's work and ensure that the resources with which it is provided allow it to carry out its work in relation to freedom of religion in timely, efficient, effective and appropriate ways.
The Commission's recommendations in its Article 18 report have yet to be implemented by the federal Government and nor has a response been tabled in accordance with the recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.
Current legal protections against discrimination and vilification on the ground of religion or belief, at federal, state and territory level, lack consistency and uniformity with the result that whether someone can seek redress under anti-discrimination laws for religious discrimination or vilification depends on where the conduct complained of occurred in Australia. A person who believes they have been discriminated against because of their religion has no legally enforceable rights if the alleged vilification happened in NSW or South Australia. A person who believes they have been vilified because of their religion has no legally enforceable rights if the alleged discrimination happened in the ACT, NSW, South Australia, Western Australia or the Northern Territory.
As the majority of Australian Muslims live in NSW, the current lack of enforceable legal protection for acts of discrimination or vilification based solely on religion is particularly problematic in light of the information provided by consultation participants, survey respondents and interviewees who took part in the Ismaع project.
It remains the case that at the federal level, while the Commission has the power to inquire into and attempt to conciliate complaints that a person has been discriminated against on the basis of their religion in their employment or occupation, or if that their human rights in relation to religious belief have been breached by the Commonwealth, these complaints do not give rise to any enforceable right or remedy. Australia therefore currently falls short of the internationally recognised human rights standards in the ICCPR and the Religion Declaration (set out in Chapter 1).
The Commission is of the view that the enactment of federal legislation that makes unlawful discrimination and vilification on the basis of religion would provide greater consistency and uniformity in this area and would assist in Australia satisfying its international obligations in this regard.
Recommendation:That a federal law be introduced making unlawful:
Another significant concern raised by consultation participants concerned the burden on the individual of initiating and pursuing a complaint. It may be argued that when an entire community is affected, such as by alleged vilification in the media, it is unfair and unreasonable to expect an individual community member to initiate and pursue a complaint.
The issue of the ability or 'standing' of organisations, such as community organisations, to make complaints is dealt with in a number of different ways under the anti-discrimination laws around Australia.
184.108.40.206 State and territory laws
In Queensland, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) was recently amended to allow complaints of racial or religious vilification to be made by 'a body corporate or an unincorporated body, a primary purpose of which is the promotion of the interests or welfare of persons of a particular race, religion, sexuality or gender identity'. If an organisation is able to satisfy certain requirements (such as, that the complaint is made in good faith, the conduct complained of has affected or is likely to affect 'relevant persons' for the body corporate or unincorporated body, and it is in the interests of justice to accept the complaint), then it will be able to lodge a complaint of racial or religious vilification in its own right.
In NSW, under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), complaints of discrim-ination and vilification on all of the grounds included in the Act can be made by a 'representative body' on behalf of a named person or group of people. A representative body is defined as a body (whether incorporated or unin-corporated) which purports to represent a group of people within NSW, whether or not the body is authorised to do so by the group concerned, and has as its primary object the promotion of the interests and welfare of that group. Before a complaint can be accepted from a representative body, each person on whose behalf the complaint is lodged must consent to the complaint being lodged and the body must have a sufficient interest in the complaint. A representative body will have a sufficient interest if the conduct complained of is a matter of genuine concern to it because of the way that conduct could, or does, adversely affect the interests of the body or the interests or welfare of the group of people it represents.
Similar provisions were recently introduced in Victoria by the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic). One important distinction, however, is that unlike the NSW legislation, the ability of a representative body to make a complaint on behalf of a named person or group of people under the Victorian legislation is limited to complaints alleging racial or religious vilification.
In Tasmania, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas) provides a broad range of standing provisions, allowing a complaint to be made by a person on behalf of the alleged victim of discrimination or prohibited conduct, agents and by 'an organisation against which the alleged discrimination or prohibited conduct was directed if the Commissioner is satisfied that a majority of members of that organisation are likely to consent'.
In the ACT, an 'agent' can make a complaint on behalf of one or more people aggrieved by an alleged act of discrimination. In Western Australia, represent-ative complaints can be made, although the only 'organisation' referred to in that context is a trade union.
In South Australia, a complaint can be made by an aggrieved person or by an aggrieved person on behalf of him or herself and any other person aggrieved by the alleged act of discrimination. In the Northern Territory, only a person aggrieved by prohibited conduct under the Act, or a person authorised by the Commissioner on behalf of the person aggrieved, can make a complaint under the Act.
220.127.116.11 Federal law
Under the federal HREOC Act, trade unions are the only organisation given specific standing to make a complaint on behalf of one or more other aggrieved persons. The HREOC Act also provides that a complaint can be made by 'a person ... on behalf of one or more other persons aggrieved by the alleged unlawful discrimination'. As the definition of 'person' under the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth) includes 'a body politic or corporate', it is arguable that an organisation that meets this definition could make a representative complaint on behalf of others who are aggrieved by an alleged act of unlawful discrimination or a breach of the racial hatred provisions of the RDA. The complaint would need to comply with all of the specific requirements governing representative complaints. It is also worth noting that a person on whose behalf a representative complaint has been made is not entitled to lodge a separate complaint about the same issue.
However, even if such a complaint were to be made to the Commission and was terminated by the President, only an 'affected person' can proceed with the matter in the Federal Court or Federal Magistrates Service (FMS). An 'affected person' means a person on whose behalf the complaint was lodged. Therefore, unless an organisation also made a complaint on its own behalf, it would not be able to commence proceedings in the Federal Court or FMS (which is the only way to lead to an enforceable decision). Only a person who was personally aggrieved would be able to do so.
In addition to this, the Federal Court and FMS have different standing (and arguably narrower) provisions for representative complaints which must be complied with.
In light of the differences in the way in which this issue is dealt with under the federal HREOC Act compared with some of the state and territory laws outlined above (in particular, in Qld, NSW and Victoria), consideration should be given to whether legislative amendment at the federal level is appropriate.
Consultation participants believed that education about the religious and cultural diversity of Australians is the most important long term strategy for eliminating anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice. Participants stressed the need for more broad-based public education and for more targeted education campaigns aimed at specific groups such as young people, employers and service providers to help dispel myths and negative stereotypes about Arab and Muslim Australians.
Participants felt any education campaign to address negative stereotypes about Islam and Arab and Muslim Australians should include the following key messages:
Participants believed that public education about Arab history and culture or about Islamic beliefs and customs was best conducted within a framework of multiculturalism. Many felt that singling out Arab and Muslim Australians in anti-racism education initiatives would only exacerbate prejudice, not promote understanding. Instead, consultation participants felt that the commonalities which Arab and Muslim Australians share with all Australians should be highlighted.
Promotion of multicultural principles such as respect for diversity was seen as an essential foundation of any education program to address anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice. Participants felt there should be greater emphasis on the right of all Australians, Arabs and Muslims included, to express their own culture and beliefs and to have equality of treatment and opportunity regardless of their race, culture, language, religion, location, gender or place of birth.
As detailed in the previous chapter, the 'Living in Harmony' program is the federal government's main initiative to promote multiculturalism. It includes celebration of 'Harmony Day' on 21 March each year and a grants program for community projects that promote harmony between people from different cultural, racial, religious or social backgrounds. In recent years, some of these grants have facilitated the development of educational resources which help promote positive public awareness of Islam and the Muslim community in Australia or of Arabic culture. For example, in 2002 the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils received a grant to foster a better understanding of Islam and the Muslim community in Australia. As noted previously, one of the outcomes of the project was publication of the information booklet Appreciating Islam which provided accessible information about the Muslim faith. The Australian Arabic Council has received Living in Harmony community grants to produce the documentaries, 'Zero to Zenith: Arabic contributions to Australia' and 'Tale of Two Peoples: Arabic and Indigenous youth in Australia'.
