From this time forward, under God,*
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,
whose democratic beliefs I share,
whose rights and liberties I respect, and
whose laws I will uphold and obey.
* A person may choose whether or not to use the words ‘under God’.
This is the pledge that you have to take as the final step in your journey of becoming an Australian citizen, of course, unless you are born in Australia. To be eligible to take the pledge, you must prove your thorough understanding of what it means. You have to pass a test based on a document provided by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, titled Our Common Bond. As Australians, it is fun to skim through the document and see if we are actually true to the pledge we took either explicitly, by uttering the words, or implicitly, by being born on this land.
“We are also a young nation; a nation of migrants. European settlement in Australia began in 1788 and we continue to welcome new migrants today. People from more than 200 countries have made Australia their home.”
“Today, Australia has a population of about 22 million people. Over one quarter of these people were born overseas.”
“In Australia’s diverse society, over 200 languages are spoken.”
“People come to settle in Australia from countries all around the world. Many people have a different cultural heritage with different beliefs and traditions. In our democratic society, we are all free to follow and share these beliefs and traditions as long as they do not break Australian laws.”
“There are a number of laws in Australia that make sure a person is not treated differently to others because of their gender, race, disability or age.”
“We value this freedom and expect all Australians to treat each other with dignity and respect, regardless of their race, country of origin, gender, sexual preference, marital status, age, disability, heritage, culture, politics, wealth or religion.”
Can we all claim that we share Australian democratic beliefs; respect Australia’s rights and liberties; and uphold and obey its laws?
Journalism and Responsibility
On Monday 22nd of February, Paul Sheehan, an Australian reporter from the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) released a double page spread about an Australian woman named Louise. She claimed to have been brutally assaulted and raped by a group of men from a specific ethnic minority group. In the article the sub-heading stated, “We’ll never know the scale of the rape epidemic in Sydney”.
Louise’s story was later shown to be fictitious.
The article was then retracted by the SMH, but the stigma associated with the ethnic minority group is likely to remain, just like the stigma has remained with refugees and asylum seekers from the “Children Overboard Scandal”. The damage created by the media is difficult to reverse.
This is because such stories conjure up horrifying images in the minds of readers and whilst reading the article, the readers believe the information that they are consuming is fact. The initial shock value of these stories has a real affect in the mind of the reader; it virtually imprints itself like an un-washable stain.
The ABC’s “Media Watch” recently investigated the SMH report and showed an Australian woman speaking at a Reclaim Australia rally at Martin Place on April 4th 2015. This was Louise telling the same story that Sheehan reported in the SMH in February 2016. To call the story “news” is debatable.
To add insult to injury in this saga, the SMH printed a small apology (of 99 words) in the bottom corner of page 2 on the following Wednesday. That’s right: the lie takes up two pages and the truth gets 99 words.
The most basic form of modern racism makes people from minority ethnic backgrounds invisible. A more sinister form of racism makes people visible through negative acts.
Even if the SMH story was true it would still be a form of racism to nominate the ethnicity of the men because it’s really not important. If the story happened to be true, then the rapists are still rapists regardless of their ethnic or cultural background.
To make any impact on achieving racial equality, journalists need to play their role: to tell real stories as they happened, and without prejudice. After all, racism stops with every single one of us.
All Together Now has created an infographic with the key findings from the 2014 Mapping Social Cohesion report.
Each year the Scanlon Foundation commissions research to measure Australian attitudes on social cohesion, immigration and population issues.
The research shows the levels of racism in Australia compared to previous years. During the past year, 18% of people experienced discrimination based on skin colour, ethnic origin or religion. This is a small decrease from 19% last year, but a huge increase from 9% in 2007.
Alarmingly, 5% of people living in Australia – over 1.1 million people – experience racism at least once a month. People are most likely to experience racism in their neighbourhood, at the shopping centre, or at work.
The research also found that around 25-30% of Australians are intolerant of cultural diversity. All Together Now optimistically believes that people in this group won’t necessarily hold these intolerant beliefs for life. They tend to make racist comments because they over-estimate the number of people around them who agree with their point of view. When bystanders speak up during a racist incident, the perpetrator learns that their view is not shared by others and is less likely to say something racist in the future.
Australia is one of the most multicultural nations in the world. More than 1 in 4 Australians were born overseas. Let’s increase social cohesion in our country by making all Australians feel welcome. You can start improving social cohesion by speaking up when you witness racism.
