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Annual Report 1999-2000: Race Discrimination

to 1999 - 2000 Annual Report Contents

Annual Report 1999 - 2000

Dr Bill Jonas, Acting Race Discrimination  Commissioner with Evelyn ScottRace

Dr Bill Jonas has
has been acting in the position of Race Discrimination Commissioner since
September 1999. This is in addition to his role as Aboriginal Torres Strait
Islander Social Justice Commissioner.

When the term of
former Race Discrimination Commissioner Zita Antonios came to an end in
September 1999, the portfolio was taken up on an acting basis by Dr William
Jonas, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commissioner. Dr Jonas
continued work across a number of key policy areas that had been targeted
in recent years, as well as completing new projects at the behest of community
members with so
people experience multiple layers of disadvantage, which further impedes
their ability to interact and contribute as equal members of Australian

Research and policy

On the Sidelines - Disability
and People from Non-English Speaking Background Communities

In 1999 the National
Ethnic Disability Alliance approached the Commissioner with concerns that
people with disabilities from non-English speaking backgrounds often experience
multiple layers of discrimination in their daily lives. On the Sidelines
highlights some important discrimination issues facing people with disabilities
from non-English speaking background communities.

The report aims to

  • Identify some
    key issues facing this group of people;

  • Identify some
    strategies to assist people with disabilities from non-English speaking
    background communities; and

  • Provide a research
    and advocacy resource for people and this group and other interested

Several important
recurring themes were evident during the preparation of the paper. They
included the need to raise general community awareness about disability;
the need to increase readily available and accessible information and
to improve education about disability across the society as a whole; the
importance of advocacy and the imperative of designing more culturally
appropriate service delivery. On
the Sidelines will be publicly available from September 2000.

New Country, New Stories

Small and emerging
migrant communities are an ongoing feature of Australia's cultural landscape.
In September 1999 the Commission released New Country, New Stories, a
report documenting the experiences of migrants and refugees from countries
with relatively small numbers in Australia. The report was the culmination
of national consultations with a cross-section of community organizations,
health workers, migrant resource centres, youth workers and other ethnic
groups. Consultations covered New South Wales, Western Australia, the
Northern Territory and Victoria.

The report focused
on communities with less than 20,000 people who had been in Australia
for less than 10 years. It identified areas such as housing, employment
and recognition of qualifications, where people from cultural and linguistic
minority groups may experience disadvantage or discrimination. It also
identified issues for future work within the Commission and has already
fed into to the development of a strategy to encourage compliance with
anti-discrimination law in private housing markets. Some of these key
areas included:

  • Strategies to
    encourage compliance with anti-discrimination law in the national
    real estate industry (mentioned above)

  • Strategies to
    provide targeted multilingual human rights and anti-discrimination
    information to individual small and emerging communities

  • Examination
    of the issue of lack of recognition of overseas skills and employment

  • Promotion among
    employers' networks of the value of qualifications and skills obtained

  • Providing greater
    profile to the experiences of people from small and emerging communities
    in general community anti-racism education

  • Advocacy with
    government and other key agencies regarding human rights issues within
    small and emerging communities

  • Development
    of a series of briefing notes targeted at lawyers and community advocates
    on the possible interpretation of key discrimination issues

In the final analysis,
the report concluded that there needs to be further research into this
area, as racism and discrimination is experienced by many members of small
and emerging communities, particularly those who are visibly different
from the majority group. New Countries, New Stories is reproduced in full
on the Commission's website.

National Real Estate Industry

The 1999 New Country,
New Stories report identified housing as a key area of concern for members
of small and emerging migrant communities. In public consultations, community
members frequently reported experiences of direct or indirect racial discrimination
in private housing markets, particularly in their dealings with the real
estate industry.

While the report
did not measure the extent of racial discrimination in the industry, it
highlighted the need to promote the provisions of the Racial Discrimination
Act 1975 to real estate agents. Above all, racial discrimination represents
a challenge to the professionalism of real estate agents in an increasingly
multicultural Australia.

In the coming year
the Race Discrimination Commissioner will approach peak real estate bodies
to raise awareness of the Act and promote training and policy standards
to prevent racial discrimination from occurring.


We turn on the
tap and out gushes the water; we have no hesitation about drinking
a glassful if it. We step into the shower and expect abundant, hot,
steamy water to wash over us. We press the button on the toilet and
it flushes.
(Irene Moss, Race Discrimination Commissioner Water Report 1994)

The water and sanitation
services most communities take for granted is not readily available in
all parts of Australia. The provision of safe, clean, reliable water and
sanitation services has been an area of ongoing concern for the Commission.
The Commission's 1994 Water Report examined the situation in ten remote
Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities and found inadequate quality
and quantity of water supply and poor sanitation services.

