Racism exists in Australia – are we doing enough to address it?

Dr Helen Szoke
Race Discrimination Commissioner
Australian Human Rights Commission

Queensland University of Technology
Brisbane, Qld
16 February 2012

Introduction and acknowledgements

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we are meeting on tonight. I pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I’d like to thank the Honourable Michael Lavarch, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Law at Queensland University of Technology, and his staff for their kind invitation to speak on tonight as part of their Public Lecture Series. I am somewhat honoured to speak from the perspective of Race Discrimination Commissioner, given Michael’s direct involvement in strengthening the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act during his time as Federal Attorney General.

This is my first opportunity to speak publicly in Queensland, and I must say as a Victorian, I am always astonished at the breadth and diversity of this state, the richness of its beauty but also the challenges of its proximity to the more tropical rigours of climate fickleness! I am sorry to see that yet again parts of your beautiful state have been impacted by natural elements, as floods ravage communities in the south.

One of the unexpected realisations in taking on the role of national Race Discrimination Commissioner has in fact been the diversity of what makes up Australia. This diversity is of landscape as much as climate, of distance as much as density and of ways of life as well as hardship in life. It is a sunburnt country in part and a snow capped island in others. We have the variable terrains, and the variable challenges that come with that, as numerous other countries have in conglomerate. And so this makes it all the more astonishing that we, mainly, comfortably and easily define ourselves as Australians.

Australia Day this year will be remembered for many different reasons. Sadly it may be remembered for the images of the protests associated with the Tent Embassy that flicked around the world, depicting a most un-Australian image of a head of country being bundled into a car. It will be remembered because yet again the actions of a few people are used to attack our First Nations people. It will be remembered for the debate about whether we should have flags flying from cars – is this triumphalism, is it patriotic, is it just popular? It will be remembered for the NSW Australian of the Year, Dr Charles Teo, reminding us all that racism exists still in this country.

The diversity of who we are in all of our aspects as a country came together around these events. The views may have differed, but the interest, the connection, and the extent of the dialogue demonstrated that we are keenly interested in the Australia that is made up of many parts and many cultures. We are part of a small club of countries that has both an indigenous population and a multicultural population that defines who we are.

And inherent in all of this complexity, there is inevitably a history of dispossession, a fear of difference and a damage that appears in different ways, at different times and with different impacts that we call racism. In order to continue to promote the positives of who we are as a country, we must ensure we address the negatives, and that is the focus of my presentation tonight.

Racism exists in Australia

In my opening comments tonight, I took the time to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and to pay my respects to elders past and present. This acknowledgement is a relatively recent feature of our history as a country, as we know that colonisation and white settlement paid little respect or acknowledgement that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were the original and first inhabitants of this land. It is worth remembering how breathtakingly audacious that was, particular when we know that the First Nations people of this country were here just a little bit longer, by tens of thousands of years. Our history as a country of predominately white settlers has not been good in this regard. So it is true to say that our time since white settlement has quite obviously racist overtones. It is also true to say that prior to white settlement, the continent that we now call Australia was in fact multicultural, with many different First Nations peoples living across the vast expanse of land.

Racism does exist in Australia. We know this is a fact. Our own complaints at the Australian Human Rights Commission tell us that.

It is also identified in research. National data from the Challenging Racism Project[1] was released in 2011 and gave us information about the prevalence of racism and attitudes about racism.

We know from this research that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to experience high levels of racism, across multiple settings. The research found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents returned much higher rates of experiences of racism: in relation to contact with police and seeking housing, their experiences of racism were four times that of non-Aboriginal Australians.[2]

Similarly, 2008 other research found that 27% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples over the age of 15 reported experiencing discrimination in the preceding 12 months; in particular by the general public, in law and justice settings and in employment.[3] Further recent research has found that three out of four Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples regularly experienced race discrimination when accessing primary health care, and that racism and cultural barriers led to some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples not being diagnosed and treated for disease in its early stages, when treatment is most effective.[4]

More generally, the Challenging Racism research resulted in the following findings:
  • around 85% of respondents believe that racism is a current issue in Australia

  • around 20% of respondents had experienced forms of race-hate talk (verbal abuse, name-calling, racial slurs, offensive gestures etc)

  • around 11% of respondents identified as having experienced race-based exclusion from their workplaces and/or social activities

  • 7% of respondents identified as having experienced unfair treatment based on their race

