Racial discrimination and representation of
According to the Scanlon Foundation, experiences of discrimination based
on skin colour, ethnicity or religion has increased by five per cent since
2015. This is the highest level recorded in the Scanlon Foundation's surveys to
Further research shows that discrimination is most prevalent against those overseas-born
of non-English speaking background, with the highest level of discrimination
reported by South Sudanese.
There is some debate in Australia about the prevalence of racism, and
how it may have fluctuated over time.
The Australian Psychological Society told the committee that racism does indeed
persist, albeit it is expressed in different ways:
...while the expression of racism and prejudice may have
changed over recent decades from overt to more covert and subtle forms, there
is strong evidence to suggest that it is still prevalent in Australia
Witnesses also described the 'unfinished' work of multiculturalism,
suggesting that whilst levels of migration and cultural diversity in Australia
are high, there is still significant work to do in building social cohesion and
harmony amongst Australians of all racial and ethnic backgrounds:
This involves moving away from the approach which has characterised
recent debates in Australia that conflate issues of immigration and citizenship
with cultural diversity, and goes beyond a focus on 'food and festivals' to
foster a community wide understanding of multiculturalism.
This chapter examines the social, mental health and economic impact of
racial discrimination, vilification, bigotry and exclusion on various
culturally and linguistically diverse groups. It also explores the effect of media
representation in strengthening or weakening multiculturalism in Australia,
including the varied influence of commercial, public and social media.
Social and mental health impacts
Throughout the inquiry, the committee heard that racial discrimination
and vilification have extremely harmful effects on the health and wellbeing of
individuals and communities. Racial discrimination has the potential to erode
social cohesion, and cause individuals to feel socially isolated and
It can also lead to poor physical and mental health outcomes. According to the
Australian Human Rights Commission:
The stress of racial abuse has been shown to trigger
physiological symptoms such as fear in the gut, rapid pulse rate and difficulty
in breathing. Repeated exposure to it can contribute to conditions such as
hypertension and post-traumatic stress disorder, even psychosis and suicide.
The committee considered that racial discrimination, vilification,
exclusion and bigotry are experienced differently by various cohorts of
culturally and linguistically diverse communities, including refugees,
humanitarian entrants and survivors of torture and trauma; young people; second
and third generation migrants; and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Refugees, humanitarian entrants,
and survivors of torture and trauma
Current global, political and media developments have caused Australia's
newest arrivals to be particularly susceptible to racial, religious and
The committee was told that, as a refugee, adapting to a new life with a new
set of laws, health and education systems, and lifestyle, is 'one of the
hardest journeys of survival'.
Any form of discrimination or exclusion is therefore harmful to an individual's
settlement. As one former refugee shared:
...when refugee discrimination is applied, it is very hard to
survive and very hard to feel a sense of belonging. It is hard to connect and
to re‑establish a new home and to feel a sense of belonging, engagement,
trust and support, identity and life.
RCOA noted that for those that have come from a torture or trauma
situation, feeling unsafe and unwelcomed 'limits their capacity to heal and
contribute to Australian society'.
They may be unwilling to go to work for fear of experiencing harassment or
abuse. They may be disengaged from their education and hesitant to contribute
to classroom discussions. They may also feel unable to maintain their job or business
due to racial abuse from the local community.
For refugees, humanitarian entrants, and survivors, discrimination based
on race, ethnicity, culture or religious belief can be crippling. As one
migrant told the Australian Human Rights Commission, it is as if, despite their
opportunity to settle in a new country, their 'liberty is incomplete'.
Throughout the inquiry, the committee heard that experiences of racism
and racial discrimination against young people can impact on their
psychological development and identity formation.
These individuals are at a key developmental stage in their lives, where they
are learning to understand themselves and their place within their family,
community, and broader Australian society. Negative social experiences can
therefore lead to devastating mental health outcomes such as depression and
Multicultural Youth South Australia noted:
Racism has a major impact on adolescent wellbeing, affecting
self-esteem and confidence, psychological and physical safety, and trust in
others, with young people at risk of internalising their experiences of racism,
seeing themselves as rejected by society and believing that perhaps they should
'just go home'.
The Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network stated that experiences of
racism can be a key factor in determining settlement outcomes:
Positive settlement in Australia for young people is
inextricably connected to a sense of belonging amongst family members, peers, their
own cultural community and the broader community – where cultural and religious
diversity is valued and welcomed. Positive settlement can be profoundly
impacted by experiences of exclusion, racism, discrimination, racial and
cultural stereotyping and vilification.
Witnesses and submitters warned that young people experiencing racism
and discrimination are highly vulnerable to mental health impacts. According to
Multicultural Youth South Australia, social exclusion can limit access to
future life opportunities. It also causes young people to 'internalise negative
stereotypes and generalisations and even accept and fulfil them'.
The committee was told that reports about the 'Apex' gang in Victoria
disproportionately focused on young people that had migrated from African
countries. At a consultation held by the Ethnic Communities' Council of
Victoria, one participant revealed that young refugees are being 'singled out'
because of their skin colour.
Poor relationships between migrant youth and the local police were seen
to exacerbate experiences of racial discrimination. Multicultural Youth South
Australia pointed to research conducted in 2007 showing that half of all
participants in the study reported regular racism from a range of sources,
including peers, teachers, police, security guards and other authority figures,
shop assistants and managers, as well as the general public.
