'Not good enough': governments failing to act on racism

By avoiding the word "racism", blaming victims and pitting diverse communities against each other, governments at all levels across Australia are failing to tackle racism.

And as world events like the violence in Gaza, geopolitical tensions involving China and even the Indigenous voice referendum fuel discrimination, the Australian Human Rights Commission has urged governments to address racism with a whole-of-government approach.

A report produced for the commission revealed a spate of failures in anti-racism programs and policies.

It found governments were reluctant to use the term "racism", preferring words like "social cohesion", which the report says has weakened approaches to anti-racism work.

In attempts to "fix" racism, their programs often focused on victims or groups experiencing racism with little to no focus on the broader community's role in tackling the problem.

Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner Giridharan Sivaraman
Commissioner Giridharan Sivaraman ​says current approaches to address racism are ad hoc.

National Race Discrimination Commissioner Giridharan Sivaraman said all of this has come to a head as recent world events fuel racism within Australia.

"Racism impacts opportunities and outcomes in all areas of people’s lives," he said.

"Recent ruptures in our society have seen dramatic rises in racism towards First Nations peoples, anti-Semitism, anti-Asian racism, anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia.

"This shows systemic failures to deal with racism."

​Current approaches are ad hoc, disjointed and often reactive which makes it hard to drive change across and between governments.

Many policies also force diverse culturally and linguistically diverse communities to compete for funding against First Nations people as the programs contribute to an "either/or" approach.

Anti-racism work is also heavily contingent on attitudes of government.

But recent conservative governments have stepped away from bipartisan approaches to anti-racism, which can present barriers to addressing the issue.

The report recommends the development of a nationally recognised definition of racism and a database of anti-racism work, policies and programs.

It also called for the establishment of a national anti-racism council to advise governments, anti-racism education in schools and a whole-of-government approach to addressing racism and racist behaviours.

The commission is expected to release a proposal for a national framework to tackle racism in the coming months after receiving $7.5 million over four years from the federal government to create a national anti-racism strategy.

“Australia has national plans to tackle problems like mental health, child abuse, and domestic violence," Mr Sivaraman said.

"Our current ad hoc approach towards racism is not good enough."

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