  • 6% of respondents reported that they had experienced physical attacks based on their race[5]
This research also found that people born overseas experienced higher rates of racism than those born in Australia, and were twice as likely to experience racism in the workplace.[6]

Culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Australia are themselves diverse, each community and generation having quite different experiences of migration and settlement. As a result, their experiences of racism vary considerably, and have also varied over time. For example, research suggests that ‘settled’ immigrants tend to experience lower levels of racism or racist attitudes than more recent arrivals to Australia.[7]

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s recent work with Arab[8] and Muslim Australians and African Australians[9] suggests that these communities are at a higher risk of experiencing discrimination and prejudice. This supports previous research undertaken by the Commission that found “visible" ethnic and religious minorities such as Arabs, Muslims, Africans, Jews, Palestinians and Turkish people, are groups more likely to be regularly subjected to racism. Members of these communities identified that their "difference" in terms of skin colour, dress or cultural/religious practices singles them out as targets of racism.[10]

There are also particular groups within culturally and linguistically diverse communities which appear to particularly experience racism. For example, so-called shock jock radio presenter’s frequently veer into racial stereotyping and demeaning of asylum seekers and refugees.

Similarly, the Commission’s work with international students[11] makes clear that these temporary residents are often taken advantage of – or discriminated against – by health providers, migration agents, employers and real estate agents because of their race or colour or their ethnicity, their sex or their age, and sometimes because of a combination of these factors.

Alarmingly, some research indicates a significant increase in racism over recent years: the Scanlon Foundation’s Mapping Social Cohesion 2011[12] report found that in 2010 there was a marked increase in reported racial discrimination, and that this increased reporting was maintained in the 2011 survey. Disturbingly, this research also highlighted the lack of awareness of most Australians about the issues faced by our First Nations peoples.

What is racism?

So the evidence says that racism exists in Australia.

This should not surprise us as racism is to be found in every society on earth in different forms.

I want to talk a little bit about what racism is and how it impacts in the Australian context. My concern is that while the data suggests that racism does exist, we do not have much of a community dialogue about how racism manifests and the harm that it causes.

Without such understanding, it is difficult to see how we can move forward to eradicate racism.

Racism takes many forms. In general, it is a belief that a particular race or ethnicity is inferior or superior to others. Racial discrimination involves any act where a person is treated unfairly or vilified because of their race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, religion or belief. Racism impacts directly on the full enjoyment of individual’s human rights, and in particular the right to equality.

Racism is experienced across a spectrum. It may occur in a passive way by excluding people socially or by being indifferent to their views and experiences.

Racism may take the form of prejudice and stereotyping of different groups in our community; in name calling, taunting or insults; or in actively and directly excluding or discriminating against people from services on opportunities on the basis of their race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, religion or belief; for example, in relation to employment opportunities, access to education, or participation in sport.

It can manifest through commentary or drawings in the media, speeches at public rallies or assemblies and abuse on the internet – including in e-forums, blogs and on social networking sites.

Sometimes racism can be reflected in not telling the history of an event or the experience of a group of people in our country.

In its most serious manifestation, racism is demonstrated in behaviours and activities that embody hate, abuse and violence – particularly experienced by groups who are visibly different as a result of their cultural or religious dress, their skin colour or their physical appearance.

Just as other forms of discrimination may relate to a number of attributes, so will the experience of racism. Racism may compound the experience of discrimination of a woman, who is treated less favourably on the basis of her race and her gender – or an older person, who is discriminated against on the basis of their skin colour and their age.

On occasions, racism can occur more systemically, as when people with overseas skills and work experience are overlooked for employment,[13] or when job applicants without Anglo-Saxon names have difficulty being offered job interviews.[14]

And it often is linked to poverty and social and economic status, as is the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples generally.

A key feature of racism in Australia is denialism.

Such denial may be a genuine response that suggests a lack of understanding that an act may be racist. However, there are also deliberate falsehoods, misinformation or evasion. Suggestions of racism may also be dismissed as an overreaction, where people think that telling a racist joke, for example, should be taken as just a bit of fun. Too often, stories start with “I’m not racist, but...”

Ultimately, racism:is a denial of human relationship. Yet for many people it remains almost invisible, unnoticed except when violence is involved. Those who do not experience it often fail to understand how profoundly offensive it is.[15]

Racism is bad for us

There is also significant research that demonstrates the damage that racism causes to individuals and society as a whole. I don’t intend to explore this tonight, as I want to focus on what we can do about it. But some of the research is referenced for your further information.[16] This research clearly demonstrates – among other things – that racism, literally, makes you sick.

