Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience racial discrimination all the time. The State of Reconciliation report released February 2016 found that 1 in 3 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had experienced verbal racial abuse in the six months before the survey.
All people, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, have the right to live their lives free of racial discrimination. This is in established principle in international law and one that Australia formally adopted through ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The parliament passed the Racial Discrimination Act, which brings that Convention to life in Australia, in 1976.
In 1995, the Racial Discrimination Act was amended by the Racial Hatred Act 1995 which introduced Sections 18C and 18D (among others) and provides for a process for complaints under the RDA through the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Commission enquires into complaints and attempts to resolve them by conciliation. If the complaint is not resolved through conciliation, the complainant can apply for the allegations to be heard and determined by the Federal Court of Australia or Federal Circuit Court of Australia. This conciliation process has operated effectively for the last 20 years. For example, 76% were successfully resolved, and 94% were satisfied with the Commission’s service in 2015-16.
The 2016 State of Reconciliation Report proposes five dimensions to measure reconciliation, all of which would contribute to reducing racism (and achieving reconciliation with First Peoples) if addressed Two in particular are directly relevant to addressing racism experienced by First Peoples - ‘race relations’, and ‘equality and equity’ and are critical pillars of both reconciliation and human rights.
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1 in 3 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had experienced verbal racial abuse in the last six months
Almost all Australians (86 per cent) believe the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians is important.
Many Australians (64 per cent) agree that cultural diversity makes us stronger, but some of us (35 per cent) still believe Australia is a racist country.
In November 2016, the Attorney General George Brandis bowed to pressure from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, Andrew Bolt, and the Murdoch press to launch an ‘inquiry into free speech’. The whole purpose of the Inquiry was to undermine protections against race hate in the Racial Discrimination Act.
We’ve seen such attempts before in 2014 when Senator Brandis famously said ‘people have the right to be bigots’ in parliament in explaining why he wanted to weaken these protections.
Protections Against Racial Discrimination
In 1975 The Whitlam Government introduced the Racial Discrimination Act after Australia signed on to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
The Racial Discrimination Act has protected Australians from race hate since 1995 when the capacity to make complaints under Section 18C was introduced. The section makes it unlawful for someone to commit an act that is reasonably likely to "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" someone because of their race or ethnicity. At the same time, Section 18D was introduced to qualify 18C by exempting artistic works, academic and scientific debate and “fair and accurate” reporting of any events or matters of public interest made “reasonably” and in “good faith".
The above figures are taken from the 2016 State of Recociliation Report