Sources and causes
Forms and contemporary
manifestations of racism
Lessons from past
experiences of racism
Victims of racism
5: Strategies to achieve full and effective equality, including international
cooperation and enhancement of UN international mechanisms in combating
racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and
addressing the sources of racism
Recommendations addressing the victims of racism
Proposed measures of prevention and protection
Proposed education measures
Proposed legislation and reforms
Recommendations relating to discrimination complaints
Recommendations relating to Australia's international
role and obligations
2001 proved a year
of challenges in Australian race relations. I have expressed my concerns
about the bipartisan political support for Australia's treatment of boat
people, about the stalled reconciliation process and about retaliatory
attacks on Australians from the Middle East in the wake of the terrorist
attacks on the USA in September, among other trends. In the same period,
during consultations preparatory to the 2001 World Conference Against
Racism, my staff and I have been privileged to hear the concerns of many
Australians about racism in our society and to receive many invaluable
proposals which aim to eliminate it and protect its victims.
As I have stressed
throughout this process, in order for the World Conference to move beyond
rhetoric it had to relate to the day to day experiences of people at the
local level, wherever and whoever they may be. Our focus here, therefore,
is not on the international processes of the World Conference but on the
domestic mechanisms that need to be reviewed, refined or in some cases
begun at all levels of government, by my Commission and by civil society.
The responses and
comments we received during the consultation process clearly demonstrate
an overwhelming sense that racism and related forms of intolerance are
serious problems that affect many people in Australian society. The consultations
indicated that racially discriminatory practices are widespread, institutional
in nature and practiced at all levels of society. Every community consultation
identified the Indigenous people of Australia as those worst affected
by racism. As one Indigenous woman stated during the consultations:
live with racism every day. It's like getting up, washing your face
and having a cup of tea."
I was particularly
struck by the widespread acknowledgment that Australia's colonial history
is the principal cause of the racism experienced today. The privileged
position of the colonisers has historically been maintained at the expense
of the Indigenous people and those from non-English speaking backgrounds
and this has led to a sense of marginalisation for those who do not fit
the stereotype of the "typical" Australian.
We are confident
that the process we commenced with the civil society consultations will
develop initiatives which will reduce and ultimately eliminate racism
from Australian society. Our aim and duty as Australians is to provide
equality and respect for each other within our civil society. It was put
succinctly by a participant in the Orange NSW consultation on 24 July
want to be tolerated.
You can tolerate a headache.
I want to have respect and equality."
Dr William Jonas AM
Acting Race Discrimination Commissioner and
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
This summary reports
on the outcomes of national civil society consultations on racism conducted
by the Acting Race Discrimination Commissioner and his staff from May
to August 2001. It reflects the issues, concerns and suggestions raised
by those who responded to our invitation to participate by writing submissions
or attending public meetings or focus groups. The information we received
provided the basis for the Commissioner's contribution at the United Nations
World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and
Related Intolerance (WCAR) in Durban South Africa from 31 August - 7 September
The World Conference
presented us with a timely opportunity to examine the status of racism
in Australia. With the financial assistance of the Office of the United
Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Commission has conducted
the following activities:
- Release of the
discussion paper, Combating racism in Australia;
- Invitation to
the public to provide written submissions on racism;
- Launch of moderated
bulletin board on racism on the Commission's website (www.humanrights.gov.au/worldconference);
- Launch of issues
paper on the intersectionality of race and gender;
- National Youth
Summit on Racism;
- National Summit
on Civil Society on Racism;
- 15 regional civil
society consultations across Australia;
- Financial and
organisational support for 3 state-based youth forums on racism;
- Financial and
organisational support for 3 gender and race forums;
- Focus groups
with refugee and migrant women;
- Focus groups with
Indigenous women; and
with Victorian Indigenous organisations.
The success of the
regional civil society consultations was enhanced by state and local government
agencies and a wide range of community organisations and individuals who
provided additional valuable support and assistance. The details and outcomes
of these activities are available on the Commission's WCAR website www.humanrights.gov.au/
This summary and
the compilation of records from all the regional consultations are but
one step in an ongoing process. Following the World Conference, we will
conduct further consultations with civil society to feed back the practical
actions identified here and through the World Conference process, to stimulate
further debate and to identify best practice for addressing racism in
The next major phase
in this process will be in March 2002 at a National Conference to present
the findings of these consultations and to develop a national plan of
action for combating racism in Australia.
This summary is structured
according to the five themes of the World Conference. These themes are
explained in detail in the Australian context in the discussion paper,
Combating racism in Australia.
This theme seeks
to identify what causes racism, what are its sources and what are its
forms and contemporary manifestations. In order to facilitate debate on
these issues, participants were invited to identify the extent to which
they believe racism exists in Australian society; to give examples of
racism and explain their own experiences of racism; to identify what lessons
(both good and bad) can be learnt from our shared history so that we are
able to combat racism; and to explicitly identify sources, causes and
factors that contribute to racism.
Sources and causes
The vast majority
of participants agreed that racism is pervasive and entrenched throughout
all aspects of Australian society. Throughout the consultation process
a range of sources and causes were identified and there was overwhelming,
if not unanimous, agreement about the following issues:
The legacy of colonialism
is seen as the main cause and source of racism in contemporary Australia.
This was expressed in two major ways:
- The inherently
racist process of colonisation provided the basis and continued presence
of systemic racism in Australia. Indigenous Australians were subjected
to colonialism and its aftermath by governments in the most direct and
systemic manner. The consequences of colonialism are evident in the
disadvantaged position of Indigenous Australians today.
- Australia's public
institutions and structures were based on cultural models derived from
the British colonisers. This has led to the institutional structures
largely being based upon, and operating within, a mono-cultural paradigm,
one result of which is systemic racism and intolerance of diverse cultural
modes. A regularly raised example was that of the educational sector
with the school system seen as a product of a specific cultural model,
one unresponsive to cultural differences in learning and teaching.