More broadly, racism undermines social cohesion within the community. To ensure social inclusion, individuals need the opportunity to ‘secure a job; access services; connect with family, friends, work, personal interests and local community; deal with personal crisis; and have their voices heard’.[17] Racism towards any individual or community undermines the achievement of each of these goals.

Racism also impacts adversely on the development of Australia as a multicultural society. If we conceive multiculturalism as a set of norms or principles in which the human rights of all are respected, protected and promoted, then the adverse impacts on groups in the community who may be treated less favourably on the basis of their race, colour, national or ethnic origin or religious belief is obvious.

Multiculturalism supports the ideals of a democratic society in which every person is free and equal in dignity and rights. Racism undermines these very foundations.

The existing framework for addressing racism in Australia

In this country, the first national anti-discrimination law to be passed addressed racism.

Australia became a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in 1966 and then ratified it in 1975. The ICERD outlines Australia’s obligations to safeguard human rights in the political, economic, social, cultural and other fields of public life so that human rights are ensured to everyone without racial discrimination.

The Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), was then passed in 1975. It seeks to promote equality before the law for all persons and implements the principle of prohibiting discrimination against people on the basis of their race, colour, or national or ethnic origin.

The RDA has provisions against direct and indirect discrimination. Among Australian anti-discrimination laws it has unusually broad coverage. Most Australian anti-discrimination laws provide a list of areas of life or situations in which discrimination is prohibited.

The RDA takes a different approach. It makes it unlawful for a person or organisation to act in a way that, on the basis of a person’s race, colour, national or ethnic origin, nullifies, negates or impairs their recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of any human right or fundamental freedom in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.

I should note that while this approach is designed to provide a most extensive protection it is also a drafting approach which has some complexities and potential uncertainties of its own, including in asking domestic Australian courts to interpret international law concepts of human rights directly.

Perhaps for this reason, the broad and general prohibition of discrimination in section 9 of the RDA is accompanied by specific prohibitions of discrimination in a number of areas of public life:

  • access to places and facilities;

  • land, housing and other accommodation;

  • provision of goods and services;

  • the right to join trade unions; and

  • employment.

In practice most complaints have been made by reference to these more specific provisions. But the general prohibition of racial discrimination affecting any human right remains both an important legal safety net and an immensely important statement of principle, reflecting the indivisibility of all human rights.

The RDA is also distinctive among Australian anti-discrimination and equality laws in its general provision for equality before the law, in section 10. Unlike most other provisions of the RDA, section 10 is enforced directly through the courts rather than through complaints to the Commission. While the number of cases brought under section 10 has been small, I think it’s only necessary to name one of them – Mabo No 1 – to confirm the importance of this provision.[18]

Without this case’s finding that it was a breach of section 10 of the RDA for the Queensland government to seek to confirm that it had retrospectively and permanently extinguished any remaining native title over the Torres Strait islands, Eddie Mabo and his co-plaintiffs would have lost the right to even bring forward the argument that there was such a thing as native title that could be recognised under Australian law.

Importantly, the RDA was amended in 1995 to incorporate specific provisions that relate to actions which are likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a person or group of people. Mr Lavarch is particularly familiar with these provisions, having been the Commonwealth Attorney-General at the time. These provisions are important in providing additional protections against, for example, race hate.

Supporting ICERD and the RDA in a practical sense, Australia has had a Commissioner attached to the RDA since 1975, although the position has sometimes been filled on a part time basis. In 2011, the position of Race Discrimination Commissioner was again filled in a full time capacity.

The role of the Commissioner includes leading the work of the Commission in promoting an understanding and acceptance of, and compliance with, the RDA; developing and conducting research and educational programs and other programs for the purpose of combating racial discrimination; promoting understanding, tolerance and friendship among racial and ethnic groups; and supporting the purposes and principles of the International Convention.[19]

These three elements – ICERD, the RDA and the role of Race Discrimination Commissioner – provide a strong structural foundation for tackling racism in Australia at a national level.

Current opportunities to strengthen our response to racism

Right now, we are at an interesting juncture.