Consultation participants, particularly those with direct involvement in 'Living in Harmony' projects were, on the whole, positive about the program and saw its benefits in promoting multiculturalism. However, not all consultation participants were enthusiastic about 'Harmony Day'. Some felt that a focus on food, dancing and cultural exchange was superficial and detracted from the more serious underlying message of anti-racism. Many felt that a one day celebration is not opportunity enough to address the problems of prejudice and intolerance that occur during the other 364 days of the year. Others also felt that the grants distributed under the Living in Harmony program were ad-hoc and too short-term to bring about significant and lasting changes in attitudes towards multiculturalism or racism. Given that in many instances projects are small scale and locally based, most consultation participants were simply unaware of the range of initiatives funded through the 'Living in Harmony' program.
Many consultation participants argued the need for a more dynamic and eye-catching, national public education campaign to promote multiculturalism to a wider audience. To reach this mass audience, some suggested using well known spokespersons (such as sporting or media celebrities) to deliver key messages and to employ more visual forms of communication such as television or billboard posters. For example, participants suggested erecting billboards outside shopping centres informing people that discrimination is illegal and showing images of Muslim women alongside women from other ethnic or religious backgrounds. Others also suggested that bus shelters were an ideal location for posters showing positive images of people from various cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Given that bus stops were a common setting for racist conduct, participants felt it was important to provide some immediate redress in such places. Many stressed the importance of television as a medium for public education.
The use of visual formats to communicate key messages is particularly important given that people of 'white Anglo-Celtic' background are not the only ones to discriminate against and vilify Arab and Muslim Australians. Information provided during the course of the Ismaع consultations and the UWS survey and interviews suggest that long-established migrants and refugees from non-English speaking backgrounds also do so. People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds for whom English is not a first language or who have low literacy skills may be reached more effectively through visual means such as ethnic radio, television, videos or posters rather than English-language written material.
Other participants argued that encouraging personal contacts is much more effective in overcoming prejudice than expensive advertising campaigns to promote multiculturalism.
Such personal links are being forged around Australia through initiatives such as interfaith dialogues and networks, mosque open days, and inter-school visits involving students from schools with a high proportion of Arab and Muslim students. In Chapter 4 we discuss a range of current initiatives which aim to foster understanding between individuals from different ethnic or religious backgrounds. The proliferation of interfaith networks around Australia in recent years provides a positive example of how many local and community organisations have worked to help eliminate prejudice against Arab and Muslim Australians. Exchange programs and inter-school visits between Muslim and non-Muslim or Christian schools have also fostered interfaith understanding and acceptance amongst young people.
Consultation participants suggested a variety of more detailed strategies to educate specific target groups such as young people, employers and service providers about multiculturalism and Arab culture and the Islamic faith. Educating young people was seen as a particular priority.
Improving education about racism and multiculturalism in schools is an effective way to reach young people. Schools play a vital role in preparing children and young people for effective participation and responsible citizenship in Australian society. Consultation participants recognised the importance of schools in promoting the values of equality, respect for diversity and in helping tackle racism.
Consultation participants identified three main priority areas for improvement in schools: clear and consistent anti-racism policies and programs, ongoing cultural diversity training for teachers and professional staff and review and further development of curriculum that promotes awareness and acceptance of cultural difference.
18.104.22.168 Anti-racism strategies
The goal of creating a 'socially just' schooling environment free of racism is explicitly set out in the Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century (the Adelaide Declaration) endorsed by state, territory and Commonwealth Ministers of Education in 1999. The Adelaide Declaration, which provides broad directives to guide schools and education authorities to achieve high quality schooling, also encourages schools and education authorities to ensure that 'all students understand and acknowledge the value of cultural and linguistic diversity and possess the knowledge, skills and understanding to contribute to, and benefit from, such diversity in the Australian community and internationally'.
Each state and territory education department develops and implements specific anti-racism policies and programs in accordance with these broad national guidelines. All state and territory education departments also have guidelines on grievance procedures for handling complaints about racism in schools.
While anti-racism policies and programs are the responsibility of state and territory education departments, their implementation at a local level is a matter for individual schools. As a result, there is a lack of uniformity in how racism is tackled in different schools. This was noted by several consultation participants.
Consultation participants felt that anti-racism policies were most effective in schools where the principal and senior staff exercised strong leadership in endorsing and enforcing them.
To encourage strong, consistent leadership against racism by principals and senior staff in schools, federal, state and territory education authorities could play a greater role in promoting the goals of 'socially just' schooling as set out in the Adelaide Declaration. Specifically, there is scope for federal, state and territory governments to work together to promote the Adelaide Declaration goals of ensuring that school environments are free from discrimination based on factors such as culture, ethnicity and religion (goal 3.1) and that students understand and acknowledge the value of cultural and linguistic diversity (goal 3.5).
Collaboration between federal and state/territory education authorities to promote more consistent implementation of anti-racism policies could be fostered through the federal Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA). MCEETYA is comprised of State, Territory, Australian Government and New Zealand Ministers with responsibility for the portfolios of education, employment, training and youth affairs. The functions of the Council include coordination of strategic policy at the national level, negotiation and development of national agreements on shared objectives and interests (including principles for Australian Government/State relations) in the Council's areas of responsibility, negotiations on the scope and format of national reporting on areas of responsibility, sharing of information and collaborative use of resources towards agreed objectives and priorities, and coordination of communication with, and collaboration between, related national structures. MCEETYA is supported by a number of taskforces convened as needed to meet particular goals such as improving Indigenous education employment and training. Information provided by the MCEETYA Secretariat indicated that issues relating to anti-racism and cultural diversity in schools could be addressed by existing MCEETYA taskforces such as the Student Learning and Support Services Taskforce or the Teacher Quality and Educational Leadership Taskforce (or whatever the new configuration of these taskforces may be after a review currently being undertaken by MCEETYA).
That MCEETYA consider referring these issues to the relevant taskforce for advice on best practice in implementing anti-racist education policies in schools with a view to ensuring schooling is free from discrimination based on culture, ethnicity, religion or race, and for an action plan to implement that best practice.
22.214.171.124 Training teachers
Most children, young people and parents who participated in consultations felt they had received adequate support from their teachers against prejudice and discrimination. However, some believed that individual teachers were ill-equipped to deal effectively with racism in the classroom and playground. In the few instances where teachers were reported by consultation participants to have acted in a discriminatory way, schools had responded swiftly to discipline the individual teacher. The more common complaint from students and parents was of subtle bias manifested in alleged favouritism of non-Muslim or non-Arab students and in offensive or insensitive language or behaviour used by teachers and lecturers leading class discussions about terrorism, for example, or women in Islam.
To ensure that teaching professionals are well prepared to administer anti-racism policies and programs and help promote respect for cultural and linguistic diversity, teachers should receive diversity training as part of their ongoing professional development. Currently, many public schools around Australia offer ad-hoc cultural diversity training for teachers. In areas with high concentrations of students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds or in schools with specialist programs for newly arrived migrants and refugees, teacher training in anti-racism and diversity awareness appears to be more commonplace. While in some states and territories, induction programs for new teachers includes diversity awareness and anti-racism training, there appears to be no compulsory on-going training for established teachers. The MCEETYA taskforce on Teacher Quality and Educational Leadership (or its new configuration) could develop standards for anti-racism and diversity training aimed at improving the quality of teaching and learning in schools.
That MCEETYA consider referring the issue of diversity training of teachers to the relevant taskforce for advice on an action plan for implementation, as part of its commitment to enhancing teacher quality.
Teachers and educators who participated in the consultations described a variety of multicultural and anti-racism programs currently taught in schools that promote broad public acceptance of cultural difference. Programs such as Racism No Way! offer teachers and students online access to information about racism and racial discrimination. State and territory education authorities have also developed resources that help teachers include multicultural perspectives in teaching subjects ranging from technology courses to studies of society and the environment. The Commission has also developed a range of educational resources that explore the causes and consequences of racial discrimination. These online resources are directly linked to the educational curricula of each Australian state and territory, providing education departments and individual teachers with a clear guide as to how they can be used in the classroom. Despite these existing initiatives, many participants felt that anti-racism and multicultural education in schools does not go far enough.
