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21 November 2012
Australia's Race Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Helen Szoke, threw down the gauntlet to delegates at an international conference on multiculturalism held at Deakin University last week.
She urged delegates to sign up to the national anti-racism campaign - ‘Racism it stops with me’ as a way of building an inclusive Australia.
Dr Szoke challenged all Australians to see who they could sign up and by doing so make stamping out racism part of the national agenda.
“We already have many supporters who have signed up to the campaign,” she said.
“This is, I believe, the first time Australia has had a national anti-racism campaign, my challenge to the Australians here, is to see who you can sign up to this campaign.
“We really need to get Deakin University signed up but we need you to go back to your workplaces, your schools and groups and get them to sign up to the campaign saying racism stops with me and in doing so we'll put a focus on the issues that undermine multiculturalism and social inclusion.”
Dr Szoke said racism and social exclusion wasn’t widely discussed in the Australian community, and cited the recent Asian Century White paper, where it was mentioned twice, yet addressing it was critical to Australia’s economic future.
“We need to challenge ourselves,” she told delegates at the International Reclaiming Multiculturalism – global Citizenship and Ethical Engagement with Diversity conference held at Deakin last week.
The conference was organised by the University’s Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation.
“Part of what everyone in this community wants is to be an active participant in the life of the community,” she said.
“This means they need to be gainfully engaged through education, work or community life of one sort or another and whether we opt for a big Australia or a small one we need to keep an eye on how this transition is made and what the barriers or obstacles might be to achieving it.
“We have to challenge ourselves to remember that disadvantage and discrimination are intertwined and guard against it becoming self-perpetuating.”
Dr Szoke said building a cohesive multicultural society required attention to economic and social issues as well as to cultural and political issues.
“It requires the protection of law but also leadership from the community and it requires attention to the structural and systemic practice which undermine people’s enjoyment of equality and as well as the race hate and harassment that undermines people’s sense of belonging,” she said.
Dr Szoke said the agenda looked at two sides of the coin – how we promote equality, but on the other side the need to name and tackle racism.
“While racism tends to be experienced as an acute incident, inequality tends to be a chronic condition which is rarely headline news,” she said.
“As we work to eradicate racism we should be working to achieve racial equality.
“There are a number of drivers to this agenda and one of them is the link between discrimination and disadvantage. There’s a symbiotic relationship between the two.
“Research shows that racial discrimination contributes to social and economic disadvantage, and likewise social and economic exclusion can exacerbate the experience of racial discrimination.”
Dr Szoke said addressing this meant identifying where racial exclusion happens and eliminating it.
“There’s no benefit to us to have some people in the community marginalised and left out of our social and economic life,” she said.
“I have had so many discussions with groups representing particular waves of migration who face great difficulty in finding work and accessing education and as a consequence have found themselves and their families in deep economic disadvantage.
“This sets the stage for intergenerational poverty which is an easy trap to slide into but a difficult one to get out of.”
Dr Szoke called for business to actively tackle the systemic barriers which also stopped people from different racial and ethnic and cultural backgrounds achieving equality.
“Systemic discrimination is hard to identify and hard to understand but when we look at outcomes that are disproportionately bad for a particular group and it has a racial or ethnic picture then we have to ask ‘where are the barriers?’” she said.
“And I’ll give you a hint they don’t lie in the individual or personal characteristics.
“Systemic discrimination is often a barrier to achieving equality in employment.
“To recruit for diversity is one thing, to filter for racial barriers in institutional practices and procedures and the requirements for roles is another.”
Dr Szoke said analysts had noticed businesses prosper when they reflected the characteristics of their markets.
“Diversity can also lead to innovation, a critical requirement for Australian businesses when the world economy is being reshaped,” she said.
“There is a need to continue to build the business case for building equality and tackling racism and to check it repeatedly through the filter of commercial reality.”
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