During Australia’s first appearance before the United Nation’s (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination since 2010, government officials were questioned by committee members on issues related to racism.
Verene Shepherd, the UN committee’s rapporteur for Australia lauded Australia’s current strategies to curb racism which included the appointment of a race discrimination commissioner and introducing new health and justice programs for indigenous people.
However Shepherd believes the prevalence of hate speech and attention given to Australia’s counter-terrorism measures were fuelling sentiments on racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and ethnic-based discrimination.
Tim Soutphommasane who was appointed the Race Discrimination Commissioner shared his opinion that extreme nationalist organisations and their growing prominence in public discourse on race and immigration are contributors to the rise in racial intolerance and discrimination.
Adrianne Walters from Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre concurred with the findings of the UN Report citing its concerns on rising racism, xenophobia and the growing number of extreme nationalists:
“While the Australian Government claims a strong commitment to multiculturalism, attempts to weaken vital vilification laws and to make citizenship harder for migrants the last few years, together with the cynical linking of multicultural policy with terrorism and national security, create a dangerous authorising environment for racism and xenophobia.”
The Human Rights Law Centre is part of a coalition of 53 non-government organizations who are presenting a report to the UN Committee where they criticize Australia for its treatment of ethnic minority communities, refugees and asylum seekers and Indigenous peoples.
Lachlan Strahan, First Assistant Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs is of the opinion that while racial issues are bought up in political discourse, the majority of Australians do not participate in them.
Strahan added that racial language is never tolerated. Australia’s political leaders and courts are ready to implement the appropriate courses of action to defend diversity and tolerance.
A point of contention during the hearings was Shepherd’s insistence that Australia undo its boat turnback policy and offshore detention of asylum seekers.
But the Australian delegation defended the policies by stating these were put into motion in order to deter people smuggling and were successful in decreasing the incidence of criminal activity.
On the UN committee’s issue that implementing an English language test was discriminatory for would-be citizens, Strahan responded that the policy was still subject to discussion by politicians.
It is certainly the case that this UN Committee’s investigation into Australia’s compliance with International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination is trying to paint as dark a picture as possible of race relations in Australia.
The likely findings of the Committee will give the human rights and race industry all the ammunition they need to further their agenda in the media, our institutions and in government policy.