Participants suggested two main improvements to curriculum: that existing curriculum be assessed with a view to correcting misinformation about Islam and Arab history and culture and that the curriculum in primary and secondary schools be expanded to provide unbiased information about all major world religions, including Islam, and major civilisations, including Arabs. Some young students were in favour of introducing compulsory study of religion as part of the primary school curriculum.
While some teachers welcomed the idea of compulsory cross-cultural religious studies, others cautioned against further inflating an already crowded curriculum or warned about the dangers of teaching religion in public schools.
Some participants stressed that education about diversity must be embedded in existing curriculum rather than being hastily 'tacked on' as an optional extra. There is considerable scope for integrating education about cultural and linguistic diversity into existing education frameworks and for more active promotion of such programs by federal, state and territory education authorities. For example, there is scope to integrate a fuller discussion of human rights relating to freedom of religious belief and freedom from racial discrimination, in the 'law and rights' component of the Discovering Democracy program developed by the federal government. This program aims to help young people become responsible citizens by educating students to understand the workings of Australia's political and legal system and the history of Australian democracy. There is also opportunity to further highlight issues like racism and promote respect for cultural and religious diversity in the context of 'Values Education'. 'Values Education' includes any school based activity to promote student understanding and action based on values such as acceptance of other people's difference, inclusion and trust, respect for others and a commitment to social justice principles. The Commission suggests that federal and state education authorities consider prioritising anti-racism in the future development of values education programs and in civics and citizenship curriculum.
Many consultation participants reported discrimination in the provision of government services such as policing, public transport, housing, medical care and social security. To address this, participants recommended diversity training for all government service providers.
Consultation participants identified diversity training for government employees, particularly police, as vitally important.
Police in all states and territories receive cultural diversity training as part of basic recruitment. In 1997, the National Police Ethnic Advisory Bureau (precursor to the Australasian Police Multicultural Advisory Bureau) released a national training standard policy for cultural diversity training of police across states and territories. This integrated approach to cross-cultural awareness training replaced an ad-hoc approach based on stand-alone courses that were usually tacked on to the end of training courses. Police across Australia also have access to the resource A Practical Reference to Religious Diversity for Operational Police (2nd edition) which covers information about a range of religions and how the police and emergency services can deliver culturally appropriate services that accommodate different beliefs.
In relation to government services more generally, there is a national policy framework for ensuring that the diverse needs of Australians are met by culturally responsive federal government services. This policy is set out in The Charter of Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society (the Charter). The Charter was launched in 1998 by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) and endorsed by Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments and by the Australian Local Government Associations. It aims to remove barriers to accessing government services for clients from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and recommends provision of cross-cultural awareness training for staff. DIMIA reports annually on the progress that Commonwealth agencies have made in implementing the Charter, most recently in its 2003 Access and Equity Annual Report.
States and territories also have access and equity policies and reporting mechanisms to measure implementation of access and equity standards. For example, public sector agencies in New South Wales are required to have an Ethnic Affairs Priorities Statement (EAPS) which shows how they will deliver appropriate services to a culturally diverse client group, consult effectively and inclusively, provide training for staff on cultural diversity issues and provide language services and information in ways that will reach all clients. Each year the Community Relations Commission for a Multicultural NSW assesses and monitors the performance of public sector agencies, and reports on this performance in an annual Community Relations Report.
Many of the community organisations who participated in Ismaع consultations have delivered cross-cultural awareness seminars to service providers from local, state and federal government agencies to assist these agencies in better understanding and serving the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse clients from Arab and Muslim communities. General interest in these seminars has risen significantly over the last two years as has demand for more specifically tailored cross-cultural awareness seminars from government service providers such as Centrelink, TAFE and some local area police commands. Consultation participants stressed the importance of ongoing provision of such training to government service providers.
Consultation participants and survey respondents, including those who participated in interviews, all identified discrimination in the workplace as a major issue (see Chapter 2). Religious dress, an Arabic or Islamic name or evidence of Arabic language skills were factors which participants felt impacted on their opportunities to find a job, or on their capacity for promotion or job satisfaction once they were already in employment. To address these problems, many consultation participants felt that more could be done to inform employers of their legal responsibility to ensure that workplaces were free from racial or religious discrimination.
Participants felt that small and medium sized employers should be the particular focus of any campaign to increase understanding and implementation of anti-discrimination laws and workplace diversity policies. Consultation participants felt that larger employers were often more aware of anti-discrimination laws and their legal obligations as employers to foster work environments free from discrimination than smaller employers. Some consultation participants also argued that employers should be better informed about how to properly accommodate the religious needs of Muslim workers, particularly regarding prayer at work.
The Commission along with state and territory anti-discrimination agencies have developed a range of educational and training resources that address discrimination issues in employment. For example, the Commission's Complaint Handling Section provides information sessions on the law and training in investigation and resolution of discrimination issues for Commonwealth government departments and national employer groups throughout Australia, where appropriate. These presentations and training sessions include provision of information on race discrimination and racial hatred and discussion of relevant case law to assist employers clarify their responsibilities under federal human rights and anti-discrimination law. The development and implementation of educational programs that promote an understanding of anti-discrimination laws is one of the Commission's core functions and it and will continue to carry out further educational programs in this area.
Throughout the Ismaع project, concerns were consistently raised by the participants about the reporting of issues relating to Arabs and Muslims locally, nationally and internationally. This issue has also been the subject of vigorous public debate and analysis. Consultation participants felt that biased and inaccurate reporting of issues relating to Arabs and Muslims is commonplace among some sections of the media and is extremely damaging. Survey respondents and interviewees also felt that increases in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice, discrimination and violence were linked to negative media portrayals of Arab and Muslims, especially on commercial television, talkback radio and in the tabloid press.
Many participants felt that there is stereotyping in the media of Arabs and Muslims and that this has immediate and direct negative impacts on individuals or communities, exacerbating tensions and fostering a climate conducive to fear, discrimination and abuse.
Specific concerns raised by consultation participants and interviewees about some sections of the media included the following:
Many consultation participants were especially upset about media commentary on the sentencing of several young men of Lebanese background charged in a series of eight group sexual assaults which took place in the Bankstown area of south-west Sydney in 2000. Both consultation participants and representatives of Arab and Muslim communities shared the outrage felt in the broader community about these crimes. The Australian Arabic Council publicly denounced the crimes and stated that the perpetrators 'deserve to be dealt with by the full strength of the law'. Equally, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils condemned the perpetrators of the sexual assaults and stated that '[t]here is no doubt that these individuals acted independently of their religious or cultural background'. They offered to the victims their 'condolences and warm words of support for the great courage that they have shown in standing against these sadistic and misguided youth'.
However, participants also felt that media coverage of the trial in 2001 and conviction and sentencing of the offenders in 2002 led to a perception that all Muslims and all members of the Lebanese community were responsible for the actions of the perpetrators.
Consultation participants were not alone in expressing concerns about the impact of media coverage of this issue. In March 2004, the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal overturned the conviction of one of the offenders (who was tried separately from the other four co-accused), and ordered a retrial on the basis that there had been a miscarriage of justice despite a strong Crown case against the defendant. A majority of the Court found that '[t]he feelings of anger, revulsion and general hostility to young Lebanese men that emanated from the media coverage of the trial would have lingered heavily in the atmosphere of [the accused's] trial. Its fairness and the appearance of its fairness were undermined to an unacceptable degree due to the unnecessary decision to direct back-to-back trials'.
Participants also felt that media coverage of refugee and asylum seeker issues contributed to an increase in prejudice against people of Muslim or 'Middle Eastern' background.
Concerns were also expressed by consultation participants that media coverage of terrorism and the 'war on terror' had also reinforced negative stereotypes that Muslims are all 'terrorists' or potential terrorists.
Media are responsible for the worst stereotypes, like Muslims are terrorists, when Islam means peace ... People think that only Muslims can be terrorists. They single out 'terrorist' as equalling to Islam.
