Date: 
Thursday 29 June 2017

Our media and culture “must give voice to the lived experience of multicultural Australia”, Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane has urged.

“Australia is a multicultural country but more can be done to ensure that the arts in Australia does better at representing and reflecting our diversity.

“This is more than just a cosmetic concern.

“If you’re someone who can see yourself, or someone like you, on screen or in our media, you’ve never had to ask questions about why people like you were left out.

“There is no human right, of course, for people to be reflected in the arts or in media.

“But we can all appreciate that someone’s dignity can be connected with how they – or, to be more specific, the group they belong to – are depicted in the public sphere. Where a group in society is invisible or demeaned, the message is clear. Those in that group are outsiders, second-class members, or even an ‘other’ against whom society defines itself.”

Speaking at a Diversity Arts Australia symposium on 29 June, Dr Soutphommasane said our current public and political debates about cultural diversity leave some people feeling unwelcome or incompatible with the broader society.

“Consider some of the responses to the census this week.

“The census emphatically confirmed the reality of a multicultural Australian society: more than a quarter of Australian residents were born overseas. And, as has been the case now for a number of decades, Asia has increasingly become the source of migrants arriving in Australia.

“The manner in which some media outlets reported on the census was nothing short of breathless in its emphasis on Asian migrants and Islam.”

Dr Soutphommasane said the clear implication of recent headlines such as Muslim population in Australia soars and Welcome to Chinatown: How Sydney has become more Asian than European is that Australia is now at risk of losing its British, European, Western or Christian heritage, and of becoming too Asian or Islamic.

“The reality is more sober. While it is true that the majority of migrants who now settle in Australia are from countries in Asia, it is untrue to suggest that the population in general has become more Asian than European in background.

“The UK in fact remains the largest single source of residents born overseas. Four of the five most common ancestries reported in Sydney are Australian, Irish, Scottish and English.

“And while Muslims living in Australia may have grown in number, they represent 2.6 per cent of the population. This is up from 2.2 per cent in 2011. It is a stretch to suggest their numbers have soared.

“The cumulative effect of media coverage, though, has been to encourage panicked anxiety about Australia being overwhelmed, if not by Asians then by Muslims.”

Dr Soutphommasane said debate about the proposed citizenship and language test also signalled that some groups of people are undesirable based on a standard that many Australian-born citizens would be unlikely to meet themselves.

Read the full speech.

Photo: Flickr