Date: 
Monday 19 August 2013

He's a first generation Australian whose parents fled Laos as refugees in the 1970s. From tomorrow, he becomes responsible for shaping the nation’s response to racism.

Meet Dr Tim Soutphommasane (pictured), the 30-year-old academic and political philosopher who is Australia’s new Race Discrimination Commissioner.

“Racism is a challenge for all of us," Dr Soutphommasane says. 

"It’s a reminder that we don’t always live up to our ethos of a fair go. Everyone is entitled to be treated as an equal, regardless of their skin colour or where they have come from.

“While there remains a lot to do in combating racism, I’m cautiously optimistic. We’ve come a long way on race relations.

“But we can still do better. And the challenge is no longer confined to fighting old-fashioned bigotry because racism isn’t always violent. And it doesn’t have to be motivated by fear or hate.

"Quite often, the harm caused by prejudice comes from the casual racism that occurs online, on public transport, on sporting fields, and in the boardroom.”

Dr Soutphommasane was previously a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, University of Sydney, and is a board member of the National Australia Day Council.

He has written extensively on race and politics for The Age, The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Guardian. He was also presenter of a series on Australian multiculturalism, Mongrel Nation, on ABC Radio National.

He is the author of several books on race and multiculturalism, including Don't Go Back To Where You Came From: Why Multiculturalism Works (New South Books, 2012) and The Virtuous Citizen (Cambridge University Press, 2012).

“Through the Racism: It Stops With Me campaign, the Australian Human Rights Commission has started a new conversation about what we can do to counter racism, wherever it happens,” Dr Soutphommasane says.

“Visit our website – itstopswithme.humanrights.gov.au – and take a look at the practical steps we can all take to combat racism.”