This issue was recently acknowledged by the Australian Press Council (APC) in a press release issued in April 2004. The APC urged newspapers and magazines 'to be careful about using in their headlines terms for religious or ethnic groups that could imply that the group as a whole was responsible for the actions of a minority of that group'. Whilst acknowledging difficulties that the use of overly general terms has caused for groups such as Indigenous people and the Australian Jewish community, the focus of the press release was on the Australian Muslim community. It acknowledged that while, in some cases, the linking of words with religious connotations (such as 'Islam', 'Islamic' and 'Muslim') to terrorist groups may be, in the strictest sense, accurate, it is often unfair as 'terrorists may be Muslims, but Muslims are not necessarily terrorists, as some headlines have implied'.
Some consultation participants also expressed disappointment about what they perceived as inaccurate and biased coverage of conflict in the Middle East. This coverage also has its impacts by creating damaging stereotypes in Australia.
Just with all the media attention on the Middle East and the buzz around the Middle East, when kids found out I was Palestinian background, my nickname soon became 'terrorist'.
A Muslim organisation provided details of a complaint submitted to a local television network about bias in reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For example ... when reporting the confrontation between say a Palestinian and an Israeli, the Palestinian is described as an Islamic terrorist and the Israeli is simply called Israeli or sometimes referred to as a 'settler'.
The development and implementation of strategies to challenge stereotyping in the media was seen as essential by consultation participants to achieving the broader goal of eliminating prejudice and discrimination against Arab and Muslim Australians. Suggestions for addressing these concerns included:
126.96.36.199 Media analysis
Allegations of factual inaccuracies and the absence of balance in reporting and commentary are issues of serious concern. The first step towards addressing these issues could be achieved by verifying these allegations through close monitoring of media content. Media analysis could help document whether there are patterns of bias in reporting of issues relating to Arab and Muslim Australians and identify potential breaches in reporting standards and anti-vilification laws. It could also assist in the recognition and encouragement of media that do present Arabic or Islamic issues in a fair and balanced manner.
Until recently, there was little in the way of such analysis.The New 'Others': Media and Society Post-September 11, the November 2003 edition of Griffith University's Media International Australia journal contains a thorough and wide-ranging analysis of media representation of people of 'Muslim and Middle Eastern' background in Australia post-September 11. Several of the articles in the collection use rigorous content analysis of specific newspapers to explore media representations of asylum seekers and Arabs and Muslims in Australia. In Dog Whistle Politics and Journalism: reporting Arabic and Muslim people in Sydney newspapers, Peter Manning, (Professor of Journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney, and the former Head of ABC TV News and Current Affairs and Head of Current Affairs at Network 7), analysed representations of Arabs and Muslims in two of Sydney's major daily newspapers in twelve months before and after 11 September 2001. He found that the media portrayal of Arabs and Muslims in these newspapers relied heavily on stereotypical orientalist notions of Arabs and Muslims as 'irrational' and 'violent' and that the newspapers presented the view that Australia is under threat from such people.
While scholarly research is an important first step in investigating the nature of media representations and assessing their impacts, community organisations have yet to fully utilise this research as a tool for education or advocacy. Several researchers, including Peter Manning, stressed the need for more assistance to allow greater involvement by community organisations in the process of media monitoring.
To date, there has been no systematic, ongoing monitoring of media representations of Arab and Muslim Australians by relevant community organisations. The Australian Arabic Council (AAC) conducts media monitoring on an ad-hoc basis distributing information about media bias in specific television or print reports which stereotype or vilify Arabs. The AAC does this through an 'Action Alert' email list-serve to members and associates to encourage mass action to redress particular articles or news stories. The Islamic Council of Victoria and the Forum on Australia's Islamic Relations (FAIR) also conduct ad-hoc media monitoring. These and other community organisations who participated in consultations recognised the need for comprehensive and systematic analysis of print and broadcast media. However, community organisations felt they were not adequately resourced to conduct thorough and ongoing monitoring and analysis of media representation of Arabs and Muslims in the Australian media.
188.8.131.52 Targeted information campaigns on media standards and complaint processes
Many consultation participants felt that there were few, if any, constraints or checks on the media in relation to reporting of issues relating to race and religion. However, the media are bound by the racial hatred provisions of the RDA and by racial and religious vilification laws in states and territories discussed previously. These laws must be activated by a complaint from or on behalf of people aggrieved by the reporting or commentary aired or published.
In addition to this, each of the media sectors has its own form of self-regulation which allows members of the public to make complaints about certain issues to the relevant industry body.
For example, the federal Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) (Broadcasting Services Act) provides for the development of codes of practice by radio and television industry groups in consultation with the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA). In developing these codes of practice, s 123 of the Broadcasting Services Act requires that community attitudes are to be taken into account regarding:
Once an industry code of practice has been developed, the ABA must be satisfied of certain matters before registering the code. The ABA has registered codes of practice for all broadcasting sectors (with the exception of the ABC and SBS which are notified to the ABA) which are publicly available. The April 1999 Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice stipulates, for example:
A list of the relevant industry groups and their codes of practice are available at: http://www.aba.gov.au/radio/complaints/industry.htm
Under the provisions of the Broadcasting Services Act, a person who wishes to make a complaint about a program broadcast by a radio or television station that is covered by a code of practice must first make a complaint to that broadcaster. If the person is dissatisfied with the station's response or if the station does not answer the complaint within 60 days, then a complaint may be made to the ABA.
These mechanisms are valuable in that they allow members of the public to raise concerns, as a first step, directly with the broadcaster concerned. However, it is noted that as the standards contained in s 123 of the Broadcasting Services Act and the racial hatred provisions of the RDA (discussed in Chapter 1) are not the same, a broadcaster that has a complaint made against it under the RDA, and who otherwise complies with the Broadcasting Services Act and the relevant code of practice, would also have to meet the standards contained in the RDA.
The Australian Press Council is the self-regulatory body of the print media. It was established in 1976 with two main aims: to help preserve the traditional freedom of the press within Australia and ensure that the free press acts responsibly and ethically. To carry out its latter function, it serves as a forum to which complaints can be made about news reports, articles, editorials, letters and images (including cartoons) in newspapers and magazines and complaints arising out of their publication (including publication on a web site). Complaints to the Press Council are treated as being against the publication, not an individual.
The Press Council sets outs out in its Statement of Principles those matters which it will have regard to in considering complaints, with the proviso that the Council 'will give first and dominant consideration to what it perceives to be in the public interest'. Included in the Principles is the following statement:
Publications should not place any gratuitous emphasis on the race, religion, nationality, colour, country of origin ... of an individual or group. Nevertheless, where it is relevant and in the public interest, publications may report and express opinions in these areas.
The Press Council also issues reporting guidelines which it describes as amplifications on particular issues arising from the Statement of Principles. In 2001, the Press Council issued a revised Guideline on the reporting of 'race'. The Guideline stipulates:
For reasons similar to those discussed in relation to the Broadcasting Services Act, an organisation that has complied with the Statement of Principles and Guidelines issued by the Press Council, could still have a complaint made against it under the RDA.
In relation to individual journalists, the Australian Journalists' Association Code of Ethics forms the basis of a self-regulatory system which binds members of the Australian Journalists' Association of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (Alliance). The Code of Ethics includes the following:
Do not place unnecessary emphasis on personal characteristics, including race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation, family relationships, religious belief, or physical or intellectual disability.
A complaints process adopted by the Alliance allows complaints to be made by members of the public if they believe that a journalist has acted contrary to the Code of Ethics.
Few consultation participants were aware of these bodies or avenues of complaint. In a written submission to the Commission, Peter Manning suggested that the Commission and state and territory anti-discrimination agencies should assist community organisations and individuals by clarifying existing anti-vilification laws and mechanisms for complaining about alleged vilification by the media.