These were identified
as recurring and major issues in all our consultations. The specific areas
of concern to participants were:
- Many of the participants
agreed that ignorance and fear have been present throughout Australia's
history of immigration of non-British people after colonisation. This
was manifested primarily through the White Australia Policy. While public
policy advances such as multiculturalism were recognised, many felt
it is still common for non-British people to be defined as "others"
and for cultural practices different from those of Australians of British
origin to be regarded with suspicion, even fear.
- The attempts by
some in positions of influence and power in Australian society to promote
models of national identity that are based on stereotypical images and
masculine and euro-centric views of history which implicitly exclude
or marginalise diverse communities and women.
- The effects of
globalisation such as the resultant major restructuring of Australia's
economy, the increased movement of peoples across the globe in search
of improved social and economic quality of life, and other forces of
social dislocation have generated a sense of fear and isolationism among
- "Go home
to your country!"
As one participant observed, "Some of us don't have a country to
Canberra consultation, ACT - 31 July 2001
- Fear and lack
of understanding are also present among, and between, culturally and
linguistically diverse communities. No one group in Australia has a
monopoly on racial intolerance or xenophobia.
Throughout the consultations
a recurring theme was the interrelationship between structures and power
in Australian society:
- The maintenance
of power and privilege and the fear of having to concede these in part
or whole were seen as a major factor behind racism in Australia. Racism
therefore is not an irrational phenomenon but rather a reflection of
historical and contemporary power relations within society.
and politicians encourage a sense of competition between groups, especially
in relation to economic security, which would allegedly be threatened
by reparation, land rights and compensation to Indigenous people or
by more humane treatment extended to 'boat people'".
Perth consultation, WA - 13 June 2001
- Women saw these
structures and power relationships as male dominated. Thus they experience
the 'double burden' of racism and sexism when attempting to access power
or utilise these structures.
Forms and contemporary
manifestations of racism
In many ways the
separation of cause from manifestation is a difficult exercise as the
causal relationships are often two way and not necessarily linear. The
majority of the consultations identified the following common issues:
- There was a recurring
recognition that racism is becoming more evident in the broader political
sphere. There is an increase in the space and support gained by political
parties and organisations which are openly expressing racist, discriminatory
and xenophobic views. This is seen as being coupled with the lack of
political leadership from the major political parties in taking a strong
anti-racist stance. On the one hand governments espouse principles of
inclusiveness but at the same time they enact policies and start public
debates which reinforce xenophobia, if not racism. Examples cited by
participants related to the Australian Government's treatment of asylum
seekers and the overriding of the Racial Discrimination Act through
amendments to the Native Title Act.
- A number of participants
were of the view that the under, if not total lack of, representation
of Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse people in parliaments
and other elected institutions is a reflection of institutionalised
hold 75% of the voting power here, yet we can't get a black local government."
Indigenous women's forum, Brewarrina, NSW - 26 July 2001
- Women from minority
backgrounds in particular lack representation at all levels of government
- from local councils to State and Federal parliaments.
- Many participants
expressed concern at the continued lack of employment opportunities
for Indigenous Australians; there was general agreement that the issue
could not be simply identified as being one of lack of skills on the
part of Indigenous Australians. In many sectors structural barriers
hinder access to the labour market and other economic opportunities.
The fact that Indigenous people in many regional areas have almost no
presence in paid employment in the private sector, particularly in the
service sector where there is direct contact with non-Indigenous customers,
was seen as a major form of racism.
- "We want
our kids in offices, not out with shovels."
Indigenous women's forum, Walgett, NSW - 28 July 2001
- People from culturally
and linguistically diverse backgrounds also experience structural discrimination
in employment and economic opportunities. This is evidenced by the high
unemployment rate within certain communities and general labour market
segmentation along ethnic and gender lines.
- The difficulties
confronted by people with overseas qualifications in having their training,
skills and experience recognised in order to practice in their area
of expertise were also identified as discrimination at a structural
- A number of Indigenous
and non-Indigenous participants recounted experiences of dealings with
financial institutions and being denied access to capital products necessary
to purchase or commence economic enterprises.
- On a more individual
level there were constant references to racial discrimination in the
workplace perpetrated by employers, supervisors and work colleagues.
These ranged from comments made about a person's appearance, to ascribing
negative cultural stereotypes to individuals, through to being denied
advancement opportunities. This issue was a recurrent theme in the focus
groups with women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
- The continued
low levels of educational and occupational outcomes achieved by Indigenous
Australians were identified by many participants as being the result
of structural discrimination in the education sector. This was seen
as the perpetuation of systemic racism and the unwillingness of education
authorities and governments to incorporate diverse cultural models of
learning and teaching into the curricula.
- "We have
to constantly keep asking ourselves whose viewpoint is being promoted
in the education system."
National Summit, Canberra, ACT - 7-8 May 2001
- Many participants
identified the limited resources provided for training in English as
a Second Language and for the maintenance of other community languages
as discrimination which affects both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
- The lack of adequate
and appropriate representations of Indigenous and immigrant history
and experiences within education curricula was seen in itself as an
expression of racism and a cause of further racism based on ignorance.
- The denial of
accommodation based on race was also another recurring example of discrimination.
Examples were given by people who had been told that accommodation was
available, only to be informed that it was no longer available when
their race or ethnic background became known.
- In a number of
regional areas the issue of inadequate and inappropriate public housing
stock was raised. The houses do not cater for the extended family nature
of Indigenous households. It was said that Indigenous families are often
asked to pay damage bonds/fees for houses even if there is no damage.
- In accessing
accommodation the double burden of being from a particular ethnic background
or race and being a woman was highlighted. Examples included the difficulty
that Aboriginal single mothers face in accessing public housing.
complaining about a refrigerator or requesting a house with extra rooms
to accommodate three children, housing providers are often unsympathetic
to women, expecting them to display a grateful attitude and asking them
whether they had a refrigerator or extra rooms in Afghanistan-"
Immigrant and Refugee Women's consultation - Sydney, NSW -July 2001
- A theme that
emerged in all the consultations concerned discrimination in the day-to-day
provision of goods and services, for example the lack of services provided
by many local Councils. Both Indigenous people and people from visible
minorities gave numerous examples of being ignored in preference for
"white" people. There were regular claims of Indigenous people
being "stalked" and searched in shops by security personnel
- without any justification.
are black - stand back.