There are three key initiatives playing out at a national level which address racism – the consolidation of Commonwealth Anti-Discrimination Laws, the development of a National Anti-Racism Strategy and, of course, the discussion about whether or not we need Constitutional reform to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in our Constitution.

There are few occasions in a nation’s history where we have the opportunity to simultaneously look at the legal foundation document of our country, specific domestic law reform and also a nation-wide strategy – all aimed at strengthening our response to racism. The possibility of Constitutional reform, legislative reform and awareness raising: a powerful trifecta that we need to harness in order to continue to promote and support the cultural diversity and social cohesion of Australia as a country.

I hope we win the trifecta! But it will need concerted action on the part of all Australians.

Let me look briefly at these three opportunities in turn.

Constitutional Reform

It is interesting how little most Australians know about our Constitution. This is in contrast with countries like South Africa, where every person was given a copy of the Constitution when it was adopted in 1996.

In late 2010 the Prime Minister established an Expert Panel to look at possible Constitutional reform to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people formally in the constitution. The report and recommendations arising from the Expert Panel’s extensive consultative process was handed to the Prime Minister on 19 January this year.[20] The question of when a referendum will be held on this important issue is yet to be determined by the Government.

The Panel has made a number of recommendations that seek to address the embedded racism in our country’s Constitution. This racism was not addressed at the time of the 1967 referendum that changed our Constitution to give the federal parliament the power to make laws in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to allow for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be included in the census. Nor can it been addressed through the passage of domestic laws.

The Panel’s report reminds us that two sections of the Constitution still enable the Commonwealth Government to make laws that discriminate on the basis of race: section 25 and the ‘race power’ in section 51 (xxvi).

Section 25 allows State laws to disqualify people of a particular race from voting at State elections. Such a provision has no place in a modern democracy like Australia.

Section 51 (xxvi) allows the Commonwealth Parliament to make special laws for people of a particular race. There are examples where this has been relied upon in order to introduce laws that negatively discriminate against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Expert Panel has recommended that these two provisions be repealed.

The Panel has recommended that a new section 51A be inserted in the Constitution that explicitly respects and acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and promotes the advancement of those peoples.

The Expert Panel has also recommended the insertion of a new section 116A, prohibiting the Commonwealth, and States and Territories, from making laws that discriminate on the basis of race, colour or ethnic or national origin, but permitting laws or measures which aim to overcome disadvantage, ameliorate the effects of past discrimination, or protect the cultures, languages or heritage of any group.

A further new section 127A proposes the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages as the ‘original Australian languages’, whilst acknowledging that English is the national language of Australia.

My Commission has supported these recommendations.[21] Obviously, we have a long way to go before we come to a referendum on these issues. But it is incumbent on us all to think about these issues, to know what they really mean, to raise them in our dinner party discussions, in our sporting activities, at our work, to dispel the myths that will inevitably fly around in the media and be promoted by people who do not understand or accept how important it is to ensure racial equality and recognition of our First Nations peoples.

Consolidation of Commonwealth Anti-Discrimination Laws

The project to consolidate Australia’s anti-discrimination laws into a single Act was announced by Australian Government in April 2010 as a key component of Australia’s Human Rights framework.[22]

The Commission has welcomed this project, as we consider that discrimination law can be made easier to understand, comply with, and where necessary to enforce, through greater simplicity and more consistency – both across grounds of discrimination and between Commonwealth discrimination law, industrial law, and State and Territory anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws.[23]

We have also welcomed the commitment by the Government that there should be no reduction in the level of protection currently provided.[24] This commitment is an essential benchmark against which draft legislation should be measured during its development and against which it will be measured when it becomes available.[25]

It is our view that beneficial and best practice features of legislation currently applicable to one ground of discrimination be maintained and as far as possible applied to all covered grounds of discrimination.[26] Some of the key features of the RDA have therefore been recommended as model provisions for new draft legislation. For example, one of the strengths of the RDA – its broad human rights based approach to the areas of public life it covers in section 9 – has been recommended as a preferred approach for a general human rights or equality based test, in any area of public life, in the new draft legislation – rather than placing sole reliance on the more specific regimes in the Sex Discrimination, Disability Discrimination and Age Discrimination Acts.

Similarly, the Commission has recommended the inclusion of an equivalent to RDA section 10 within a consolidated Commonwealth equality law: a general equality before the law provision applying to all protected attributes under Commonwealth discrimination law.