Every Arab and Muslim community organization should have a fact sheet that outlines the laws and regulations affecting prejudice/discrimination and what can be done (along with names, addresses and phone numbers). It should also contain bodies that handle complaints (e.g. the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal) and the various ways of submitting complaints. In addition, the fact sheets should contain the names and addresses of legal organizations which provide fast and cheap legal services.
In this regard, it is relevant to note that shortly after the RDA was amended to prohibit offensive behaviour based on racial hatred, the Commission published a guide on the Racial Hatred Act for people working in the Australian media. While these guidelines contain useful information about racial vilification (including case studies) for community groups, its target audience was the media.
Providing communities with better information about the relevant regulatory standards and avenues of complaint may be more appropriately handled by organisations responsible for administering these standards, such as the relevant industry group in relation to television and radio, the Australian Broadcasting Authority and Australian Press Council.
That the relevant industry groups, the Australian Broadcasting Authority and the Australian Press Council consider undertaking information campaigns in relevant community languages and in a variety of formats to inform Arab and Muslim organisations and community members about their standards and complaint processes.
184.108.40.206 Constructive engagement
Forging good relations between media and Arab and Muslim communities and encouraging media was seen as an important long term strategy.
Participants expressed a strong desire to see more varied and positive images of Arab and Muslim Australians in the Australian media. Despite some scepticism that the media 'can't represent us positively because nobody wants to read good stuff', many participants felt communities themselves should be more pro-active about providing media with positive stories and photo opportunities which show Arab and Muslim Australians contributing in positive ways to Australia.
In a written submission to the Commission, Peter Manning suggested several strategies to encourage more positive representations of Arabs and Muslims in the Australian media. Manning urged members of Arab and Muslim communities to move away from the view that the media was a 'problem' and learn to use it as a tool to gain positive outcomes by:
Manning also suggested that conferences or seminars could help build better relations between media and community organisations affected by negative or stereotyped media portrayals.
Stereotyping is so pervasive in the media it needs a major community consultation with the editorial managers, editors and personalities that run the various arms of media. The conference would need papers outlining clear discrimination (in journalistic, rather than academic, terms), seminar groups on various topics and a chance for senior media figures to hear the complaints and respond. It would need to go beyond defensiveness on one side and special interest pleading on the other.
Recently, the Muslim Women's National Network of Australia hosted an event which brought together members of Sydney's Muslim community and journalists and editors from the Sydney newspaper, The Daily Telegraph. The aim of the event was to help forge links between media and community members in a friendly, non-hostile environment conducive to mutual exchange. The event was part of the project Building Networks & Understanding Between Journalism Students & Muslims which is funded and supported by DIMIA through the 'Living in Harmony' community grant program.
Consultation participants suggested regular roundtable discussions between media and community members would allow the community to engage the media and explain the impacts of media reporting and commentary. Other Arab and Muslim community organisations have also tried to create opportun-ities for liaison between their group and media representatives. For example, the Australian Arabic Communities Council (AACC) sought media participation in a series of monthly dinners they hosted for different members of the press who were invited to come and speak with members of Sydney's Arabic communities. The AACC were ultimately unsuccessful in obtaining media participation and suggested that support from an external third party in opening and securing the lines of communication may have helped in such a process.
In Chapter 4, we presented an example where external support helped ensure communication between media and community organisations. Following September 11, the Western Australian Premier, Geoff Gallop, initiated a meeting between representatives of the Office of Multicultural Interests (OMI), local television news editors and Muslim community leaders in attempt to dispel myths about Islam. At the meeting there was a positive dialogue focussed on bridging gaps in information and communication. All news directors present were receptive to developing direct relationships with community leaders in an effort to present the news in an unbiased manner. OMI also offered to facilitate opportunities for Muslim community leaders to attend editorial meetings at the West Australian newspaper. Such initiatives are to be commended.
That government agencies responsible for promoting multiculturalism consider facilitating consultation between media organisations and ethnic and religious community organisations, including Arab and Muslim groups, to improve mutual understanding.
220.127.116.11 Media training
Identifying and training community spokespeople was seen by many consult-ation participants as vital to challenging media stereotyping. Participants stressed that it is important for community representatives to learn to speak up and participate more effectively in public debate - not just in specific discussions about religion or world politics, but in matters of general public interest like health care and education.
Some Muslim community leaders have received media training. For example, in 2002, DIMIA launched a partnership project with the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) entitled, Towards a Better Understanding of Islam and the Muslim Community in Australia (see Chapter 4 for more information about this project). The partnership focussed on developing a better understanding of Islam and Muslims in Australia and activities included media training for Muslim community leaders. Approximately forty people received media training through the project initiative. As a result, AFIC believes, 'Muslim community leaders have also developed a better grasp of the situation facing their community and how best to deal with different kinds of media and the general community to address those situations'.
While the initiative benefited some community members, consultation participants felt there was an urgent need to offer media training to a wider variety of potential spokespeople to reflect the diversity of Arab and Muslim communities in Australia. The need for women as spokespersons was particularly acute. Some participants argued that the absence or rarity of female spokespersons for Arab and Muslim communities helps reinforce stereotypes about women's oppression, subordination and lack of education.
In addition to training community spokespersons to utilise the media more effectively, participants also suggested that media themselves be educated to understand cultural and inter-racial issues as well as reporting standards established by anti-discrimination laws. Some participants suggested that anti-racism induction programs and ongoing staff training be made compulsory in all media organisations and in university journalism and media courses. Providing better education about racism and its impacts on specific communities to future journalists is possible and is indeed already happening. As noted in Chapter 4, in 2003 the Muslim Women's National Network of Australia received a Living in Harmony community grant from the federal government to deliver such training to journalism students in NSW universities. The project, Building Networks & Understanding Between Journalism Students & Muslim, aims to increase knowledge about Islam among mainstream media personnel and to aid in the development of professional networks between future journalists and the broader Muslim community. This project is to be commended and the Commission urges continued support from governments and educational institutions for similar initiatives.
Many consultation participants felt that a significant cause of heightened prejudice occurred as a result of the description of criminal suspects and offenders by reference to their presumed ethnicity, 'ethnic appearance' or even religion. Many believed that the media only referred to a suspect or offender's ethnicity if they were Arab, Muslim or of Middle Eastern background.
All state and territory police services, with the exception of NSW Police, use the following four categories to describe to describe alleged criminals, offenders, suspects, victims and missing persons by reference to their race: 'Aboriginal appearance', 'Caucasian appearance', 'Asian appearance' and 'Other appearance (to be specified)':
The NSW Police did not adopt the recommended four descriptors, choosing instead to review their entire policy on descriptions of persons issued by police to the media in consultation with internal and external stakeholders. The review resulted in a revised policy, which includes use of only the following ethnicity-based descriptors: 'Asian appearance', 'Aboriginal appearance', 'Black/African appearance', 'White/European appearance', 'Indian/Pakistani appearance', 'Pacific Islander appearance', 'South American appearance' and 'Middle Eastern/Mediterranean appearance'. In developing these descriptors, the NSW Police consulted with representatives from the then Ethnic Affairs Commission, the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW and various community groups in 1999. They also established policy guidelines to regulate the use of ethnicity based descriptors. These guidelines reflect some of the concerns outlined by the Bureau in 1997 and include the following advice:
Some consultation participants, particularly those in New South Wales, raised concerns about whether the NSW Police were following these guidelines. Several participants alleged that the police were using ethnic descriptors to describe people they already apprehended not just to identify suspects. The most frequently cited example of this were comments made by NSW Police to media following the arrests of 14 young people for intimidating police, breaching the peace and obstructing traffic at an anti-war protest rally in Sydney in March 2003. Interviewed after the rally, Assistant Commissioner Dick Adams told ABC radio, 'a large group of Middle Eastern males as the television footage will quite clearly show ... were aggressive towards police ... When most of the people had left peaceably, yet again a group of young Middle Eastern males ran amok ...' 
The second more common concern expressed by consultation participants was not strictly-speaking about use of the descriptor 'Middle Eastern' by NSW Police, but how media and politicians used the label to describe criminals already apprehended, tried and sentenced.