If you are brown - hang around.
If you are white - you are right."
Broome consultation, WA - 15 June 2001
- Aboriginal women
highlighted the impact on their culture when medical services in their
local area were cut. A physical connection with a particular geographical
area, central to Aboriginal culture, is lost when, as a result of lack
of access to birthing facilities in towns with predominantly Aboriginal
populations, women have to go to other cities or towns to give birth.
- The continued
disproportionately high rates of incarceration of Indigenous Australians
were seen as a reflection of systemic discrimination. Many of the participants
raised concern that although systemic racism in the criminal justice
system was clearly identified by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal
Deaths in Custody in 1991, little has been done to rectify it. Mandatory
sentencing legislation in the Northern Territory and Western Australia
were also identified as clear cases of indirect discrimination whereby
an apparently "race-neutral" policy has an adverse effect
on mainly Indigenous Australians.
- A number of consultations
raised the issue of "ethnic" communities and over-policing,
particularly of young males. This was linked to the "ethnic"
descriptors used by the police, media and politicians. The outcome was
often the "criminalisation" of certain communities in the
- Numerous personal
experiences were recounted of how police officers expressed racist attitudes
in their dealings with individuals. This was seen as pervasive especially
towards Indigenous communities and certain culturally diverse communities.
"I am of
East Timorese background, the police automatically think I am a drug
dealer when they see me walking in the street. I am sick of being asked
Written Submission, #21
- Many of the participants
viewed the use of punitive measures such as mandatory detention and
criminal sanctions to deal with asylum seekers as another example of
how contemporary xenophobia, if not racism, is manifested in Australia.
- The youth forums
expressed the view that systemic racism is demonstrated in the prisons
and juvenile justice sector where the Indigenous, Lebanese, Vietnamese
and Pacific Islanders are the main groups in gaol.
with Aboriginal women revealed that some are reluctant to report domestic
violence incidents due to fear that the criminal justice system's response
to the perpetrators will be excessively punitive. Many seek protection
from violence rather than punishment of the perpetrators. However, their
distrust of the system leaves them without the protection and support
- Concern was expressed
about the increasing tendency for police and security guards to regulate
public space and move people on. In numerous places it was clear that
this increased regulation is implemented in a manner which has a racially
disparate impact, with selective enforcement disproportionately affecting
Indigenous peoples, and people of non-English speaking background.
- Other examples
of concern were the security guard and police presence in Todd Mall
in Alice Springs; the newly introduced Public Order and Anti-Social
Conduct Act 2001 in the Northern Territory; the NSW legislation
empowering police to remove unsupervised young people under 15 from
public places; and dry-zone regulation in Adelaide, Cairns and the Northern
- Many participants
recounted how subtle forms of racism are experienced in everyday life
such as people averting their gaze, not sitting next to them on a bus,
or ignoring their presence. This has a debilitating effect on individuals,
denying a person's humanity and thereby attacking the basis of their
- The youth consultation
participants in particular stressed the impact of attacks on identity
and specifically the consequences for a young person's developing sense
- Sport was another
area where individuals felt they had to excel prior to gaining selection
because they were Indigenous or of diverse cultural or linguistic background.
If they were on a par with or only marginally better than a "white"
player they would be overlooked. References were also made to the use
of racial slurs by opponents and spectators.
past experiences of racism
The majority of the
participants at our consultations as well as the submissions received
were of the view that there are both negative and positive aspects to
our past and we need to be able to draw on these experiences to develop
effective strategies to combat racism. The main focus of discussions related
to the continued denial of past racist practices. Until this is addressed
it is difficult to understand the causes and manifestations of racism
in contemporary Australia.
- There was common
agreement that the racism which Indigenous Australians were, and still
are, subjected to needs to be officially recognised and that apologies
should be made for past racist practices such as the removal of children
from their families. This will allow society as a whole to move forward
towards a cohesive identity.
- The White Australia
Policy has had a lasting impact on the national social development of
Australia. It allowed the construction of a populist national identity
which excludes and marginalises groups on the basis of ethnicity and
race. This has led to popular ideas of the need for people to conform
to a set of perceived cultural and social norms if they are to be truly
"Australian". It was generally agreed that there have been
some advances in addressing this legacy however it was also noted there
are still practices that need to be identified and eliminated from contemporary
- Australia's multicultural
society was seen as a positive on which we could draw. The level of
relatively peaceful interaction and development should provide us with
lessons to assist in combating racism. It was clear to many that this
is not a "natural" process which just happens. There are people
and institutions which undertake positive actions to assist this process
to occur. It is necessary to ensure that we continue to work in a positive
manner to challenge those who argue that diversity has a negative impact
on our society. The current Commonwealth Government Living in Harmony
initiative was on one hand viewed poorly in this light, as it did not
adequately address the key issues and failed to engage and consult with
those communities most affected by racism. On the other hand, a number
of participants stated that Living in Harmony had supported a
range of successful projects.
- Many of the participants
noted that it was necessary to learn from those individuals, communities
and organisations which have combated colonialism and racism over the
period of Australia's history since colonisation. The success of the
1967 "Aboriginal citizenship" referendum campaign is just
one example. These instances of people resisting racism and achieving
change need to be incorporated into the recording and teaching of our
- Constant references
were also made to past and present anti-racism programs funded by various
spheres of government. While there are positive elements of these programs,
it was noted that there needs to be a more coordinated and long term
approach which directly consults and involves local communities and
addresses local manifestations of racism.
This theme seeks
to identify who suffers racism in Australian society, and the different
ways in which people, groups or communities are its victims. It also seeks
to identify the complex inter-relationships between racism and different
experiences of discrimination. To facilitate debate on these issues participants
were asked to identify who they consider are the victims of racism in
Australia; how it impacts differently on individuals, groups and communities;
and whether experiences of discrimination based, for example, on gender,
sexuality, disability or age, compound people's experiences of racism.
