Parliamentary speeches

Zero tolerance to racism

March 22, 2021

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) 15 to 21 March 2021 marks Harmony Week, a time to recognise and celebrate diversity and inclusion in Australia; and

(b) 21 March 2021 is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a call for the international community to increase its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination; and

(2) recognises that:

(a) Australia’s diversity is our greatest strength, we should celebrate this, defend this, and strive to strengthen it; and

(b) at a time of rising racism around the globe and in Australia, we must commit to a zero‑tolerance approach to racism, and to working to end all forms of racial discrimination.

Last week, people right across Australia celebrated Harmony Week, sharing and celebrating culture. Yesterday, the week's culmination was the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It marks the anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre, when 69 peaceful protesters against apartheid were killed by police in South Africa. As we recognise and celebrate the diversity that is modern Australia, we can't forget this, nor can we pretend that it is a relic of history, because racism persists and, indeed, is on the rise, as is right-wing extremism. So this year we do have to unite to fight racism.

Our diversity truly is our greatest strength, but it can never be taken for granted. No matter who you are, where you were born, the language you first spoke or your religious beliefs, in Australia, everyone belongs. We must state this and restate it, and we must state that we are proud of our immigrant history and that we can build on this, including through a fair and just community sponsorship program, as an important report from Amnesty International released yesterday proposes. We're also proud to be home to the world's oldest continuous civilisation. It's these things that make us who we are and enable us to imagine who we might be.

The COVID pandemic makes these questions more pressing because it has unleashed a new strain of ugly racism across our communities. International students called 'Coronavirus'; graffiti scrawled on a suburban garage door, saying, 'Go home, yellow dogs'—shameful, disgraceful, disgusting acts. A national survey conducted last year by the community group the Asian Australian Alliance received 400 reports of racism directed towards people from Asian backgrounds. In May of last year, the ABC reported on the results of a survey conducted on people's experiences of racism. It heard from people who'd been abused on the street and yelled at whilst shopping. The Christchurch terrorist responsible for the horrific murder of 51 worshippers in two mosques in New Zealand two years ago was an Australian man, radicalised on our shores. We can't ignore that, but we still haven't truly come to terms with that fact. Just last Friday, we saw a man wearing a cap with a Nazi swastika at a major train station in Melbourne. That was after shocking images from the Australia Day weekend of a Neo-Nazi gathering near the Grampians in western Victoria.

This threat is real. We cannot afford to be complacent. Rising racism, rising xenophobia, rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, the rising incidence of hate crimes—these terrible threats are growing at home and around the world. We saw the terrible murder in Atlanta, Georgia, of eight people, most of them Asian American women.

Racism ruins lives and it divides entire communities. It corrodes the foundations of what makes societies and communities successful. And racism is against the law. It is against the law to vilify a person or a group of people because of their race or their religion. We can't assume that the scourge of racism will go away by itself. This is a problem that requires action. It requires leadership from political and community leaders. It requires a strategy to defeat it. So I welcome the proposal by the Race Discrimination Commissioner, Chin Tan, of an antiracism framework.

Labor has being calling for a comprehensive national antiracism strategy for over a year, because it is not enough for this government or any government to simply condemn racism. We need a comprehensive strategy to tackle racism through leadership and with appropriate support. Words must be matched by actions. That's why federal Labor has commenced important policy work on a national antiracism strategy, focusing on empowering culturally and linguistically diverse communities and changing attitudes through a national antiracism campaign.

As we renew our commitment to multiculturalism we must also commit to ending racism and promoting respect for all, building a society that is truly equal. We can and we must, each of us, demonstrate this through our actions each and every day. As Tim Soutphommasane says, we must name and confront racism, however uncomfortable this may be. We, those of us who have the responsibility and the opportunity to speak on behalf of others and to make decisions that shape this nation and its laws, must put in place a national strategy committing to a zero-tolerance approach to racism and to ending the stain on all of us that is the persistence of racial discrimination.