The consolidation process offers an opportunity to not only embrace the stronger features of the RDA, but also address some of its deficiencies. If we were to ask what would improve the current legislative regime, there are two key responses: reviewing who can act and how people or organisations can act to enhance racial equality under the Act – and enhancing the current compliance framework.

To take the first issue: all Commonwealth discrimination laws include capacity for complaints by or on behalf of persons aggrieved by discrimination, leading to investigation and dispute resolution functions for the Commission.

The Commission views complaints as an important part of a compliance framework directed to achieving the objectives of the legislation, in addition to providing a means of access to justice.

The Commission considers that the consolidation process offers opportunities to consider measures for improved access to justice for people and organisations seeking to assert rights, and for increased certainty for people and organisations seeking to comply with their responsibilities.[27]

One set of issues about access to justice is presented by the fact that capacity to take action at the Federal Court or Federal Magistrates Court stage is more restricted than at the Commission stage. A complaint to the Commission can be made by any person or organisation on behalf of a person aggrieved by discrimination – and the Commission itself has power to launch its own inquiries into human rights and discrimination issues.
But at the court stage, complaints can only be made by a person or persons aggrieved – not by representative or advocacy organisations in their own right or by the Commission or other bodies seeking to enforce the law.

There are of course issues to consider about how and how far a body which provides an impartial complaint handling service could have an advocacy role, and we look forward to further discussion of those issues.

In terms of compliance provisions – there are a range of mechanisms provided (although not consistently across grounds) in the RDA, SDA, DDA, ADA and AHRCA for achievement of their objects. The present review of these Acts provides an opportunity for consideration of possible improvements in the compliance framework for Commonwealth discrimination law to ensure that it meets, or better meets, the goals of efficiency and effectiveness in promoting the objectives of the legislation.

I want to emphasise that even the best anti-discrimination law will in itself only be part of an effective and comprehensive strategy to eliminate racial discrimination and promote equality. Parties to the ICERD undertake a much wider range of obligations than simply enacting legislative prohibitions against racial discrimination.[28]

I will discuss the development of a new and comprehensive Anti-Racism Strategy for Australia in a moment.

Before moving on from the consolidation process, though, I want to refer very briefly to the race hate provisions in the RDA. These were not canvassed in the Attorney General’s Department discussion paper, and therefore the Commission has not referred to these provisions in its submission. The Commission is looking to see what comes out of the submissions and further steps in the process in relation to these provisions.

These provisions have recently been tested of course in the Bolt case.[29] For any of you who have somehow missed this case – perhaps by spending the last year without access to newspapers, the internet or any other form of communication – Justice Bromberg provides an admirably concise summary of his findings of fact and of law at the beginning of his statement of reasons for judgment.

Justice Bromberg found that the imputations conveyed by articles written by Mr Bolt and published by the Herald and Weekly Times included that:

There are fair-skinned people in Australia with essentially European ancestry but with some Aboriginal descent, of which the individuals identified in the articles are examples, who are not genuinely Aboriginal persons but who, motivated by career opportunities available to Aboriginal people or by political activism, have chosen to falsely identify as Aboriginal.[30]

Justice Bromberg said:

I am satisfied that fair-skinned Aboriginal people (or some of them) were reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to have been offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated by the imputations conveyed by the newspaper articles.[31]

Justice Bromberg further found that:

I have concluded that the conduct of Mr Bolt and the Herald & Weekly Times is not exempted by section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act from being unlawful because:

(i) it was not done reasonably and in good faith in the making or publishing of a fair comment, within the requirements of section 18D(c)(ii) of the Racial Discrimination Act; or

(ii) done reasonably and in good faith in the course of any statement, publication or discussion, made or held for a genuine purpose in the public interest, within the requirements of section 18D(b) of the Racial Discrimination Act.[32]

There will no doubt be continuing debate about these provisions. The issue of balancing the right to equality on the basis of race and the right to freedom of expression will often incite dramatic commentary of one sort or another. The balance is important. At times, one is tempted to ask – how would you feel??? I can tell you that if someone said to me – you are only pretending to be part Hungarian so you could get the job as Race Discrimination Commissioner, I might find that offensive!!!

The development of a National Anti-Racism Strategy

Finally, I want to talk about a key initiative that I have direct responsibility for: the development of a National Anti-Racism Strategy.