Victims of racism
The use of the term
"victim" with its connotation of being passive or defeated was
frequently debated in the consultations. The participants did however
identify some groups that are subjected to racism on a more regular and
pervasive basis than others. There was also clear consensus that the consequences
of racism have a negative impact on every individual member of society.
is about putting in systems which stop us working together as a community."
Kalgoorlie consultation, WA - 15 June 2001
- There was general
agreement that Indigenous people are the main victims of racism in Australian
society. This racism is manifested in direct and indirect ways, and
is systemic in nature. Many people saw that past discrimination has
left many Indigenous people in a disadvantaged position, for example
through limited access to education and consequent lower educational
achievement rates and higher unemployment. Many people considered that
this historical dimension must be recognised to ensure real equality
for Indigenous people.
- Many people were
also concerned about the perception that Indigenous communities receive
special treatment through large amounts of government spending. People
saw a need for factual information to rebut the myths about expenditure
on Indigenous services and to give greater information about the need
for special measures to redress Indigenous disadvantage.
People of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
of non-English speaking backgrounds and different cultural and linguistic
groups were identified as victims of racism through lack of tolerance
of cultural diversity and the inappropriateness of service delivery.
ethnic and religious minorities were also identified as being groups
regularly subjected to racism. Examples raised at the consultations
included Arabs, Muslims, Africans, Jews, Palestinians and Turkish people.
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.
automatically assume that I can't speak English and speak to me really
slowly, just because I wear a hijab."
Western Young People's Independent Network, Written Submission, #2
- Significant concern
was also expressed about the stigmatisation and criminalisation of asylum
seekers as "undeserving". This was seen as leading to an increase
in xenophobia against particular nationalities such as Palestinians
and generally against people from the Middle Eastern region.
- It was widely
agreed in consultations that there is a need to distinguish clearly
between the racism experienced by Indigenous peoples and by ethnic minorities.
This is necessary in order to understand the complexity of racism and
to develop policies and programs which are targeted and strategic.
- There was general
agreement throughout the consultative process that discrimination is
rarely based on one ground. For individuals who are subjected to discrimination
the experience is compounded by other characteristics such as gender,
disability, age, religious beliefs and sexuality.
- Young males recounted
that if they are of Indigenous background or of a particular "ethnic"
background they are labelled with the negative term "members of
a gang". This often leads to over-policing and being perceived
as a threat. They noted that groups of young males of "Anglo"
background are seldom referred to as "gangs". This stigmatisation
compounds the young Indigenous and "ethnic" men's sense of
marginalisation from the broader society.
- In the specific
youth consultations it was clear that young people have an appreciation
of the intersectionality of race, gender, sexuality, disability, age,
and religious beliefs which can result in a very specific type of discrimination.
An example given was of a young Pakistani Muslim woman who wears the
hijab (head scarf) to school. She may experience discrimination not
only based on her ethnicity, but also her age, her gender and her religious
beliefs. This experience will be significantly different from the experience
of discrimination an older Indigenous man may face within Australian
society. Racism is not just about skin colour or ethnicity.
- In many consultations
it was suggested that women and men experience racism differently because
of the intersection of racism and sexism which is often difficult to
separate. For example, the racism experienced by some Asian women included
the assumption that they were promiscuous.
- Women found linguistic
and cultural barriers often present in services such as government departments,
non-government agencies, charities and religious organisations contracted
to deliver welfare and support services on behalf of government. Often
the double discrimination on the basis of race and gender was not fully
considered by these agencies - there were regular instances of both
subtle and direct discrimination on gender, religious and language grounds.
- Women are treated
differently because of their attire - women's clothing is more likely
to be identified with a religion or particular culture, whereas men,
who do not usually wear culture-specific clothing, can "blend"
more into Australian society. Women are therefore under a lot of pressure
to dress in a western style so that they do not stand out in the streets,
university, job training etc. This can have repercussions for them at
home as their families may disapprove of changes in their dress or outlook.
The pressure for women to dress in western clothing is reinforced by
the fact that women in cultural dress are "invisible" in Australian
public life. For example, rarely are service providers seen wearing
hijab. Wearing cultural attire such as the sari or hijab often prevents
women from getting jobs, as being "well dressed" is defined
in terms of western standards of dress.
In the focus group
discussions with Indigenous women a number of specific issues were raised.
- Indigenous men
are more likely to sit back and say nothing whereas women are more likely
to stand up and defend their rights. This makes women more vulnerable
to backlash and racism.
- There is a common
perception that only Indigenous men have authority to represent their
communities. An example given was when a woman applies for a job that
needs someone who can speak on behalf of the community or liaise with
communities, she will not be hired because of a concern that a woman
will not have the standing in the community to perform these roles.
- On another level
it was also maintained that women may respond to racism differently
from men. While men may physically fight someone who calls them names,
women may walk away and internalise the hurt.
leaves women with a broken spirit."
Indigenous women's forum - Brewarrina, NSW -26 July 2001
- For many participants
their individual experiences of racism could not be detached from the
societal construction of "other" through negative stereotypes
and accepted cultural "norms". Examples which were reflective
of this included:
- An Aboriginal
woman was told by a bank employee to go to the pub to cash her cheque.
She identified an underlying stereotype that all Aboriginal people
are alcoholics and once they have some money they will go and spend
it on alcohol, an image regularly presented by some in the media.
- A Palestinian
man recounted how he entered a shop and was having a conversation
with the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper asked him where he was from
and when he replied he was Palestinian, the shopkeeper's attitude
changed immediately to one of discomfort. For the Palestinian man
the changed attitude of the shopkeeper resulted from the populist
image portrayed of a so-called "Arab or Palestinian mentality"
of terrorism and fanaticism.