Five years later
the Commission engaged Dr Bruce Walker of the Centre for Appropriate Technology
(CAT) to once again assess the provision of water and sanitation to these
same ten communities. Specifically, CAT was asked to compare the situation
in 1994 with the present situation, to provide a `snapshot' of where communities
stand some five years later, with particular reference to

  • the effectiveness
    of contractors and authorities

  • Indigenous involvement
    in decision-making, training and employment opportunities and

  • technical compliance,
    efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability.

CAT's comprehensive
review was submitted to the Commission in August 1999. It documents significant
advances and initiatives that have taken place in the last five years.
At a national program level and in at least seven of the ten individual
case study communities, the trend has been toward increased investment
in water and sanitation infrastructure by the Commonwealth and States,
and increased involvement by the States and the commercial sector in ongoing
systems operation, management and maintenance.

However, while technical
issues, consultation and cultural understanding may have improved over
the past five years, many of the core issues and recommendations of the
1994 Water Report remain valid and require further examination before
Indigenous people can be confident that their water and sanitation services
will be sustainable. This issue will form the basis for future work by
the Commission in this fundamental area of human rights - the right to
access a clean, safe, reliable supply of water.


Since the release
of the Alcohol Report in 1995 the Race Discrimination Commissioner has
continued to receive approaches from Aboriginal communities requesting
restrictions on the sale and distribution of alcohol to their community
members. In the past twelve months the Race Discrimination Commissioner
renewed two `special measures certificates', for communities in Wiluna
(WA) and Alice Springs (NT). Agreements leading to the issue of `special
measures certificates' are negotiated locally by Aboriginal communities
and other relevant parties and certificates are issued in accordance with
s8 of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

In October 1999 the
Darwin-based Menzies School of Health Research released a report entitled
Evaluation of restrictions on the sale of alcohol from Curtin Springs
Roadhouse Northern Territory. The restrictions were in place as a result
of `special measures certificates' issued in 1996 and 1998 by the Race
Discrimination Commissioner, between the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara
Yankunytjatjara Women's Council Aboriginal Corporation, representatives
of Aboriginal Pitjantjatjara communities and the licencee of the Curtin
Springs Roadhouse. While the report acknowledged that restrictions on
the sale of alcohol is not in itself the answer to the social and health
problems associated with excess drinking, a number of findings were encouraging
in relation to this area of the Commission's work.

. the apparent
decline in alcohol consumption in the communities concerned has been
associated with reductions in the incidence of alcohol-related health
problems. It also appears to have contributed to an improvement in
public order in the communities concerned .

Menzies School of Health Research Evaluation Report (p9)

Submission to Minister for
Immigration and Multicultural Affairs

During the year Australia's
migration and humanitarian programs were widely discussed and debated,
including efforts to combat people smuggling operations, detention centres
for unauthorised arrivals and appropriate levels for Australia's migrant

In February 2000
the Commission made a submission to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural
Affairs concerning the 2000-2001 Migration and Humanitarian Programs.
The submission stressed the importance of the government's role providing
accurate information to the public and leading a constructive debate on
improvements to the system. Debates that are based on inaccurate information
or the demonisation of certain groups of people can threaten broader efforts
to encourage community harmony and potentially undermine the human rights
of those groups.

In particular the
submission focussed on four key issues. Firstly it urged the government
to retain the right of appeal to a court when a person is refused a visa
under the migration or humanitarian programs. Secondly the Commission
reiterated that the mandatory detention of almost all unauthorised arrivals
contravenes Australia's obligations under international law. Thirdly it
urged the government to promote multiculturalism and its emphasis on the
diversity of all Australians as central to both tolerant cultural diversity
and our evolving democracy. Finally the submission stressed the government's
responsibility for providing appropriate settlement services to ensure
that migrants and humanitarian arrivals can successfully build new lives
in Australia.

Education and Promotion

The Commissioner
produced and disseminated a range of information materials targeting education
and awareness raising in the community. Given the numbers of job-related
complaints, employers again featured as a particular target audience.
The Race for Business training and information package, developed in 1998,
continues as the central platform of our work in this area. As part of
the ongoing promotion of Race for Business, the Commission intends to
identify a range of key partners, both to promote the package and increase
the number of cultural diversity trainers accredited to deliver the material.

Face the Facts

Following the success
of this publication over the past five years, with tens of thousands of
copies being distributed to schools, members of Parliament, journalists
and community groups, the Commissioner decided to update and reprint Face
the Facts.

Many debates about
Australia's migration and refugee programs and Indigenous people have
been based on inaccurate and misleading information. In 1997 version of
Face the Facts countered these myths with simple and accessible facts.
The booklet drew together the basic facts about Australia's diversity,
migration and refugee programs, the effects of immigration on the Australian
community and economy, and Indigenous communities and ongoing disadvantage.

Since that time the
debates have changed, but the need for clear, accurate information remains.
New questions are being asked, about people smuggling, reconciliation
with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the impact
of migration on crime rates.

