Parliamentary speeches

Racism in Australia

October 26, 2020

I rise to talk about priorities, about the standards we set in public life, the choices we make and the signals that they send. It took the Prime Minister an hour to act when it came to the purchase of luxury watches for Australia Post staff. But it has now been two weeks since Senator Abetz questioned the loyalty of Chinese Australians at a Senate inquiry, and the PM has failed to condemn those comments. So too has the acting minister for multicultural affairs. Meanwhile, Senator Abetz has still had plenty to say. Instead of showing decency and apologising, he has doubled down. This is at a time when the Prime Minister has exhorted that we are all in this together. He has been right to do, so but these words ring hollow when his deeds don't match them.

Racism is on the rise here in Australia and around the world. Warning signs were visible before the pandemic. Reporting of racist abuse was on the rise. We saw the shameful treatment of our AFL great Adam Goodes. We saw a spike in attacks on Australian Muslims, including the shocking assault on a heavily pregnant Muslim woman in Parramatta by a stranger. We saw Nazi flags on public display in towns like Beulah. Then the world was shocked by the tragic Christchurch mosque shootings, murders committed by an Australian man. And as the pandemic reached Australia earlier this year, so did a wave of racism directed at Asian Australians and Chinese Australian in particular. They are the ones who have borne the brunt of this wave of racism.

In evidence before Senate estimates this week the Race Discrimination Commissioner, Chin Tan, confirmed that there had been a substantial rise in racist activities, more in terms of some communities, particularly Asian communities. This demands a strong response from the Morrison government. There is no vaccine for racism, but racism is a virus, a virus that we as policymakers must do something to tackle and ultimately eliminate, especially when we have voices in the media spreading fear, hate and division. The Morrison government should join Labor in creating a new national antiracism strategy, a strategy aimed at changing attitudes and empowering communities so that we really are all in this together. We must all stand up for multiculturalism and for multicultural communities.

The acting minister has lately been talking about the importance of social cohesion. He should recognise the threat his colleague's conduct is to this. He should think about the signal his silence is sending. He should think about his responsibilities to Chinese Australians and every Australian, and so should his boss. We need a leader who will lead all Australians, a leader who recognises that the standard he walks past is the standard that some in the community will see as being a standard he accepts, a leader who will squarely repudiate Senator Abetz's comments and conduct and make clear that every Australian is equally entitled to participate in our society.