ANDREW GILES MP
MEMBER FOR SCULLIN
SHADOW MINISTER ASSISTING FOR IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIES AND URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE
SHADOW MINISTER FOR MULTICULTURAL AFFAIRS
IT’S TIME FOR A NEW NATIONAL ANTI-RACISM CAMPAIGN
ADVANCING COMMUNITY COHESION CONFERENCE
WEDNESDAY, 12 FEBRUARY 2020
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I acknowledge the traditional owners on the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to elders, past, present and emerging.
I also want to acknowledge Professor Dr Sev Ozdowski AM OAM for organising today’s event.
At first, I thought it was a mistake. A typo, maybe.
That was my reaction when I saw Tim Blair’s article in the NewsCorp papers last week about former race discrimination commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane.
But it wasn’t a mistake. It was racism, pure and simple, with it an attempt to deny access to public space.
For those of you fortunate enough not to see it.
Blair mocked Tim’s last name and called him a “race hustler”.
Of course this inversion of reality wasn’t a one-off, and it doesn’t take place in a vacuum.
Since the outbreak of coronavirus there has been a rise in misinformation and xenophobia towards the Asian community.
I was in Box Hill last week in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Box Hill is home to a big Australian Chinese community.
I spoke to businesses that had experienced a 70% drop in business – no doubt because of fear and misinformation about the coronavirus.
But I also heard stories of Chinese people being yelled at on public transport – told to go back home - and Chinese people being denied rides on ride-sharing apps, like Uber.
The truth is that racism in Australia is on the rise.
Terrifying attacks on people of Asian appearance in Prahran and Randwick.
Near-constant denigration of African-Australians by elements of the media.
We have seen a spike in attacks on Australian Muslims, including the shocking assault of a heavily pregnant Muslim woman in Parramatta by a stranger.
40% of Australians admit to having negative or very negative feelings towards Muslims, according to the latest report on social cohesion by the Scanlon Foundation, and there’s been an alarming 30 percent rise in direct anti-Semitic attacks in Australia.
There is a creeping normalisation of hate and racism in Australia, which is why it’s so disturbing that Mr Blair’s article, in major newspapers targets who Tim is, not his argument.
Whether it’s on Facebook or in the supermarket; whether it’s on the football field or on the street, or the disadvantage experienced by our First Peoples - racism persists in Australia.
Meanwhile Australia’s government has been missing in action.
At best, the Abbott Government’s proposed changes to Race Discrimination Act to weaken protections against hate speech, and then Senator George Brandis said “everyone has the right to be a bigot”.
At worst the parliament was disgraced by the hateful maiden speech of Queensland senator Fraser Anning, who called for a “final solution” to what he described as Australia’s immigration problem – followed by Coalition senators voting in support of Pauline Hanson’s infamous “It’s ok to be white” motion in the Senate.
These actions carry heavy consequences.
Without doubt racism can take a real and lasting toll on individual lives and communities.
So what can we do?
First and foremost the Government must renew its commitment to anti-racism and equality, for all Australians. Remembering that the standard we walk past, is the standard we accept.
It can do this by funding a new national anti-racism campaign, promoting a zero tolerance approach to racism.
The aim must be to help create a culture where people are able to identify racism or discrimination and have the confidence and ability to act when they see it.
“All of us know how to hate. But not all of us know what it’s like to be hated.”
They are the powerful and confronting words of Tim Soutphommasane in his book, On Hate.
We know how strongly Australians value our multiculturalism, so there is a strong foundation to turn around the rise in racist attacks – if we listen to Tim’s call, and seek to deepen understanding: of what racism is how it affects its victims, and how it diminishes us all.
It’s been more than seven years since Prime Minister Julia Gillard funded the Racism – it stops with us campaign.
That campaign helped raise awareness of racism in the community and galvanise action.
Across Australia people and organisations are doing good things to reduce and prevent racism, particularly following the high profile Adam Goodes documentaries.
But they can’t do it alone, we also need political leadership.
In New Zealand, the response to the Coronavirus by the NZ Human Rights Commission has shown the way.
“Coronavirus is not an excuse to be racist and xenophobic” – was the clear message as part of the Give Nothing to Racism campaign.
One attack on an Australian because of who they are, or how they look, is one too many of course.
We must recognise thought that this is the tip of an iceberg, connected to insidious attempts to shut people out of space that must be shared by all of us, and a rise in fear and anxiety.
It’s time for a new national anti-racism campaign.
If we fail to take action now, we may end up with more racism, more violence and a country that no longer resembles what we love most about Australia.