- An Aboriginal
were in agreement that it is difficult for those who have not been
directly subjected to racism to understand how it affects an individual's
or community's everyday quality of life. It was agreed that there
needs to be more safe and supportive space for individuals to publicly
recount their personal experiences. This would lead to a greater sensitisation
of the general community to the effects of racism.
The impact of
racism reaches out from the individual who is its direct target and
impacts on the families and communities who feel that they too have
suffered the racism of the individual directly involved as they have
to provide support and assistance.
This theme seeks
to identify strategies for the prevention of racism, including measures
of education and protection. To facilitate debate on these issues participants
were asked what they saw as the priority measures that the Government
and/or other sectors of society should take to combat racism and to provide
examples of programs that they considered effective. Participants were
also asked to consider the role of the Internet and emerging technologies
in combating racism.
Throughout the consultative
process there was broad agreement that all members of society have a responsibility
and a role to play in combating racism. The majority of participants were
of the view that most Australians are opposed to racial discrimination.
In all the discussions education was identified as the priority area.
- There was overwhelming
agreement that anti-racism education is the key to providing a basis
for being able to develop wide community support for effective long-term
prevention and protection measures.
- A common thread
throughout the consultations was the need to undertake structural and
institutional change informed by the diverse learning and teaching cultures
which exist within Australian communities. There needs to be cultural
change within the education sector achieved through developing appropriate
curriculum and assessment methods. The need for specific Indigenous
and ethnic schooling was also stressed.
- The focus on teaching
history was regularly identified as the key to redressing the ignorance
and stereotypes which have been reinforced through the existing educational
system. In terms of curriculum development for schools and broader community
education there was agreement that it is necessary for Australian history
to appropriately reflect and incorporate its Indigenous origins and
the resistance to colonialism. It was important that this be done in
collaboration with Indigenous Australians and must include their oral
history traditions. The teaching of history was also seen as being an
area where the existing curriculum does not adequately address the reality
of Australia's multicultural development.
- Participants positively
noted that there had been an increase in the availability of courses
covering areas such as Aboriginal studies, anti-racism and broad cultural
awareness at all levels of education. However, these are often limited
in scope and are neither compulsory nor part of the core curriculum.
It was suggested that these types of courses should be expanded and
included in the compulsory requirements of all aspects of education
including professional university courses such as medicine and law.
- There was recognition
that the school system itself is not the sole source of learning for
young people and that the domestic environment plays a major role in
the formation of views and values. Therefore, it is important that any
anti-racist and general civic value courses in schools involve the broader
school community, the parents and guardians of children.
first responsibility lies with the individual and in the case of very
small children with their families who are the first educators....
Individuals, communities, governments need to take responsibility
for themselves and their area of influence to eliminate as much as
possible racist and discriminatory dialogue, actions and practices..."
Written Submission, #23
- A broad range
of specific initiatives was canvassed throughout the consultations.
must include diverse conceptual approaches
support for community language training including Indigenous languages
funding for courses on English as a second language
of more teachers from diverse backgrounds.
- To ensure effective
youth participation, specific leadership, mentoring and conflict resolution
programs should be implemented for young people to give them a direct
voice in developing anti-racism strategies.
- To ensure leadership
roles are encouraged especially among young women from minority backgrounds,
programs on leadership skills, mentoring and education programs specifically
on topics of government systems and lobbying government should be implemented.
- Public education
campaigns were identified as a key measure in dealing with racism in
the broader society. It was noted that Australia has had many successful
examples of public education campaigns aimed at addressing social issues
such as HIV-AIDS, smoking and littering.
- Many participants
noted that public education campaigns should be targeted at diverse
levels from the general community, at communities in particular geographic
localities, and at particular sectors of society such as young people,
older people and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
It was maintained that identifying the "market" for these
campaigns is a crucial factor in them being appropriately developed
I used to think of us as mostly just parochial but we are racist.
You think about how many people you know who would say, 'those people
are so but I'm not a racist'.
Written Submission, #4
- There was broad
agreement about the basic elements which should inform public education
in consultation with communities
resourced and long term
evaluated and refined
on the development of shared values of inclusiveness and anti-racism.
- There was general
agreement that the workplace is a site for ongoing anti-racism education
initiatives as every individual has the right to work in a non-discriminatory
workplace. It was also noted that there are economic, service quality
and efficiency benefits to be achieved through providing a non-discriminatory
work environment. These should be joint programs involving both employers
- All participants
agreed that both the public and private sectors have responsibility
for addressing anti-racism issues in their organisations. Employer representatives
were generally of the view that many positive initiatives have been
put in place, that the existing laws covering discrimination in the
workplace were adequate and that the emphasis should be on self-regulation
and voluntary codes of practice. Though a key principle of anti-discrimination
laws is that of vicarious liability of employers for the racially discriminatory
actions of its employees, many participants felt that employers had
not done enough. There were also many who considered that the existing
vicarious liability laws and the related sanctions were too weak to
- There is a common
view that industry codes of conduct in relation to overcoming racism
could be developed with certificates of accreditation to be issued giving
complying companies a marketing edge. Communities and individuals could
participate by their custom and patronage of such companies. These codes
need to be developed in a collaborative fashion between the relevant
industry bodies and agencies such as HREOC.
- Many of the consultation
sessions identified the role of the media in contemporary society as
a major area where measures need to be undertaken or improved to ensure
that the media addresses racism rather than fostering it. It was noted
that in Australia media include the non-English language media and all
other media outlets.
it's a negative story they are ethnic; when it's positive they're
Brisbane consultation, Qld - 18 July 2001
- There was recognition
that there have been initiatives where communities have engaged with
the media and journalists in developing anti-racism efforts. These require
expansion and further support. Examples include the Australian Arabic
Council which gives annual awards to Australian journalists whose constructive
media stories break down stereotypes of the Australian Arabic community.
- A number of groups
raised the need to regulate the media so that it creates representations
and content that more accurately reflect Australia's demographic and
social reality and thus reduce the perpetration of negative stereotypes.
