The Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane has given his final public address, urging Australians to continue the fight against racism, prejudice and discrimination.
Speaking at the Whitlam Institute at the University of Western Sydney, Commissioner Soutphommasane warned that Australia’s racial harmony is under threat.
“I take no pleasure in saying this but, right now, it feels like there has never been a more exciting time to be a dog-whistling politician or race-baiting commentator in Australia.
“Five years ago, I wouldn’t have said it was likely that we would see the resurgence of far-right politics. I wouldn’t have expected that the biggest threats to racial harmony would come from within our parliaments and media.
“It is clear that politicians are enthusiastically seeking debates about immigration, multiculturalism and crime. This is dangerous territory. When politicians resort to using race in advancing their agendas, they inevitably excite racial anxiety and stir up social division. They end up damaging our racial tolerance and multicultural harmony,” he said.
Commissioner Soutphommasane criticised sections of the media industry, accusing them of using racism as part of their business model. He described the decision by Sky News to give a platform to neo-Nazi Blair Cottrell, as a shameful low.
He called for standards in public debates to be restored and said the Racial Discrimination Act has set the standard, for more than 40 years.
“The RDA has proven to be a powerful instrument of justice. It has become an important part of Australia’s human rights architecture. It has been, in effect, the legislative expression of Australian multiculturalism.
“As I reflect on the past five years, I can say there has been no prouder achievement than to have stood alongside so many Australians in fighting off two attempts to change section 18C. Standing together, we have sent a powerful message that the Australian community believes the RDA must be here to stay,” he said.
Commissioner Soutphommasane also addressed recent discussions about the future role of the Race Discrimination Commissioner.
“Recent months have indicated a possible new front in the battles over race: changing the act in order to rename or redefine the office of Race Discrimination Commissioner. Some believe that the language of "racial discrimination" is too divisive, instead preferring a focus on the happier concern of "harmony".
“There is no reason for any kind of change. At a time when racism is on the march, you shouldn’t undermine our institutional stance against racial discrimination. We’ve got little chance of fighting racial discrimination if we can’t even name it.
“Those entertaining a legislative change should know there are many communities ready to defend the act against yet another attack,” he said.
You can read Commissioner Soutphommasane’s full speech here https://www.humanrights.gov.au/news/speeches/confronting-return-race-politics