This is very much linked to multiculturalism. The need for a strategy had been clearly articulated by the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council to the Government in April 2010.[33] This advice was taken up in February 2011, when the establishment of a national partnership to develop and implement a National Anti-Racism Strategy for Australia was announced as a key component of Australia’s new multicultural policy, The People of Australia.[34]

The Government’s intention is that the National Anti-Racism Partnership will draw on the existing expertise on anti-racism and multicultural matters across three government departments – the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs – together with the Australian Multicultural Council and the Australian Human Rights Commission. The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) also participate in the Partnership as non-government representatives.

This membership of the Partnership makes clear that while the National Anti-Racism Strategy was born in the multicultural context, we are looking at its development through a broader focus – encapsulating both the experience of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and our culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse communities.

The Partnership has been tasked with designing, developing and implementing the Strategy, with five key areas of effort:

• research and consultation;

• education resources;

• public awareness;

• youth engagement;

• ongoing evaluation.

It is anticipated that the Strategy will be drafted by 30 June 2012 and implemented over three years, 2012-2015.

The aim of the National Anti-Racism Partnership and Strategy is to promote a clear understanding in the Australian community of what racism is, and how it can be prevented and reduced.

We are looking at three broad objectives – to create awareness of racism and its impact, to build on good practice to prevent it and reduce it and to build capacity for people to address it.

Over the coming month we will release a discussion paper, run an online survey to try and gauge people’s reaction to what will work with a campaign and also define an overarching concept. We want business, sport, corporate Australia, academia, school kids, community sector organisations, political and community leaders – all to sign up to work towards ensuring that racism does not impact on the day to day life of Australians.

If I return to my earlier description of racism, it amounts to a denial of human relationship. The implication of this is that racism is a matter for all of us – not just those who are targeted or suffer directly from it.

A National Anti-Racism Strategy is about making Australia a racism free zone and articulating what role each of us have in achieving this. So it requires all of us to play a part – by not perpetrating racist actions ourselves, by not passively standing by while others perpetrate such actions and by committing ourselves to the notion that the ‘fair go’ is for everyone in our society and not restricted according to race, national or ethnic or religious background or some historical precedent.


There are many initiatives that already exist at local, state and federal level that work towards building a cohesive and safe community in Australia. My role as Commonwealth Race Discrimination Commissioner provides an opportunity to focus on some of those initiatives.

As I have said, I do think this is a unique opportunity at the moment to get our settings as a country right – Constitutional reform, legislative reform and a national campaign to address racism. This complements our policy as a multicultural country, and other initiatives in play.

But there is a challenge in this for all of us. We share a common humanity, and we all have a role in respecting the right of all to enjoy it equally, with dignity and with the same opportunities to thrive.

I hope tonight I have enthused you to join with me in that challenge.

Thank you.