Negative media stereotypes of women from minority backgrounds in particular
need to be addressed, as women specifically highlighted the negative
impact of these media portrayals on their lives. For example, media
reporting of the Muslim religion tended to characterise Muslim women
as weak and oppressed. Muslim women commented how this resulted in an
attitude being fostered in the broader society that it is acceptable
to treat Muslim women in an extremely sexist manner.
- The issue of self-regulation
of the media was raised, with particular reference to complaints. There
were contrasting views in terms of either providing a more prescriptive
legislative response to complaint handling in the media industry, or
reinforcing the self-regulation regime by including community members
on review panels and opening up the deliberations and process to public
Throughout the consultations
a number of general programs and specific initiatives were canvassed to
address specific structural issues:
- Many participants
identified that programs are needed in the private and public sectors
to address the mono-cultural dominance of decision-making processes,
the lack of employment opportunities for particular communities and
other barriers to economic opportunity. Proposals canvassed included:
courses for senior executives to include accountability performance
about cultural diversity
mentoring programs between senior executives and people from particular
of entrepreneurial and public confidence skills for people from
and affirmative action programs aimed at increasing the number
of Indigenous people and people from a broader range of cultural
and linguistic backgrounds in senior management and decision-making
action programs, mentoring and leadership skills programs to promote
the involvement of women from minority backgrounds at all levels
- The arts and cultural
sector was also identified as an area where specific programs need to
be implemented. It was maintained that it is through arts and culture
that representation and exploration of identity take place. A number
of consultations proposed that affirmative action programs need to be
introduced to ensure that every level of this sector reflects Australia's
- In a number of
consultations the issue was raised of both the positive and negative
community education aspects of "celebrations" of diverse cultures.
On the one hand, the "celebration" of ethnic and Indigenous
cultures ran the risk of setting up a sense of divide and rule where
the "mainstream" celebrates the "others". On the
other hand, sometimes the event of a "celebration" provides
the opportunity for initial insights, links and contacts which otherwise
would not occur. Cultural activities were seen as potentially providing
a great opportunity to increase broader community understanding and
participation. However they need to be inclusive of diversities within
communities and not portray stereotypical images.
ways we are different, and that is cool. We need to be united, but
different. Unity in diversity."
Youth Forum, Canberra, ACT - 7 May 2001
- There is a need
for adequate and ongoing research to assist in both identifying the
key areas of concern and developing well focussed and targeted programs
and initiatives. In particular gender specific research in relation
to the numbers and circumstances of refugees is needed. This would help
to identify any special needs of newly arrived refugee women.
- All consultations
raised specific issues in regard to the role the internet could play
in developing positive programs of prevention of racial discrimination.
However, the internet was also identified as being a site of concern
because of its proliferation and dissemination of racism and race hate.
People expressed concern that race hate sites on the internet are being
used to coordinate and bring together extremist organisations on an
- There were contrasting
views on effective programs to deal with racism on the internet. A number
of proposals sought national government actions similar to censorship
or anti-gambling laws to ban racist material from the internet. It was
noted that this would require close cooperation among governments at
an international level, given the borderless nature of internet material
and its dissemination. On the other hand, others argued that censorship
and prescriptive legislation have had limited, if any, effect. The programs
that need to be developed involve codes of ethical practice for the
internet industry and, most importantly, educating young people to become
discerning readers and users of the internet.
- Many participants
identified positive uses of the internet such as collaborative projects
between schools involving children of different cultural backgrounds
on a national and international level.
- It was also recognised
that the internet is of limited importance given the information divide
which exists within and between nations and social classes. One participant
succinctly put the case: "People who don't have electricity don't
have computers". Therefore focus on regulation of the internet
as a form of media should not lead to neglect of other sites of struggle,
particularly for those who already suffer from economic marginalisation
- In contrast, some
participants from remote communities noted that the internet has an
added importance due to their isolation, and spoke positively about
the role of the Internet in promoting tolerance and understanding about
their cultures. They encouraged the mentoring of young people in rural
and remote areas so that they were technically proficient and able to
use the Internet for this purpose.
4: Provision of effective remedies, recourse, redress, [compensatory]1
and other measures at the national, regional and international levels
This theme seeks
to identify the appropriate response to an act of racism. It seeks to
evaluate the effectiveness of existing measures for remedy, recourse,
redress and compensation to respond to racism, as well as to identify
further necessary steps to provide redress. To facilitate debate about
these issues participants were invited to identify how adequate they considered
laws dealing with racism in Australia to be, as well as to suggest how
these laws might be improved and what focus they might take (eg should
they aim more for rehabilitation than punishment, or focus more on education-).
Participants were asked to identify what other measures aside from legislation
need to be adopted to ensure that victims of racism have an effective
The common message
coming out of all consultations was that the existing laws in Australia
dealing with racism are inadequate and require not only strengthening
but also a range of new measures to be introduced. It was also clear that
many people did not understand their rights or the legislation. Some did
not know that they even had a remedy for racism.
- There was almost
unanimous agreement throughout the consultations that human rights must
be fundamentally entrenched in our Constitution so that they cannot
be overturned by simple legislative changes. Various models were suggested
with the recurrent theme being that of a Bill of Rights. As an example
of why constitutionally enshrined rights were required, participants
referred to the racially discriminatory impact of the Native Title
Act amendments which had overridden the Racial Discrimination
Act. A few participants supported, instead or as an interim measure,
a statutory Bill of Rights.
- The issue of
constitutional amendment was also raised with particular reference to
what were perceived as racially discriminating clauses such as section
51(xxvi) of the Constitution which provides power to make special laws
for the people of a particular race (including for a negative or discriminatory
purpose). It was also proposed that the Constitution should recognise
the Indigenous peoples' prior ownership of Australia.
- One issue raised
on a number of occasions was that before the adequacy of the specific
racial discrimination and vilification laws could be considered, the
whole Australian legal framework needs to be reviewed. Part of this
review would remove any systemic and indirect discrimination from existing
laws and legal practices. In relation to this there needs to be more
plurality and recognition in the Australian legal system of the laws
and customs of Indigenous peoples.
