As Australia’s current Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane prepares to step down from the role this month, there is a debate raging over whether we need a Race Discrimination Commissioner at all.
On one side of the argument are conservative commentators, politicians and pundits who want the position abolished, while on the other there are those who believe that we need the role more than ever, including Dr Soutphommasane himself, who said in a farewell speech this week:
“Right now, it feels like there has never been a more exciting time to be a dog-whistling politician or race-baiting commentator in Australia.”
Dr Soutphommasane made it clear who he was talking about:
Malcolm Turnbull and his comments about Sudanese gangs, Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge for his comments about separatism, Home Affairs Minister for proposing that white South African farmers deserved special attention for visas, and Tony Abbott for his comments about African immigrants.
Then there was News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt, who last week wrote that a “a tidal wave of immigration” was swamping Australia, and Sky News channel which earlier this week interviewed Neo-Nazi Blair Cottrell.
“Five years ago, I wouldn’t have said it was likely that we would see the resurgence of far-right politics. I wouldn’t have expected that the biggest threats to racial harmony would come from within our parliaments and from sections of our media. Yet here we are,” Dr Soutphommasane said.
“This is dangerous territory. When politicians resort to using race in advancing their agendas, they inevitably excite racial anxiety and stir up social division. They end up damaging our racial tolerance and multicultural harmony.”
Leading the charge against the appointment of another Race Discrimination Commissioner is right-wing think tank the Institute of Public Affairs, arguing the role has a counter-productive and self-defeating impact when it comes to reducing race discrimination.
“We don’t need this divisive role,” said Morgan Begg from the IPA.
“Between 1999 and 2004, the role was left vacant and was filled in an acting capacity by the other commissioners. There is no reason that can’t happen again.”
“I would argue there is no compulsion, legally speaking, on the government to fill the position.”
Those calls have been echoed by a long line of commentators including Rowan Dean, and just about every broadcaster on radio 2GB and 4BC, including Michael McLaren who thinks the $346,000 a year salary could be better spent.
“So let’s give the money to the farmers or someone who needs it,” McLaren said.
“We could give it to someone else who sees racism as a racist around every corner, or we could bite the bullet and leave the post vacant.
“And better still, let that be a first step in a long game that ends with the complete dissolve of the Human Rights Commission.”
Miles Heffernan, Director of Litigation at Discrimination Claims, said racism, like cancer, has a tendency to return if not constantly monitored.
“It’s funny that everyone who is saying there is no need for a Race Discrimination Commissioner seems to be white, and I would bet have never actually experienced racism,” Mr Heffernan said.
“Those who believe that racism is no longer a problem in this country need only listen to certain politicians and radio stations, and read certain newspapers, to see that just under the surface, it’s still there.
“Unfortunately, eternal vigilance will always be required so this scourge does not raise its ugly head, so maybe the idea of replacing the Race Discrimination Commissioner is not such a bad idea.”
If you believe you have suffered discrimination on the basis of your race or skin colour, you may be entitled to compensation. Please call Discrimination Claims today on 1300 853 837.
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