The Race Discrimination
Commissioner has produced an updated version of Face the Facts, with a
new section examining the evidence on migration and crime. It concludes
that there is no evidence of a direct correlation between a particular
ethnicity and crime, nor are some ethnic minorities predisposed to criminal
behaviour. The new edition will be launched in September 2000 and distributed
widely, as well as being available on the Commission's website.

Cultural Dimensions

The publication Cultural
Dimensions, released by the Commission in early 2000, highlights the `best
practice' approaches of nine expert cross-cultural practitioners. It draws
on the work of trainers, policy makers and academics working in the field
of cross-cultural awareness. The authors present ideas on cultural diversity,
productive diversity, Aboriginal cultural awareness and racism. Culture
in the workplace is explored through a range of practical scenarios, covering
health, the public sector, racist and cultural stereotypes, the judiciary
and historical developments in the labour market.

Bill Cope and Mary
Kalantzis begin with a brief analysis of the Australian landscape and
provide the broad, historical framework for the development of the cross-cultural
awareness theme. They draw on the concept of `productive diversity' and
the Charter of Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society as they
outline the strategies and knowledge needed to develop organisational
learning environments that will assist employees and management to stay
abreast of constant workplace change.

Tonina Gucciardo-Masci
and Mirta Gonzalez concentrate on the complexity of developing cross-cultural
dialogue - within ourselves, between people and with the world around
us. Inherent in this is the challenge to step outside our own cultural
boundaries and comfort zones. Joanna Kalowski presents ideas on mediation
and bridging differences by looking at what people share, not how they
are different. She emphasises the `incontrovertible fact that diversity
is here to stay', regardless of the increasing emphasis being placed on
a return to mainstream values.

Santina Bertone makes
the point that racist and cultural stereotypes in Australia have been
rooted in the economic and social environment of the receiving society
at the time. Her paper traces the theme, from the Second World War through
to the 1990s, of relegating different ethnic groups to particular segments
of the labour market. Sonja Pastor and Phil Elsegood highlight the need
for Aboriginal cultural awareness training in the Northern Territory.
They distinguish between Aboriginal cultural awareness training and cross-cultural
training and develop an approach to training that informs organisational

Vasiliki Nihas outlines
the principles that guide best practice in tailoring cross-cultural awareness
training to the needs of a particular group. She focuses particularly
on the public sector, taking into consideration departmental requirements,
organisational values and the broader political, social and economic agendas
that may affect requirements. In the health arena, Harry Minas presents
ideas concerning the relevance of culture to clinical practice, the challenges
of cultural pluralism, minority rights in a culturally diverse society
and the implications of these issues for health care and professional
education in a multicultural society.

Against a background
of the intersecting issues of violence against women, sexual assault and
racism, Maria Dimopolous challenges the notions of judicial independence
and objectivity within the legal system. She outlines a model for training
the judiciary. Kerrie Tim draws on lifelong, personal experiences of racism.
She examines the broad historical context of Aboriginal affairs, internalised
racism and oppression and suggests ways for Aboriginal people to begin
working against them.

This publication
contains a broad cross section of issues, authors, approaches and experiences.
Ongoing public interest in race issues - including, in some instances,
greater public expression of racist views - highlights the ongoing imperative
for education and quality training in cross-cultural awareness which addresses
prejudice and discrimination. Cultural Dimensions is important reading
for anyone interested in training, productive diversity, and programs
to address the challenges of racism and cultural pluralism in Australia.

World Conference against Racism

The United Nations
Commission on Human Rights is holding the World Conference against Racism,
Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in South Africa
from 31 August to 7 September 2001. The UN General Assembly requested
the World Conference to focus on "action-oriented and practical steps
to eradicate racism", including questions of prevention, education and
protection and the provision of effective remedies. The Conference will
also examine emerging challenges such as those posed by the proliferation
of race hate speech on the Internet.

The preparatory process
for the Conference, and the Conference itself, will be of great importance
to the struggle against the various forms of entrenched fascism and intolerance
in Australia. The objectives of the World Conference are relevant to many
Australian race issues including:

endemic discrimination
against Indigenous Australians;


the treatment of
migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers;

the need for the
prevention of racial discrimination through education;

racial hated and
vilification, including combating hate speech and race hate on the Internet;

the progressive development
of international mechanisms for the implementation of the International
Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The Conference provides
the opportunity to promote better understanding of racism in all its forms,
to share experiences of discrimination and to exchange strategies for
preventing it. It offers the potential for a renewed focus on issues of
race and racial discrimination in the lead-up to the Conference, and over
the coming years.

In the first half
of 2000, the Race Discrimination Commissioner began promoting the objectives
of the World Conference and held preliminary discussions with a range
of sectors concerning how Australians can make most use of the Conference.
In the coming year the Commissioner will be working to build a common
platform against racism, bringing together as many diverse sectors of
the community as possible in a united stand against all forms of intolerance.
In addition to activities within Australia, the Commissioner is planning
to take an active role in international preparations for the Conference
and in the World Conference itself.

updated 1 December 2001.