- Another recurrent
suggestion was that Australian laws should be benchmarked against international
human rights best practice. They need to comply with the intent and
aims of international agreements and treaties such as the Convention
on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Refugee
Convention, the Genocide Convention, the Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the International Covenant
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. There were frequent references
to how Australia should contribute positively to the finalisation of
the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and then enact
it into domestic legislation.
- Participants called
for reform of policy and legislation governing the status of bodies
such as HREOC and the State-based equivalent agencies so that they are
guaranteed greater independence from government. A greater level of
resources is required if these bodies are to be in a position to operate
effectively and to deal both with individual complaints and initiate
test cases in relation to systemic racism.
- Many participants
urged that bodies such as HREOC should be empowered with the resources
and mandate to bring representative actions on behalf of classes of
victims, and to initiate investigations into instances of systemic and
endemic racism. The powers and functions of the Australian Competition
and Consumer Commission was given as an example of the role envisaged.
- A recurring criticism
was of the "complaints" model of protection from discrimination.
Under this model the onus is on individuals or groups to take the initiative
to prove that discrimination has taken place. Many participants saw
this as placing an undue burden on people who are aggrieved and in positions
of relatively less power and fewer financial resources. It was proposed
that legislative reform to allow for third parties such as representative
bodies to lodge complaints on behalf of aggrieved parties is needed.
- Many women stated
that they are not comfortable using the legal system, so they do not
use laws that are available to them. The women in the focus groups also
expressed their dissatisfaction with the current complaints process:
they seldom have the emotional and economic resources to continue with
long protracted complaints.
- Sanctions and
remedies under existing legislation were seen as limited. A broader
range of options including criminal penalties for some cases was proposed.
These could include stronger commercial and financial measures such
as increased fines, deregistration of companies, individual management
and director responsibility and community service orders.
- Many participants
noted that racial discrimination laws need to be amended and new ones
developed to address issues of intersectionality of factors such as
gender, religion and age.
- There was almost
unanimous agreement that it is of little consequence to have the best
legislative framework if community members are not aware of their rights
or do not have access to adequate resources to pursue them. In this
regard it was regularly noted that HREOC and similar agencies have a
responsibility to undertake educative campaigns to ensure that people
are fully aware of their rights and responsibilities. In line with this
it was agreed that governments have the responsibility to provide HREOC
and other agencies with the necessary resources. There was also a call
on governments to provide access to funding for legal services so that
individuals or groups could pursue their claims and complaints.
- Another area of
contention was the length of time that often elapses between the lodging
of a complaint and its resolution. Many participants expressed concern
that the drawn out nature of the process is a deterrent to people lodging
complaints or carrying them through to completion.
Theme 5: Strategies to achieve full and effective
equality, including international cooperation and enhancement of UN international
mechanisms in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and
related intolerance, and follow-up
This theme considers
the international dimension of mechanisms and efforts to combat racism,
particularly the role of the United Nations and the impact of globalisation.
To facilitate debate on this theme participants were asked whether globalisation
contributes to racism, and what safeguards are necessary to protect people
from any negative impacts of globalisation. Participants were also asked
how they thought Australia should contribute to international fora for
example such as through United Nations committees and special mechanisms.
However, it was clear at many of the community consultations that there
was limited knowledge of the technicalities and operations of UN mechanisms
and processes and consequently there was limited debate about these issues
in some consultations.
- One of the recurrent
themes was that of the impact of globalisation. The participants were
in agreement that globalisation has many layers of meaning, from the
economic and the political to new media and the strengthening of international
mechanisms for protection against racism.
- The majority
of those consulted were of the view that globalisation carries the risk
of exacerbating the wealth divide between and within nations and this
could reinforce racism and xenophobia. Thus a more equitable distribution
of resources is needed to ensure that the world community has access
to the "greater wealth" which globalisation proponents say
will be generated by a world economy. While economic conditions are
not the only or inevitable causes of racism, it was noted that we need
to provide everyone with economic security in order to reduce the incidence
- Participants were
of the view that there are a number of aspects of the international
system that need to be strengthened in order to combat racism. The first
is the accountability mechanisms applying to transnational corporations.
The Global Compact was seen as a potential safeguard, but implementation,
monitoring and enforcement mechanisms are lacking. There should also
be mechanisms through the World Bank and the International Monetary
Fund for corporations to be bound by the principles of the Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in particular.
Mechanisms were suggested that Australia could implement, for example
a code of conduct for Australian companies governing their activities
overseas, similar to the Sullivan Code governing US companies working
in South Africa during the apartheid era.
- Many participants
noted that communities have developed links and alliances across national
borders and shared experiences. This was seen as necessary, and should
be expanded, to develop a better understanding of international trends
and the common causes of xenophobia and racism which are manifesting
themselves in developed nations as globalisation reaches out. The use
of new globalised tools such as the internet can also serve to increase
international communication between local communities seeking to combat
- It was noted that
the parties to international treaties are States, giving only a limited
role to individuals for action. Therefore it was proposed that the roles
of national human rights institutions and non-government organisations
should be strengthened within UN forums to give more participatory rights
and a greater reflection of the views of civil society.
- Many participants
maintained that it was necessary to strengthen the international human
rights treaty system. Australia should ratify the statute of the International
Criminal Court and the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and should urge other
countries to ratify each of the major human rights instruments, especially
the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.
- There was consensus
that Australia can and should take a stronger role in the international
struggle against racism. Most importantly, Australia should renew its
support for the UN human rights system, specifically the functions of
the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Many participants
were of the view that Australia has been embarrassed by its dismissive
response to the concerns expressed recently by many of the treaty committees
on Australia's human rights record.
- Participants were
of the view that the best contribution Australia could make to international
efforts to combat racism would be to establish itself as a model of
best practice in applying international laws at a domestic level. This
would furnish Australia with some moral authority, which it is currently
losing, to engage in international debates and push for positive changes
at the UN level as well as in bilateral discussions.