When you have ethnic descriptors and irresponsible media and then ... people of power who are suggesting that terms like Middle Eastern appearance are ok, that criminal activity is somehow inherent in particular ethnicity, they feed each other. Those three areas of police, the media and the government, if they are legitimising what each other is doing, then it builds up.
While the issue of ethnic descriptors was of most concern to consultation participants in New South Wales, participants in other states and territories also commented on the perceived negative impacts of using a descriptor like 'Middle-Eastern' in reports and debates about crime by the police, media and politicians. Many felt that the public debates about crime and ethnicity in New South Wales implied that all people of 'Middle Eastern' background are prone to criminality and is leading to greater prejudice, discrimination and vilification against Arabs and Muslims in other states and territories. The peak Arabic organisation in Melbourne, the Australian Arabic Council, has repeatedly expressed serious reservations about the NSW Police use of the descriptor 'Middle Eastern'.
It is fundamental to positive partnerships that ethnic descriptors are eliminated all together, Australia-wide. Terms such as 'Middle Eastern appearance', or 'Middle Eastern looking' suspect, or 'Arab looking' suspect, are not only misleading and inaccurate, but often inadvertently lead to the victimisation of individuals and entire communities ... The description is fundamentally racist. The image of a 'Middle Eastern' person doesn't exist in reality, but rather comes from Hollywood stereotypes of the 'enemy', the 'Arab' villain ... there is no need for subjective ethnic descriptors; as photo-fits and detailed description should be sufficient objective information.
The main objection to the use of ethnic descriptors raised by consultation participants was that they were seen as inflaming prejudice against whole communities making them accountable for the actions of individuals. In most examples cited by participants, it was the use of descriptors like 'Middle Eastern' by media and political commentators which aroused most concerns. Police cannot control how the media or politicians use ethnic labels to report and comment on crime. However, some participants have argued that by legitimising the public use of ethnic descriptors like 'Middle Eastern' for one purpose (catching alleged criminals), these terms become more acceptable in broader public debates about ethnicity and crime. These broader debates can inflame prejudice by suggesting there is a link between criminal behaviour and the ethnicity of offenders. This point of view has been argued most forcefully and consistently by the Australian Arabic Council, who worked with the Bureau in reviewing their policy on ethnic descriptors in 1997.
When ethnic descriptors are used to describe offenders to the media, a witch-hunt often develops. The community is portrayed as synonymous with criminal activity. Whilst this is mainly due to the sensationalism of our popular media, it is given legitimacy by the initial identification of the suspect as 'Middle Eastern'.
Participants also indicated that ethnic labelling undermines the confidence of affected communities in the objectivity of the criminal justice system and their trust in the police. The NSW Police guidelines themselves note that the use of ethnicity based descriptors is 'often the subject of significant community concern, and when they are seen to be used inappropriately they may have adverse effects on community support for police investigations'. While the NSW Police consulted with communities, including Arab and Muslim organisations, prior to the introduction of their descriptor policy, the Commission understands there has been no on-going consultation with communities to monitor concerns about the use of descriptors.
At a national level, the APMAB has monitored the use of the four ethnic descriptors it recommends police use nationally. In October 2002, following concerns from sections of the Indigenous community, APMAB convened an ethnic descriptors working party to re-examine the issue of release of ethnic-descriptors by police to the media. In 2003, APMAB also conducted a scoping exercise to understand more about current practice in the use of descriptors in all police jurisdictions, to compare and contrast this practice with international practice and to make recommendations which will further support police work. Thirty one questionnaires were distributed to police across Australia (and New Zealand). The research, based on 14 responses to the survey, found that many police were experiencing difficulties in ensuring the accurate use of descriptors and in managing the media's use of descriptors. As one respondent noted, 'it is often the media themselves who take the information and present it in a manner that may be offensive.' Police also reported that the use of descriptors often elicits significant community concern and that, 'when used inappropriately, ethnic terms can offend members of the public adversely and affect the relationship between police and the community.' The report recommended development of a national and Austral-asian set of standards in training police to use descriptors in a consistent and culturally informed manner.
The Commission supports this recommendation and encourages the under-taking of further research on the issue of descriptors in order to provide a better understanding and a firm basis for the development of a national set of standards. Given the concerns raised by consultation participants in New South Wales about the specific use of the descriptor 'Middle Eastern', it may be appropriate to include in this research a specific review of the NSW policy of eight ethnicity based descriptors.
This research could be conducted either by NSW Police, APMAB, or an independent body. Importantly, it should involve representatives from affected communities, including Arab and Muslim communities, to provide a balanced analysis of the efficacy of descriptors to police, in terms of apprehension and conviction rates, alongside the perspectives of affected communities.
That in any development of national standards concerning the use of descriptors by police, consideration be given to a review of the use of the ethnic descriptor 'Middle Eastern' which takes into account perspectives of affected communities.
Much of the behaviour reported during the consultations and empirical research went beyond discrimination and vilification. Participants also described potentially criminal behaviour, including stalking, assaults, property damage and threats of violence. In some instances, these were reported to state or territory police services and found to be criminal offences.
However, many consultation participants reported a general reluctance to seek police assistance. Participants gave a number of reasons for this reluctance. The first reason was the difficulty of identifying the perpetrator so that he or she can be charged with the offence. In many instances, participants felt it was not worth reporting an incident to police because they could not properly describe or name the perpetrator.
If you go and complain, you have to have evidence. You need to have the names, or the plate number, or the colour of the car. I didn't care about all of that and I didn't look at the plate number because I was so scared, so nervous. I just wanted to go home.
Secondly, consultation participants were unwilling to seek assistance from police because of fear of retribution and a mistrust of government authorities.
Fear of complaining to police was identified as a particular concern for Muslim women. At several consultations, participants explained that Muslim women are reluctant to bring their problems to police attention because of 'cultural differences'. Instead, women turn to their own community organisations, religious leaders or family and friends for assistance.
In an effort to allay these fears and build trust and confidence between police and ethnic communities, state and territory police services have tried to forge closer ties through police-community liaison officer programs. These programs, outlined in Chapter 4, have been in existence in every state and territory police jurisdiction of Australia since the 1980s and 1990s. Despite the diverse names and structure of these programs across Australia, they share the common objective of establishing links between communities and local police with the aim of reducing and preventing crime.
The work of police-community liaison officers was mentioned by participants in several consultations. At a consultation in North Sydney, the Muslim women who participated expressed their general reluctance to raise issues of discrimin-ation and vilification with local police. However, the women were familiar with the local Ethnic Community Liaison Officer who encouraged them to meet as a group and discuss with her any problems. At a consultation in Melbourne, participants described how Multicultural Liaison Officers from the Victoria Police cultivated good relations with the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) by making themselves available to attend functions, respond to queries and give talks about safety and discrimination issues to community members. At another consultation in Melbourne, a group of Muslim university students still felt reluctant to complain despite police efforts to build trust.
Once, the Australian Federal Police [AFP] came to the University and the Muslim students were gathered and were told that if they face any discrimination to call the AFP. This was right after the Bali bombing and they were afraid of any arson retaliation attacks. I don't think we would complain though. Probably because we don't have good experiences with the police - we don't feel welcome.
However, consultation participants were generally more positive that ongoing liaison between police and community members would eventually engender trust in police and encourage people to report incidents of racist violence.
There is a whole body of the police and a whole body in the community who don't know much about each other and probably don't trust each other yet. Hopefully we can build those bridges - it will take time.
A third factor in not seeking police assistance was scepticism about obtaining a useful outcome. In some instances, this scepticism derived from direct experience with local police who did not take reported race hate offences seriously, even when identifying information was provided, such as a car number plate. Consultation participants who reported incidents to police were generally dissatisfied with the police response.
