Australia urged to adopt plan to fight ‘resurgence of racism’

Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan

Australia needs a new national anti-racism framework to address prejudice against Asian Australians due to the coronavirus pandemic and the legacy of “hatred” towards Muslims following the Christchurch attacks, the race discrimination commissioner says.

Chin Tan will on Wednesday launch a concept paper for the framework ahead of Harmony Day on 21 March. In a speech, he warns that racism is a “significant economic, social and national security threat”.

Chin Tan will be speaking – in Shepparton – at African House on Saturday, 20 March, at a Harmony Day event hosted by the Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District.

Tan’s intervention on behalf of the Australian Human Rights Commission will add pressure on the government, which already faces calls from Labor and community groups for a new strategy in part due to a spike in anti-Chinese and anti-Asian racist incidents in Australia.

Australia has not had a national anti-racism plan since 2018 and no federal funding for one since 2015. In a draft of the speech, seen by Guardian Australia, Tan warns there is a “resurgence of racism” that has been “painfully apparent” in the past year.

Tan cites anti-Asian racism due to Covid-19, “injustices” against Indigenous and other culturally diverse Australians highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement and the rise of “homegrown terrorism and extremism” noted by security agencies.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan
Chin Tan: ‘Too many people are regularly the targets and victims of racism.’ Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Tan will soon release a report into attitudes to Australia’s Muslim communities, finding “significant unfavourable treatment and hatred” in the wake of the Christchurch attacks – committed by an Australian white nationalist against Muslims in their places of worship.

The New Zealand Christchurch royal commission report, released in December 2020, found that societies “polarised around difference are likely to see radicalised ideologies develop and flourish”, Tan says. Those findings “deserve extensive reflection and consideration in Australia here too”. Tan says Australia must be “brave” to tackle racism and “our current efforts are not enough to achieve this”.

“Government efforts are fragmented, there are inconsistencies in approaches across jurisdictions, and significant gaps. Too many people are regularly the targets and victims of racism.”

The “scourge of racism” should be the subject of a national strategy, the same way domestic violence and child abuse are a focus of government, he says. Tan says a national framework should include measuring the incidence of racism, an effective legal framework to “protect people from racial discrimination” and a commitment to eradicate racism by all levels of government.

Tan says stamping out racism is not just a matter for government, revealing he will conduct a roundtable on spectator racism at sporting events as an example of taking action across the community.

Tan’s concept paper for a national anti-racism framework, released on Wednesday, lists “verbal abuse and expressions of hate and violence” and “everyday racism like offhand jokes” as examples of discrimination faced in the community.

In 2017 the Coalition government unsuccessfully attempted to abolish section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which bans speech that offends, insults or humiliates a person based on their race. Tan was appointed in October 2018 after his predecessor, Tim Soutphommasane, was accused by conservative media of activism for informing Australians how to make complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The concept paper also calls for “measures to promote social cohesion, inclusion and equal opportunity and participation”. It argues that the first plank of a rights-based approach to racism requires that governments “not discriminate through their own actions”. The paper lists “fearmongering about asylum seekers and Muslims, often containing racial undertones”, as an example of racism that needs to be combatted.

The home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, has previously said Victorians are scared to go out at night due to “African gang violence”, that Australia is paying for the mistakes of its 1970s migration program, that illiterate refugees will take Australian jobs and that refugees brought to Australia under medevac laws would “displace” Australian citizens from medical services.

In the aftermath of the Christchurch attack, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, called on Australians to reject “mindless tribalism” and “disagree better” just hours after Dutton accused Greens politicians of being just as bad as the disgraced far-right senator Fraser Anning.


Racism in Australia
Race discrimination commissioner Chin Tan says Australia must be ‘brave’ to tackle racism and ‘our current efforts are not enough to achieve this’. Photograph: Johner Images/Alamy

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