Allysha Gusmardy is a bright 18 years old who has just finished her HSC in NSW and will be continuing on to university next year. She resides in the Inner-West of Sydney with her mother and father and sibilings, and is of Indonesian cultural decent. Allysha also adheres to the Islamic faith and wears her hijab like many of her friends. She went to school in Canterbury located in inner-west Sydney, NSW and always got on well with her peers while in high school. However, in Year 9 Allysha began to experience racial attacks from a fellow student at the high school she attended. Sadly, this is not an uncommon day-to-day occurrence with 1 in 5 students in Australian schools experiencing racism.
Allysha described in an interview of how she, even to this day, was perplexed as to why she was targeted by this one person’s racial attacks.
“I was so unsure of why she was so aggressive when it came to me. Was it because of my religion? But that couldn’t be it because all my friends were Muslim and while only few wore the hijab, she treated them with kindness and often complimented them.”
The perpetrator of the racism was a new student to the school who had been welcomed in to her group of friends and Allysha was in many classes with her. The girl became highly verbally aggressive towards Allysha and made her racial abuse clear. Allysha described what kind of abuse she was targeted with:
“She often called my hijab a tea towel and questioned why I wore it. She even called a Muslim boy from our neighbouring school a terrorists in front of my face, as though she were trying to elicit some sort of anger.”
During Ramadan, our P.E class engaged in a game of basketball. I and a few other Muslim girls asked the teacher if we could take a break seeing as we were fasting and that was when the new girl had mocked us. She pretended to whine, ‘Aw it’s Ramadan, I’m fasting. I’m soooo tired, I need a break Miss. I’m soo tired, guys I’m fasting’ and of course, some of the girls laughed, encouraging her.
She continued to mock Ramadan and fasting until finally I turned away. It was hard not to cry but seeing as no one stood up to her, or condemned her behaviour, it had left me in tears. A lot of my friends had confronted her and that was probably the only reason why she and I were then taken to the teacher in charge of Racism and Discrimination.”
Allysha felt that the teacher in charge of Racism and Discrimination had managed the situation appropriately when it was brought to her attention. As the student who had been committing the racial attacks on Allysha claimed “She’s not from here, she needs to go back to her country. I don’t like her kind” the Teacher responded with reminding her that she had immigrant parents also. Allysha used this opportunity to state to her attacker “I was born in this country. Why do I have to leave?” The student apparently saw the error in her remarks and halted her open discrimination against Allysha.
However, a side effect of this open halt was that the student perpetrating the racial attacks then chose to become more discreet. Allysha tells of how the student used social media and gossip to continue her negative discourse on Islam and herself.
We asked Allysha what her school was lacking that could have prevented such incidents occurring in the future. This is what she had to say:
Did you feel that your school responded properly to the reports of racism?
“Although the school responded well, I feel like there wasn’t actual any awareness about racism. I wanted there to be an announcement made at school for everyone to hear about.”
Do you think your schools are in need of to be able to prevent and intercede in a better manner to future incidents of racism?
“I feel like racism and discrimination should really be made clear. Everyone knows that racism and discrimination is wrong but there’s nothing that really solidifies it. The schools are always preaching about how they don’t tolerate it but it’s always seemed like a taboo.
Especially on racism, [it is needed] and would definitely reduce the incidents of racial attacks. Especially when they know where it sparked from. Although there will be [a] few ignorant people who will think the same backward thoughts, they would rarely act on the thoughts since the environment around them would be educated and racism would be seen as something serious rather than a petty ignorant thought/joke.”
Within a typical class size of 30 students were will be at least 6 students who have been targets of racial attacks at school. Most of these attack will come in the form of verbal abuse. This is not a healthy environment for any young person to be growing in. It is time to work together to eliminate stories like Allysha’s from our schools. It is time to embrace the concept of racism within our schools to be able to tackle it head on. Now is the time for education on understanding what racism is, how it affects people and what we can do to speak up against it to help eliminate future incidents. The youth are our future, so let’s build our future together starting in our schools.
When we talk about Harmony in Australia, we often allude to multiculturalism and how we can live in Harmony with one another. Australia is, after all, one of the most multicultural countries on earth. We speak over 200 languages (including 50 Indigenous languages), and 23% of us are first generation: born overseas. Yet when it comes to workplace practices, often those who are most discriminated against are new migrant workers, and in particular, those who do not speak English as their first language.