To ensure that criminal behaviour with a racial or religious motivation are treated seriously and appropriately, the motivation for the offence and its significance to the victim and his or her community needs to be acknowledged. While most states and territories have criminal sanctions against racial vilification (and against religious vilification in Victoria and Queensland) the collection of statistical data on race hate crimes or of incidents which have an element of racial or religious prejudice is limited and varies considerably in police jurisdictions across Australia. Currently, there is limited data collection about race hate crimes by police in South Australia and Western Australia and none in Tasmania or the Northern Territory where there are no legislative provisions under criminal law for racial or religious vilification. Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales have developed more comprehensive data collection systems.
The Queensland Police Service introduced a racial or religious vilification indicator into its crime recording system early in 2003. In Queensland, police must record a race or religious hate motive where it exists in offences against the person but have discretion whether or not to do so in the case of property offences. Victoria Police established a register to record incidents motivated by race or religion after 11 September 2001. The Register is ongoing and records all race or religious motivated incidents reported to police through internal police data and community information. Following the commencement of the war in Iraq, groups and communities identified as more vulnerable to vilification were invited to provide direct input into the Register. All race or religious motivated incidents recorded on the register were investigated and regional Multicultural Liaison Officers were instructed to ensure that appropriate assistance, advice and support was offered to victims of such incidents.
NSW Police had been trialling methods of recording prejudice related crimes since 1995. In October 1999, they introduced a state-wide system to collect data on hate/prejudice motivated crimes. Under this system, NSW police officers can record a motivation - due to sexual preference, religion, race/ethnicity, politics or others as stated by the officer and/or the victim - when recording a crime report. Whether any such prejudice is an associated factor in an incident is determined by the individual officers. Under this system, data is collected about all incidents where racial, religious or ethnic prejudice is an associated factor. The data collected is not just about specific criminal offences for inciting race hatred or inciting others to threaten such harm against an individual or group.
In its 1991 Racist Violence report, the Commission stated:
The Inquiry believes that 'uniform national procedures' for the collection of statistics on racist violence, intimidation and harass-ment need to be developed. Those statistics should be analysed and published annually to provide uniform information on the incidence of racially based crime in Australia.
The Commission remains of the view that records of race and religious hate-based incidents, and the motivation for that incident, should be kept by all police services across Australia and that training be provided to officers in relation to recognising such motivations. Ultimately race hate data across Australia could then be made comparable between jurisdictions so that further action can be usefully taken to address this issue.
Sharing information about hate crimes across the state and territories has been identified as a priority by the Australasian Police Minister's Council (APMC). In December 2003, the APMC tasked APMAB to report on the development of mechanisms 'to improve police-police and police-community information sharing on the issue of racist violence'. The Commission suggests that establishing greater consistency in the collection of information about racially or religiously motivated incidents by police services across Australia is vital to improving information sharing between police and communities about racist violence.
That APMAB, together with all state and territory police services, consider reviewing current systems for recording incidents motivated by racial or religious prejudice with a view to ensuring greater consistency in the collection of data across Australia.
Consultation participants whose complaints to police were dismissed because they did not meet the threshold for investigation under criminal law often felt unsupported and unsure of where else to turn for assistance. Better communication between police, community organisations and anti-discrimination agencies who may be able to assist when an incident of discrimination or vilification is not a criminal offence may be a solution. Providing more effective information sharing between these organisations could help support Arab and Muslim Australians who have experienced discrimination or vilification and increase the chances that a satisfactory outcome will result from reporting an incident. The Commission also recommends consistency in treatment of the persons who report such crimes to ensure appropriate assistance, advice and support are offered.
That officers of all police services have the necessary information to enable appropriate referral of victims of racial or religious discrimination or vilification to appropriate community or anti-discrimination agencies in the event their complaints do not meet the threshold for investigation under criminal law.
Consultation participants expressed strong views about the need for more effective community action to tackle anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimin-ation. Participants called for stronger community leadership, improved networking between community groups and better education within communities as well as to the broader public about issues affecting Arab and Muslim Australians. Providing greater support for individuals who were seen to be particularly at risk of discrimination or vilification, (such as women, young people and newly arrived migrants and refugees) was also identified as a priority.
Strong community leadership was seen as vital to helping overcome prejudice and discrimination. Many consultation participants felt that, despite no shortage of secular or religious leaders eager to speak on behalf of Arab or Muslim Australians, effective leadership was lacking. Participants wanted community leaders to take more responsibility for problems within their communities and be more proactive, assertive and consistent in advocating for their rights and interests. They also wanted community leaders to show greater unity on key issues to help counter prejudice.
Some thought such unity would only be possible with fewer leaders representing the interests of Arab and Muslim Australians in the media and in the political arena. As is outlined in Chapter 1, there is no single spokesperson or organis-ation unanimously accepted as representing the interests of all Australian Muslims. Nor is there one organisation which can authoritatively claim to speak for all Arab Australians. The rich and complex organisational structure of Arab and Muslim communities in Australia reflects the tremendous ethnic, religious and regional diversity of Arab and Muslim Australians themselves. Some consultation participants saw this organisational complexity as a weakness and suggested that forming new Arab and Muslim lobby groups or strengthening existing peak-body associations would help 'fix' this weakness. However, most participants simply called for better communication and co-operation between the various existing community leaders.
In addition to improving communication internally, participants urged community leaders to foster better relations with organisations in the wider community such as police, anti-discrimination agencies or other religious and ethnic groups. As outlined in Chapter 4, this process of engagement is already well underway with many Arab and Muslim community groups initiating or participating in a range of projects, from interfaith networks to inter-school visits, which aim to build closer links with the wider community. These initiatives are commendable and should receive ongoing support from government and non-government partner organisations.
Participants felt community organisations need to play a more active role in educating members of their own communities, young people in particular, about their culture, history and religion. This education would give community members the knowledge and confidence to respond appropriately when questioned or attacked about their ethnicity or religion.
We need to provide education seminars for Arabic Australians about what are the positive things about Arabic culture? They do not learn that at school. If kids were taught at school that Arabs came up with the first writing system and that they invented this and that and look at this history, then when someone comes and says to them 'You are a terrorist', they have got a smart comment to come back with. They can say, 'Well actually did you know that the Arabs invented this? So there you go'. Again empower them to speak up for themselves.
Educating young people in the wider community about Arabic language and culture or Islamic values and history was also identified as a priority. As is outlined in Chapter 4, some community groups are already actively doing this in schools around Australia. For example, the Muslim Women's Association of South Australia, with funding assistance from DIMIA, developed a resource package on Islam for use in schools. From 2002, the kit has been used in over sixty training sessions conducted by the Muslim Women's Association in Adelaide schools. Victorian Arabic Social Services is also coordinating and developing an educational resource kit for schools which includes support material for the teaching of the Arabic language, culture and history.
Aside from providing education about Arabic culture and history or the Islamic faith, participants urged community organisations to inform members about their rights and responsibilities as Australians living in a multicultural society. Some participants felt it was especially important to 'educate youth to fight for their rights calmly and be more accepting of other cultures and religions'. Informing communities about existing state or federal anti-discrimination laws and complaints processes was also identified as vital. As we highlighted earlier in this chapter, federal and state anti-discrimination agencies like the Commission should seek to ensure that information about the law and complaints processes is appropriate and accessible to culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Community organisations can greatly assist anti-discrimination agencies like the Commission by helping develop and deliver information that is appropriate and accessible to their communities.
Information provided during the consultations, surveys and interviews suggested that women, young people and newly arrived migrants and refugees were those most at risk of discrimination or racial abuse in Arab and Muslim communities. Consultation participants highlighted the need for community organisations to provide extra care for these particular groups. Many community organisations were already running support groups for women, particularly for Muslim women, to empower women who felt particularly isolated because of their fears of experiences of abuse and discrimination. Some were also running projects that aimed to help young people by building their leadership skills, helping them with schoolwork and providing guidance in their transition from school to the workforce.
