On 24th July, The Indian Telegraph organised a community forum at the Marayong Community Centre, to discuss the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act. In March and April of this year, the Federal government announced that they would be reviewing to change this Act to protect freedom of speech. Most commentators viewed this as an opportunistic move to garner the support of a tiny minority of the Australian population who view this Act as a hindrance, which suffocates their rights to speak about race, ethnicity, an individual’s origins and heritage. They believed and some still do, that the ‘Australian culture’ is under some form of threat.
Going deeper in this matter, the common consensus for proposing this change was the case lost by Andrew Bolt, where his article on ‘white aborigines’ caused an uproar with the indigenous community and also to the wider Australian society. There are also few other theories behind this proposal to change the race law, but this is widely accepted. Along with this, the current government stated that it was also part of their election promise to review this law. The Indian Telegraph had made note of it in our December edition last year. Although, it is understandably reasonable for any government to look into reviewing and indeed reforming any Acts to bring it in line with the current societal views and norms, the main reasoning behind the current government’s need to review, till date, remains murky at best.
The lead up to organise this forum was inspired by Tony Burke’s ‘Walk for Respect’ rally. The rally highlighted the unity by different community and ethnic groups on this one particular topic. The Attorney General, George Brandis’ comment that “Everyone has a right to be a bigot” seemed to have irked not just the South Asian community, but also the overall mainstream Australian society.
Leading into the forum, Fairfax media’s Parramatta Holroyd Sun and associated publications such as Blacktown Sun, ran an issue highlighting our forum (http://www.parramattasun.com.au/story/2415965/indian-teles-racial-discrimination-act-forum/).
At the forum
The Indian Telegraph took up this forum at a time when the hullaballoo of this issue seemed to have died down in the mainstream media, where one could see the government tumbling and stumbling from one major issue to the other. However, there were members from within the Indian community who still feared the changes taking place.
The forum saw a mixed participation of individuals and also from various organisations. The panel consisted of politicians from Labor and Liberal party, along with legal experts who are engaged with the community. The Hon. John Robertson, State Opposition Leader and Hon. Michelle Rowland MP, represented the Labor party at both the state and national level respectively. Dr. Geoff Lee, MP for Parramatta took the lone task of representing the state Liberals. Other Liberal MP’s were contacted but the forum had clashed dates with the Premier’s Iftar dinner. The panel of legal experts consisted of Pallavi Sinha who has experience in representing many women rights issues especially from many ethnic and refugee background and Aisha Amjad, who works for Sen. Sam Dastyari’s office and has done extensive research on this issue.
The Survey result
- 50 participants, most against ANY changes.
- 20% present had faced some form of racial vilification.
- Apart from one, those surveyed agreed on keeping 18C in its present form.
- Nobody wanted any changes to 18D
- Noticeable, the NSW state Liberals are against any changes to the RDA, with few expressing crossing the floor if it is passed.
Community concerns and feedback
It was interesting to note the concerns and frustrations that instead of moving towards a united society, the announcement to change this act was doing the exact opposite. Sneha Joshi, a teacher, made note of the fact that, it is the difference that creates a dialogue, highlighting her case where students would ask about her Indian dress such as wearing a sari. She stated that such interactions were crucial and done at a young age, develops an understanding of different cultures and identities that in the long run is better appreciated. This she asserts, shapes a society which accepts different ethnicities and nationalities. Mohit Kumar of Council of Indian Australians (CIA) highlighted the issue of workplace biases, as did John Kennedy of United Indian Association (UIA) where they mentioned the concept of ethnic ceiling when applying for jobs or getting certain grants and sponsorship through for community events.
A timely back down
Some were of the opinion that the forum was an overreaction while some emailed us with strong support and appreciation for organising it. Of course, everyone has their own views on this matter, but there was a need to discuss and debate.
The Federal government made a timely response to take it “off the table” with the surge in response against any changes to the Attorney-General’s office. This was soon followed by a racist attack on some Jewish school children on their way back from school which reminds the society that a lot still needs to be done to curtail racism and that the Racial Discrimination Act acts as a safeguard against such incidences. The Indian Telegraph would like to thank all who participated and sent their responses and feedbacks.