The following recommendations
reflect the main issues and proposals raised by participants during the
consultation process. The recommendations are loosely grouped by reference
to themes. In some meetings, recommendations were made which were specific
to the context of that region or time. Those recommendations can be found
in the individual regional consultation reports (available on the HREOC
World Conference website).
governments at the State and Federal levels provide recurrent funding
for independent research into all facets of racism in Australia, including
identifying its causes, sources and extent.
2. The Federal
government provide HREOC with funding for an annual national summit
on racism to identify areas of concern and to highlight best practice
examples of combating racism.
3. All levels of
government recognise that women suffer racial discrimination differently
from men, and adopt a gender perspective in the design, delivery and
evaluation of all policies and programs.
4. The Federal
government fully acknowledge the past injustices perpetrated against
Australian Indigenous peoples by making a formal government apology,
endorsed by Parliament. The Parliament should commit to the negotiation
of framework agreements, or treaties, with Indigenous peoples about
5. All levels of
government evaluate existing anti-racism education programs in order
to assess their effectiveness, and to identify gaps, areas for improvement
and best practice.
6. All levels of
government work towards the creation of strategic partnerships with
the private sector, non-government organisations and community representatives
to develop practical human rights and anti--racism programs and to encourage
and facilitate the development of anti-racism and human rights best
practice by the private sector.
7. All levels of
government fund extensive anti-racism campaigns which are flexible enough
to respond adequately to the multi-faceted and different manifestations
of racism. Anti-racism programs should be coordinated between governments,
long term in nature, designed and implemented with the effective participation
of individuals and communities affected by racism, made in consultation
with anti-discrimination and equal opportunity commissions at all levels,
and be regularly monitored and evaluated.
8. All levels
of government re-affirm their commitment to opposing all forms of racism.
In particular, the leaders of all political parties should commit to
denouncing all expressions of racism by members of their own parties.
9. All levels of
government make greater efforts to ensure adequate representation of
Indigenous people and people from minority groups in public sector employment,
including through affirmative action and workplace diversity plans.
10. All levels
of government actively commit to facilitating adequate representation
of Indigenous people and people from minority groups in public life,
particularly in the judiciary, education and parliament, through culturally
appropriate training and leadership programs.
at all levels and industry representatives of the arts and cultural
sector develop affirmative action programs to ensure that Australia's
demographic and cultural diversity is reflected in all areas of the
sector including creation, presentation, performance and administration.
12. The Federal
Minister for Communications require the development of a media code
of conduct which includes effective monitoring mechanisms which:
i positively promote
cultural diversity; and
ii include community representatives and effective and transparent complaint
mechanisms and enforcement provisions.
13. The Federal
government implement a program of human rights education in accordance
with the plan of action for the UN Decade for Human Rights Education.
Such a program must be based on adequate consultation with HREOC, non-government
organisations and civil society in its design and delivery and be adequately
resourced on a recurrent basis.
14. State and territory
education departments evaluate and, where necessary, rewrite existing
school curricula to ensure that they recognise Indigenous history and
the struggles and impacts associated with colonisation, as well as the
important role of migration and the contribution of migrants in our
nation's development. Such review and rewriting must take place in consultation
with Indigenous and migrant communities. The content of these curricula
should become compulsory for all students.
15. State and territory
education departments include the diverse cultures of learning and teaching
that exist in Australia in the whole of the education sector from the
structural to the direct delivery level. This would include bi-modal
delivery and assessment, recognition and teaching of Indigenous and
other community languages and, where appropriate, the establishment
of bilingual, ethnic and Indigenous schools.
16. Human rights
be protected through a Bill of Rights or equivalent instrument in constitutional
or statutory form. The Federal government must allocate adequate funding
and resources to the development and implementation of such an instrument.
17. All levels
of government ensure that they comply with Australia's obligations under
international conventions and amend, repeal, rescind or nullify all
laws that are inconsistent with those international obligations. That
the Federal government monitor the compliance of states and territories
with Australia's human rights obligations and, where necessary, pass
legislation which overrides racially discriminatory provisions.
18. The Federal
and State parliaments require the introduction of, or reinforce existing
measures relating to, the development of accompanying statements which
assess proposed legislation for any impact with regard to racism.
19. The Federal
government amend the Native Title Act so that it is consistent
with Australia's obligations under the Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights.
20. The Federal
government review the Migration Act and other relevant legislation
on the treatment of asylum seekers to consider alternatives to mandatory
detention requirements and to ensure that its treatment of asylum seekers
is based on the broad humanitarian aims and intent of its international
human rights obligations.
21. All levels
of government implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission
into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Bringing Them Home (the Report
of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Children from their Families), the final report of the
Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, the Roadmap to Reconciliation,
and the HREOC Racist Violence report.
22. In order to
recognise the systemic nature of much racial discrimination and the
often insurmountable burden placed on individuals to bring complaints,
all Federal and State governments evaluate anti-discrimination legislation
with the aim of identifying additional mechanisms for grievance processes
which go beyond the individual complaint system.
23. Federal and
State governments amend anti-discrimination and other relevant laws
in order to:
i provide criminal
sanctions for racial discrimination and racial vilification and hatred;
ii permit organisations to bring representative complaints on behalf
of groups or individuals; and
iii permit HREOC and state and territory anti-discrimination commissions
to self-initiate complaints.
24. Federal and
State governments significantly increase legal aid funding for discrimination
and vilification matters to ensure broader and more equitable access
to legal assistance for complainants.
25. The Federal
government promote and support the development by all UN member states
of protocols which monitor and enforce transnational organisations'
compliance with human rights and anti-racism obligations.
26. The Federal
government ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
27. The Federal
government encourage nations that have not yet done so to ratify or
accede to international human rights treaties and their optional protocols,
particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
28. The Federal
government remove Australia's reservation to article 4 of the Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination requiring the
dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred to be outlawed.
29. The Federal
government positively contribute to the finalisation of the Draft Declaration
on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples through full recognition of the
rights of Indigenous peoples (including those of self-determination)
and implement the principles of the declaration in domestic legislation.