Generally it’s company policies, rather than government laws or regulations, that dictate how overseas workers will be treated in work. Instead of being proactive in regards to migrant rights, Australia has left these matters on the back burner. Australia has not signed, for instance, the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Family. This convention stresses that even “undocumented” workers should have their rights respected, and that migrants should be treated equally, just as any other human being.
Australia, like other receiving countries, avoids signing onto these treaties because they demand obligations in return to receiving migrant workers. These protections go against the current narrative of Australia needing control over its borders, or the ability to turn away, oppress or dehumanize those who are seen as unwelcome and threatening. Discourse in Australia tends to focus on 457 visas, refugees and migrant workers in Australia. These discussions tend to dehumanize migrants, make them seem like a threat, or delegitimize their humanity.
In the workplace, migrant workers who face racial discrimination have two options: action under company policy, or under the Racial Discrimination Act. Several companies do not have grievance procedures relating specifically to racism, but rather focus more broadly on workplace bullying and harassment.
Migrant workers who are left to take action under the Racial Discrimination Act, for say, verbal racial abuse in the workplace, generally find recourse under section 18C.
Section 18C Currently protects people against speech likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” them on the basis of their race. This makes it unlawful for someone to yell a racial slur at you on the bus, or unlawful for newspapers to publish blatantly racist, offensive materials. In the workplace, it also makes it unlawful for employers to verbally abuse employees, in public spaces.
Yet the government’s proposed abolition of section 18C would leave migrant workers without protection if and when they face racism in the workplace. The government is seriously considering making these changes despite the fact that 80% of Australians support the current laws against racial vilification.
It is more important now than ever before that companies adopt internal company procedures regarding racism in the workplace. Company policy, and in particular grievance procedures, can give employees a place to go for help when facing sustained verbal abuse, or racial discrimination. Remember that the general wellbeing of employees is linked to their productivity, which is directly linked to your bottom line. It is important, both as a moral and business imperative, that businesses help out employees suffering from racial discrimination in the workplace.
Businesses looking to do something to stop racism should contact All Together Now today.
Together, we can discuss a partnership to prevent racism. We’ve already worked with several organizations to assist them in erasing racism in the workplace.
The government has indicated it intends to make racist hate speech, racist publications and racial slurs legal in Australia. This goes against the very grain of Australian society, as a place where people from all cultures can feel safe and respected.
Some proposed changes were mooted last week in The Australian stating that section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is at risk of being repealed. Currently, this Act protects people against speech likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” on the basis of race. It is “unlawful” for someone to yell a racial slur at you on the bus, and unlawful for newspapers to publish blatantly racist materials.
Two weeks ago on Q&A the Attorney General confirmed his intention to repeal 18C. Last week he defended people’s “right to be bigots”, advocating freedom of speech. Yet this argument does not make sense given there are already protections for freedom of speech in place under section 18D of the Act.
The Attorney General appears to have turned a blind eye to the immense damage and harm caused by racial vilification. Effects on individuals include high blood pressure, depression and lower employment opportunities. Effects on society at large include economic loss to businesses due to complaints made about racial discrimination in the workplace, reduced tourism, and reduced interest in studying in Australia by international students.
If these changes go ahead they will weaken Australia’s laws on racial vilification and would make it legal to “offend, insult or humiliate” someone on the basis of their race.
Yet new research shows that nearly 80% of Australians support the current laws against racial vilification. Most people agree that it should be unlawful to make public racist remarks. And that this should never be a legal activity. No changes to the law are necessary.
Further, the Scanlon Foundation’s Recent Arrivals Report released this week found that racism is one of the top three concerns of new migrants. Clearly, legal protections are required to ensure the most vulnerable people in Australia are able to live in a safe environment free from racial abuse and discrimination.
Now is the time to act. We, as citizens who care about human rights, need to make as much noise as possible to tell the government we need strong, effective, racial vilification laws in Australia.
What You Can Do
1. Write to your newspaper. Let the public know you are against the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, and express your support for strong laws against racial vilification in Australia.
2. Contact your friends / family / acquaintances. In the absence of public consultation, there is now a need for community members affected by racism to speak up against the changes, and tell the public how they are affected by verbal racial abuse.
3. Send a letter to your federal MP. Your Minister should have your objections to these proposals at the forefront of their mind when they vote on this bill.
We need to keep strong laws against racial vilification in this country. Racial slurs, racist publications and public racist remarks should never become “lawful”.