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Government Humanitarian Crisis News Policy

Quashed anti-racism campaign highlights need for national response

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A Sydney mayor’s derailing of an anti-racism campaign highlights the need for a coordinated national response to racism in Australia, according to Australia’s largest refugee and migration resettlement support provider, Settlement Services International (SSI).

Mayor Steve Christou cast the deciding vote last week against a campaign that would have funded bilingual ‘Racism Not Welcome Here’ signs in the Cumberland Council area. The timing coincided with Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan’s proposal for a new anti-racism framework that would create a national, standardised approach to address racist attitudes in the Australian community.

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said the proposed framework met a pressing community need – which made it doubly disappointing to see locally-driven anti-racism initiatives such as the Cumberland Council proposal shut down.

“Efforts to support social cohesion must go beyond positive promotion of multiculturalism and actively denounce racism. Racism poses a significant social and economic threat to our country. We only have to look to the US to see it is a potential security threat too,” she said.

Last week, a gunman killed eight people in Atlanta, including six people of Asian background. The deaths have sparked protests in the US, where commentators attributed the murders to mounting anti-Asian violence.

“While we don’t know the specific motivation behind this attack, these incidents do not happen in isolation. They are the culmination of rising acceptance of racist attitudes and vilification of particular demographics,” said Ms Roumeliotis.

This year alone, two pieces of research have quantified the prevalence of racism in Australian communities. First, the Scanlon Foundation Research Institute’s 2020 Mapping Social Cohesion Report showed a high level of negative opinion towards Australians of Asian, African, and Middle Eastern backgrounds. This was then reinforced by a Lowy Institute report showing that almost one in five Chinese Australians have been physically threatened or attacked in the past year.

To counter this negative sentiment, the Race Discrimination Commissioner has proposed a national framework on racism and social cohesion, similar to the longstanding frameworks in place for domestic violence and child abuse.

His proposal builds on recent recommendations from the Senate committee on issues faced by diaspora communities. It encouraged the government to develop a new, comprehensive national anti-racism framework and “reinvigorate” its existing National Anti-Racism Strategy.

“A standardised framework would ensure a commitment to countering racism from all sectors and all levels of Australian government – including local councils,” said Ms Roumeliotis.

“What is clear from the growing evidence base is that racism in alive and well in Australian communities, and we need a coordinated, national response to better understand its prevalence and enhance anti-racism and social inclusion measures.”

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