[1]Challenging Racism Project. At: (viewed 27 November 2011). The project was based on random phone interviews with 12,500 people.
[2] Kevin Dunn et al, Challenging Racism: the anti-racism research project, 2008 Attitudes to cultural diversity, old racisms and recognition of racism, state level comparisons (opens in new window), 4Rs Conference (University of Technology, Sydney) 30 Sept - 3 Oct 2008. Accessed at (viewed 2 February 2012).
[3] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, The health and welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: An overview 2011, note 42. At: (viewed 23 November 2011).
[4] Yin Paradies, Ricci Harris, Ian Anderson, The impact of racism on Indigenous health in Australia and Aotearoa: towards a research agenda, Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health: Discussion paper series No. 4, March 2008. Accessed at: (viewed 1 February 2012).
[5] Challenging Racism project, as above.
[6] Kevin Dunn et al, as above.
[7] The 2010 and 2011 Scanlon Foundation surveys indicated a long‐term change in Australian opinion, with a large measure of acceptance of groups once stigmatised: “The level of negative feeling towards immigrants from Italy and Greece was found to be less than 3%; it was 7% towards immigrants from Vietnam and 13% from China.”: Markus, A, Mapping Social Cohesion 2011: the Scanlon Foundation Survey, Monash Institute for the Study of Global Movements, Monash University, Victoria. Accessed at (viewed 1 February 2012), Executive Summary, pp1-2.
[8] Australian Human Rights Commission (2008) A dialogue on human rights and responsibilities (2008) Report on the Commission's Muslim Women's Project 2006. At: (viewed 1 February 2012); Australian Human Rights Commission, Ismae – Listen, National Consultations on eliminating prejudice against Arab and Muslim Australians, 2004. At: (viewed 1 February 2012).
[9] Australian Human Rights Commission, In our own words African Australians: A review of human rights and social inclusion issues, 2010. At: (viewed 1 February 2012). See also: Australian Human Rights Commission, African Australians: human rights and social inclusion issues project: A compendium detailing the outcomes of the community and stakeholder consultations and interviews and public submissions, 2010. At: (viewed 1 February 2012); Australian Human Rights Commission, Human rights issues affecting African Australian communities: Western Sydney and Perth Roundtables, 2012. At: (viewed 1 February 2012).
[10] Australian Human Rights Commission, I want Respect and Equality: A summary of Consultations with Civil Society on Racism in Australia, 2001. At: (viewed 1 February 2012).
[11] In the past two years, the Australian Human Rights Commission has been developing the Minimum Standards for International Student Safety and Well Being – in close consultation with international students; with stakeholders including Universities Australia, the National Union of Students, the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, the Council of International Students Australia and international student service providers; and with input from decision makers and regulators. More information about the draft Minimum Standards is available on the Commission’s website. At (viewed 10 February 2012).
[12] Markus, A, as above.
[13] See, for example, Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, ‘Real Jobs: Employment for Migrants and Refugees in Australia’, ECCV Policy Discussion Paper No 3, 2008.At: (viewed 1 February 2012); Val Colic-Peisker and FaridaTilbury, ‘Refugees and Employment: the effect of visible difference on discrimination’ (Final Report), Centre for Social and Community Research, Murdoch University, January 2007. At: (viewed 1 February 2012).
[14] Alison Booth, Andrew Leigh, Elena Varganova, ‘Does Racial and Ethnic Discrimination Vary Across Minority Groups? Evidence From a Field Experiment’. Research School of Economics, Australian National University. Accessed at (viewed 1 February 2012).
[15] International Council on Human Rights Policy, The persistence and mutation of racism, Policy paper, 2000, Preface. Accessed at (viewed 12 February 2012).
[16] See, for example: Vic Health, ‘Making the link between cultural discrimination and health’, Vic Health letter, 1 June 2007. At (viewed 23 November 2011); Dr Yin Paradies, ‘A systematic review of empirical research on self-reported racism and health’, International Journal of Epidemiology, August (2006) 35(4): 888-901, p 1. At: (viewed 23 November 2011); Vic Health, Research Summary 3 Ethnic and race-based discrimination as a determinant of mental health and wellbeing,2009. At (viewed 23 November 2011).
[17] Australian Social Inclusion Board, ‘Principles for Social Inclusion - everyone’s job’, 2008. Accessed at (viewed 1 February 2012).
[18]Mabo v Queensland [1986] HCA 8; (1986) 64 ALR 1; (1986) 60 ALJR 255 (27 February 1986). Accessed at (viewed 12 February 2012).
[19] Section 20 – Functions of Commission, Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
[20] Report of the Expert Panel, Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution, January 2012. Accessed at (viewed 15 February 2012).
[21] Australian Human Rights Commission, ‘Constitutional recognition is a chance to shape a better future for us all’, Media release, 19 January 2012. At: (viewed 15 February 2012).
[22] Attorney-General the Hon Robert McClelland MP and Minister for Finance and Deregulation the Hon Lindsay Tanner MP, ‘Reform of Anti-Discrimination Legislation’, Joint Media Release, 21 April 2010. At: (viewed 10 February 2012)
[23] Australian Human Rights Commission, Submission to the Attorney-General’s Department, Consolidation of Commonwealth Discrimination law, 6 December 2011, para 3. At: (viewed 10 February 2012).
[24] McClelland and Tanner, as above.
[25] Australian Human Rights Commission, Consolidation of Commonwealth Discrimination law, as above, para 17.
[26] As above, Recommendation 3.
[27] As above, para 3.
[28] See ICERD Article 2 in particular.
[29]Eatock v Bolt [2011] FCA 1103 (28 September 2011).Accessed at (viewed 15 February 2012).
[30] As above, summary, para 16.
[31] As above, summary, para 17.
[32] As above, summary , para 26
[33] Australian Multicultural Advisory Council (AMAC), The People of Australia, 30 April 2010. Accessed at (viewed 15 February 2012).
[34] Australian Government, The People of Australia: Australia’s Multicultural Policy, launched on 16 February 2011. At (viewed 1 February 2012).