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Reporting Racism

Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I thank Mrs Jones for bringing this very important motion before the Assembly today.

Nine months ago, I stood in this chamber at the request of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and invited my Labor and Greens colleagues to join them and me in calling for an independent inquiry to investigate and document institutional racism in the territory’s prison. Disappointingly, those opposite rejected that invitation. I am glad that this time they have chosen to support this motion.

When I spoke in February, I raised the distinction between systemic racism and interpersonal racism. The former refers to ‘practices, policies and processes [embedded] within systems or institutions that maintain and reproduce avoidable and unfair inequalities’.[1] In contrast, interpersonal racism includes behaviours such as ‘hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults’.[2] This motion addresses the latter, specifically ‘verbal racial attacks and threats of actual physical attacks’.

As I said previously, this kind of behaviour is easy to recognise and reject – which is exactly what the vast majority of Canberrans do. As Shadow Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, I stand today to acknowledge that terrible things are said both to and about Aboriginal Australians. Let me be very clear: It is completely wrong, it should never happen, and it should never be allowed to happen.

But what exactly is the extent of this problem in the ACT? How often does it occur? What damage does it cause? Those questions are at the heart of this motion, yet at this point we have no satisfactory answers.

As an example, one of my staff recently entered the Canberra Centre late one evening and witnessed two men engaged in a vicious and relentless racial attack on the security guard. The perpetrators fled when they thought they were being filmed. When my staff spoke to the victim, the guard’s response, sadly, was that such verbal attacks happen all the time but that he’s learnt to just ignore them.

I know about this disturbing incident only because it was reported to me; otherwise, none of us in this Assembly would have any idea that this attack occurred because it wasn’t formally reported in any way. Clearly, we need to make it easier and more expected that people will report incidents of racism, whether as victims or as witnesses. This gap is directly acknowledged in the proposed new national anti-racism framework that was released in March this year and which the secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department has said has the ‘full support’ of the Federal Liberal-Nationals Government.[3]

I support referring this matter for a committee inquiry to consider the prevalence or racist attacks and threats, their context, the adequacy of existing processes, and the effectiveness of existing reporting mechanisms – and to make recommendations about how all of these can be improved.

I likewise fully support the motion’s focus on encouraging participation in the inquiry by making the experience as culturally safe and welcoming as possible. In particular, I hope that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Canberrans will take advantage of this opportunity to speak with complete openness about their experiences with racism in the territory. I will be doing everything I can to encourage that participation. It is essential that we know what is happening so that we can take the steps necessary to address it.

I commend this motion to the Assembly. Thank you.

[1] Government of Western Australia, Aboriginal Health Policy Directorate, ‘Understanding Institutionalised Racism’, 2017, p. 2. [2] Ibid. [3] Lin Evlin, ‘A national anti-racism strategy is being launched in Australia amid a surge in attacks’, SBS, 17 Mar. 2021.


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