Discrimination in Australia

“Analysis by birthplace for arrivals between 2000 and 2010 finds that the highest proportion specifying racism and discrimination against immigrants as the first rank were the 24% of respondents born in India or Sri Lanka. With the three choices aggregated, racism and discrimination was chosen by 52% of respondents born in Indonesia and Malaysia, 50% New Zealand, and 48% India and Sri Lanka. The lowest proportions selecting racism and discrimination were respondents born in ‘other Europe’”

This is from the Scanlon Foundation ‘Recent Arrivals‘ report in 2013 (p.13).

Statistics like this make for sobering reading. For the all the fantastic ways Australia is ahead of other nations in terms of multiculturalism, social cohesion and race, there is still an underbelly where people feel set apart from society because of their skin colour, ethnicity and religion. Half of of all Indian migrants arriving from 2000 to 2010 experienced either racism or discrimination, impacting in various ways – some minor, some major – their ability to live and work in Australia.

In the context of the current debate on the Racial Discrimination Act, this type of evidence can be taken to support either side, propping up existing beliefs instead.

For opponents of section 18c, one might say the current set of laws are obviously not working. In fact, racism and discrimination is a way of life and only social and cultural attitudes can enforce attitudinal change, not legislation on speech. Why have laws which have a negative impact on the rights of speech if it isn’t addressing broad discrimination in the community?

Supporters of section 18c might point out these numbers could be even higher without the protections embedded in the Racial Discrimination Act. Further, some might argue the legislation does not go far enough if such a high proportion of recent migrants are experiencing discrimination.

There are other options as well. One could argue 18c has basically nothing to do with this type of broad social discrimination but it remains an important part of the framework to protect people. Another argument is there will always be a plurality of new migrants who experience racism in Australia, regardless of social and cultural norms and the best option is to minimise the number.

Keep these differing options in mind next time a bunch of statistics are thrown at a debate. Important statistics, but used by different people for different means. The prevailing beliefs of public figures taking part in the debate about 18c are the real drivers of policy change or maintaining the status quo.

Regardless of what one believes, I see these type of statistics are an important reminder. Discrimination and racism in Australia are not on the fringes on society. They are daily social phenomena impacting many people. I think change comes slowly and we are probably at a better place than we were a decade ago. We are definitely at a better place than we were three decades ago, particularly when we consider the scale and diversity of Australian immigration now, compared to in the past.

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