The way forward to eliminating racism in Australia begins at the top

The way forward to eliminating racism in Australia begins at the top

Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Helen Szoke has called for a renewed national commitment to multiculturalism from government and business leaders.

Dr Szoke said that multiculturalism, as a norm, had been missing from the Australian landscape for over a decade. She called on leaders from the public service and politics to seize the opportunity to implement the Governments’ new multicultural policy, The People of Australia.

Speaking at the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) Conference 2011 – Advancing Multiculturalism in Adelaide, Dr Szoke said, “We must harness the momentum that has been ignited by the policy – fuelling it in such a way that it becomes self-propelling, so that we do not lose the impetus again.”

She said that this means garnering support from right across the political spectrum, from business and community leaders, from those in high profile positions of all kinds. It means encouraging those in positions of power when they show effective and positive leadership and calling them on it when they don’t.

The first public consultation of the National Anti-Racism Partnership Strategy, led by Dr Szoke on Wednesday as part of the pre-conference proceedings, heard pleas from participants for politicians to take the lead in multiculturalism.

“Much of what the government does often affects people from diverse communities in ways that impact on them in a discriminatory manner, so it is important that we adopt cultural sensitivity when we formulate the rules and policies of our organisations” said Dr Szoke.

“We only have to look at the devastation that was wreaked on this nation’s first peoples to understand what happens when language, history and custom is denied, that grief is passed down through generations and results in the tragic loss of strength and self,” Dr Szoke said.

The biennial Conference, held over two days in Adelaide, was jointly hosted by FECCA and the Multicultural Communities Council of South Australia.

Strategies and ideas discussed at the forum that preceded the Conference will be collated for consideration by the Partnership members as they design the National Anti-Racism Strategy.

Dr Szoke said, “We really need to understand that each new group of migrants has a different set of challenges, opportunities and contributions that they are going to make to Australia and we need to be smart in terms of how we respond to that. By nurturing custom, history and language, we only make that contribution stronger.”

The National Anti-Racism Partnership was announced by the Government in February 2011 as a key initiative of Australia’s new multicultural policy, The People of Australia.
As part of that policy, Dr Szoke and the Australian Human Rights Commission have been charged with developing and implementing a comprehensive Anti-Racism Strategy for Australia.

The Partnership is in the process of planning more community consultations early in the new year.

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