Date: 
Wednesday 13 June 2018

Leading public intellectual Professor Marcia Langton AM delivered the 4th Kep Enderby Memorial Lecture to a full house at the State Library of NSW on 12 June, saying the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) has worked well since it became law and should not be amended or repealed.

The Australian Human Rights Commission hosts the annual lecture in honour of Kep Enderby QC, who was Federal Attorney-General when the RDA became law in 1975.

In her lecture, Professor Langton paid tribute to Kep Enderby and his role in ensuring the RDA’s passage in Parliament.

Professor Langton (pictured with Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane and Human Rights Commission President Rosalind Croucher) also highlighted the RDA’s critical role in underpinning the development of native title law, including in the landmark High Court’s second Mabo decision.

Professor Langton said the RDA has had a “civilising effect” on society, contributing to goodwill in a multicultural Australia.

In his introductory remarks, Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane described Professor Langton as a fierce and fearless advocate and a “staunch and vigorous defender of racial equality”. Australian Human Rights Commission President Rosalind Croucher later delivered the vote of thanks.

Reflecting on the legislation, Commissioner Soutphommasane said the RDA remains much needed today, 43 years after its introduction.

“Throughout its history, the Act has had to contend with challenges to its existence and its integrity. Through all the contests and debates, our community has been clear that it believes the Racial Discrimination Act must be here to stay.

“There has been no prouder achievement for me during these past five years than to stand alongside First Peoples, countless ethnic communities, and the multitudes of Australians of goodwill to defend the Racial Discrimination Act.

“As I conclude my term as Commissioner, I want to say thank you to all those who have stood up for racial tolerance and equality.

“And those who may desire revisiting section 18C or changing any part of the Racial Discrimination Act should know this: the multicultural mainstream of Australian society will not stand for any weakening of our legal protections against racial discrimination.”  

Alongside the Kep Enderby Memorial Lecture, Commissioner Soutphommasane has run a national competition for high school students in years 10 and 11, to promote research and discussion about racism among young people.

The winning entry this year was a piece of free verse, delivered slam-poetry style, by Emma Tam (pictured below), a year 11 student at Pembroke School in Kensington Park, Adelaide.

Dr Soutphommasane read some lines from Emma's poem before presenting her with the student award.

The powerful think it’s their right to … ask a victim to fight for their own human right to equality, when rights should be the responsibility of all of us to protect and uphold.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane and Emma Tam