The need for extra assistance for Arabic speaking and Muslim migrants and refugees was an area of particular concern. Many participants discussed the impacts of the shift away from targeted provision of services to migrants and refugees through specialist agencies such as Migrant Resource Centres to more mainstream organisations. Participants argued that 'mainstreaming' of settlement services was having a negative impact on Arabic speaking migrants and refugees who were missing out on the specialist support they needed from community workers with appropriate cultural and linguistic skills to help them settle effectively in Australia.
Language was seen as a huge barrier to accessing information and services for migrants and refugees from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. To help overcome this barrier, some consultation participants suggested that English-language classes were an appropriate place for migrants and refugees to receive practical information about how to access services and what do if they experience discrimination. Conveying information through ethnic media was also seen as important. In Hobart, consultation participants suggested development of a mentoring program to inform newly arrived migrants or refugees about accessing services like hospitals or the police. Participants at another consultation in Victoria, mostly Arabic-speaking female refugees, described how they were being given extra assistance in finding employment through a mentoring program ('Given the Chance') run by the Ecumenical Migration Centre of Melbourne. The program matches refugee women seeking work with mentors from the corporate and public sector and provides them with training and work experiences to help improve their opportunities in the job market.
Aside from providing additional support for groups at risk of discrimination, consultation participants also discussed the need for governments to provide more support to community organisations themselves. As outlined in Chapter 4 and in the strategies paper available on the Commission's website, there have been various initiatives by federal, state and local governments to help Muslim and Arab community organisations support and advocate for their clients more effectively. Many of these initiatives are developed and implemented by community organisations awarded government funding through competitive grants processes. The 'Living in Harmony' community grants program, administ-ered by DIMIA, is perhaps the best known funding source for projects relating to community harmony and anti-racism. Some Arab or Muslim community organisations who took part in consultations were unaware of the range of funding sources available. Others knew where to go for funding but felt they had insufficient time or resources to put together a competitive application. A common criticism of the provision of government support to community organisations was that there was too much emphasis on funding discreet projects rather than providing ongoing, long-term support.
The Government is dishing out money to individual organisations when ongoing projects are more important.
There was also criticism about the distribution of funding. Some participants felt that too much energy is being directed toward projects involving Muslims and that other non-Muslim Arabic speaking communities also experiencing discrimination are being forgotten. Others argued the exact opposite: that Muslim organisations are disadvantaged compared with ethnic specific organisations in obtaining funding in competitive grants processes like the federally funded 'Living in Harmony' community grants program. Some participants felt that the competition for government grants was exacerbating existing divisions within communities. Rather than competing for grants, participants at one consultation suggested that organisations collaborate more with each other in seeking government support.
Why don't the Islamic organisations join together instead of being so separate and fighting for the funding separately?
Initiatives to eliminate prejudice and discrimination against Arab and Muslim Australians cannot be effective without community involvement in the development and implementation of such strategies. Governments should ensure that community organisations are properly consulted and adequately resourced to enable their participation in development and implementation of strategies to tackle anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice. The issue of adequate resources is especially vital. Currently, many community organisations are struggling to meet their core social welfare or religious functions while helping members of their communities cope with the extra burden of discrimination and vilification.
For their part, community organisations can act to address issues of discrimination and vilification by strengthening community leadership, improve networking between community groups and prioritise education within communities as well as to the broader public about Arab and Muslim Australians. Providing greater support for individuals who were seen to be particularly at risk of discrimination or vilification, such as women, young people and newly arrived migrants and refugees is also important.
That Muslim and Arab community leaders continue to promote harmony within their communities, build closer links to other religious and ethnic communities in Australia to foster mutual respect and tackle racism and work in partnership with government agencies and other non-government organisations to educate members of their communities about laws and complaint processes which provide access to services and protect against racial or religious discrimination.
As outlined in Chapter 3 and in the UWS research report Living with Racism, one of the most serious impacts of prejudice and discrimination against Arab and Muslim Australians is a growing sense of isolation and marginalisation. Many Arab and Muslim Australians no longer feel they 'belong' in Australian society. This is a serious concern for a society that prides itself on being multicultural and has built its national identity on multicultural principles such as respect and fairness for all, regardless of race, culture or religion.
In Chapter 4, we highlighted some of the public statements made by federal and state political leaders following major incidents such as the attacks of 11 September 2001, the Bali bombings of October 2002 and the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. In response to these events, key federal, state and territory politicians publicly expressed support for Muslim Australians in particular by visiting mosques and calling for tolerance and community harmony. Many leaders of religious and community organisations have also shown their solidarity with Australian Muslims through participation in interfaith dialogues which operate at national, state and local levels.
Some participants recognised government efforts to provide support to Muslims and encourage the public not to blame Australian Muslims for the actions of international terrorists.
However, the majority of consultation participants felt that political leaders had failed to recognise and condemn anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination. Participants felt that when leaders did speak out in support of Arab and Muslim communities, their messages were either muted, ill-timed or inconsistent with other policies or statements.
Consultation participants urged senior politicians to communicate and liaise more with Arab and Muslim communities and issue more public statements in solidarity with those affected by prejudice and discrimination.
Providing more public support for Muslim Australians was identified as a particular priority.
Aside from increasing the level of public support, participants stressed the importance of the timing and consistency of key messages. Timing was seen as especially important. Failure to offer immediate, unequivocal public support for ethnic or religious communities under attack was seen by some participants as a serious problem. Consultation participants felt that messages of support and inclusiveness should be delivered regularly, particularly during critical times such as election periods.
Underlying much of the criticism about political messaging was fundamental disagreement with many government policies and practices. Participants argued that words of support are meaningless unless they are consistent with government policies and programs. Many felt that the federal government's treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in particular undermined attempts by political leaders to build trust with Arab and Muslim Australians.
The federal government's anti-terrorism laws introduced in June 2002 were another source of distrust in government.
While strong, consistent words and actions of support from politicians were seen as important, participants also felt that generating support from a broad cross-section of Australians was just as vital to overcoming anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice. Gaining the support of opinion leaders and celebrities in the fields of sport and entertainment was seen as one effective way to encourage the general public to show solidarity with Arab and Muslim Australians.
Encouraging direct and immediate support from everyday Australians against acts of racism was also regarded as a simple yet effective way to tackle prejudice and discrimination. Consultation participants and interviewees often reported that bystanders looked on while attacks against them took place. Some participants felt that the lack of assistance or intervention from bystanders was more hurtful than the abuse or violence itself.
While intervention by members of the public in dangerous situations is not generally advisable, some participants described circumstances where support from bystanders helped them avoid potentially violent situations and restored their faith in the decency of most Australians. The action of a Melbourne tram driver is one such example. A young Muslim man described how a tram driver came to his defence after he was told by a fellow passenger on the tram to, 'Go back to your country you stupid Muslim - go back to your country black c..t ...'
A Muslim woman in Perth described how a passing motorist stopped to help her after a man set his three dogs on her while she was walking in a suburban street. 'Luckily I had an umbrella to defend myself. The man just watched then a driver stopped and screamed so the man called the dogs back.' Another consultation participant felt that more Australians could be encouraged to provide such support through a broad community education campaign that conveyed the message, 'if you see racism happening, it is important to support the victim'. The education campaign could offer practical examples of how to assist victims of racism and give information about where to turn for help in reporting incidents and in seeking counselling.
To help overcome the sense of alienation and isolation identified by so many participants, it was felt that strong, clear and regular messages of support and solidarity from a range of national, state and local political and community leaders were crucial. Such messages were considered especially important in times of crisis to protect Arab and Muslim Australians from any potential backlash. Participants felt that such messages should not single out Arab or Muslim Australians for 'special' treatment, but rather, should emphasise the importance and values of multiculturalism to Australian society.
That political and community leaders at a federal, state and territory and local level, encourage Australians to uphold the principles of multi-culturalism including respect for the right of all Australians to express their own culture and beliefs and responsibility to support the basic structures and principles of Australian society that guarantee freedom and equality for all.
1. See: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/racial_discrimination/isma/strategies/index.html
© Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. Last updated 16 June 2004.
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