They also reported 'disproportionate police surveillance and interference'
whilst in public areas.
Mr Eddie Micallef, a representative from the Ethnic Communities' Council of
Victoria that has worked closely with migrant youth, gave an example:
I remember when I was involved out at Dandenong. At Noble
Park station, the police said, 'Look, the young people there from Islander and
African backgrounds are congregating around the station, and they don't even
realise that they're doing something wrong.' I said to the inspector: 'Well,
what are they doing wrong? They've got nowhere else to go.'
Witnesses urged the committee to look to people that work directly with
youth, and empower them to take a lead in eliminating racism and
discrimination. These included teachers, local police, and local community
leaders. One young witness, Ms Cam Lu, stated:
...the reality is that racism and discrimination are still
prevalent in our schools and community, and teachers and staff members still
feel uncomfortable and are too scared to have the explicit conversations about
race. It is harmful to say that we do not see race. When students experience
racism and do not have the right support to debrief on it, they end up
reflecting it on themselves—seeing themselves as the problem—and feel ashamed
of their culture, and may in turn reject it. This can have tremendous negative effects
on their sense of identity, perpetuating a sense of loss, confusion and shame.
Several witnesses and submitters raised the need to better consult with
young people, claiming that many have expressed the desire to engage and to be
heard, but feel that they have been largely ignored.
In its submission, the Hume Interfaith Network Youth Group stated:
We want to be able to express our opinions in a legitimate
way, and feed our knowledge back to you. To support how you make your strategic
and organisational decision, but we find it too hard to break through your
processes...we want to have a voice, so support us to do that.
Second and third generation
Culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Australia vary
significantly in terms of settlement period and perceived integration into
Australian life. Following waves of migration in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s,
there are many second and third generation Australians of culturally diverse
backgrounds for whom diversity is 'a fact of Australian society'.
The committee heard, however, that racial discrimination and vilification is
not an unknown concept for these individuals. A representative from the
Vietnamese Community in Australia told the committee:
Our second and third generation Australians of Vietnamese
background experience life in Australia and discrimination and racism here very
differently to how our older generations did. Many younger Australians of
culturally diverse backgrounds still feel an incomplete acceptance by
mainstream society. Different forms of exclusion and discrimination undermine a
sense of belonging.
Witnesses explained that second and third generation migrants may
struggle with understanding their identity, as their engagement and expression
of cultural, ethnic or religious heritage is much more subtle and fluid.
These individuals are faced with a unique dilemma, and may often feel like they
have to choose between their Australian identity and their cultural identity. Ms
Huong Truong from the Vietnamese Community in Australia described this as
'trying to be Australian without pushing too hard on our differences'.
Ms Viv Nguyen shared her experience:
I came here at the age of 12 and I constantly walked that
tightrope—'Am I Australian or am I Vietnamese' and 'Am I more or am I
less?'—and my experience is not unique. It is the same for many people of my
age group who came to Australia in that adolescent period. We hear the same
with other communities as well. It takes a long time, it takes maturity, it
takes education and it takes self-awareness—'This is who I am, warts and
all'—to be able to say, 'Yes, it is ok. Today I am a bit more Australian,' or,
'Today I am a bit more Vietnamese, because I am in a particular setting'.
Participants to the inquiry spoke about the impact of racial discrimination
and vilification on inter-community relationships. In the context of political
discourse, inquiry participants considered an attack against one ethnic group as
an attack on the principles of multiculturalism, sometimes causing culturally
and linguistically diverse communities to self-impose isolation from the
Mr Peter Wertheim from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry noted:
...if racism starts with other groups, whether it is with
Aboriginal groups, Asian groups or anyone else, it does not end there. It never
ends there...A systematic attack by any section of society on another is bound to
undermine the social fabric in a way that will lead to further racist attacks –
a signal of permission, if you like, for racist attacks again other groups.
The committee heard that racial hatred and discrimination also has an effect
on the way different communities interact with each other. Witnesses pointed to
an increasing 'mistrust' amongst community groups, and an appearance of 'intercommunity
racism' that undermines social cohesion.
Community Centres SA described a series of cultural exchange visits between
members of the Muslim community, and members of the Aboriginal community, where
groups acknowledged that they had 'bought into' negative stereotypes about each
other, resulting in inter-community fear and prejudice.
Conversely, residents of Bendigo in regional Victoria argued that
racially fuelled incidents in their regional town caused members of the
community that were once strangers to gather together and promote community
cohesion with a united voice. Mrs Margot Spalding, Founder of the Believe in
Bendigo movement revealed:
...I didn't know any Muslims in Bendigo at the time and didn't
know, really, any of [the Bendigo Interfaith Council] sitting here, and now I
know them really well. Long term, I believe, it is of great benefit to Bendigo.
We would prefer that we didn't have to have these troubles in order to have
this happen, but a lot of people know a lot more about other faiths and other
communities within the community of Bendigo now as a result of this, because a
whole lot of people got very upset and stood up and spoke loudly.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait
According to the Scanlon Foundation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Australians reported one of the highest levels of racial
discrimination of all survey participants, at 59 per cent.
Throughout the inquiry, many witnesses and submitters acknowledged Indigenous
Australians as the first custodians of Australian land, and the role they
continue to play in contemporary multicultural society.
However, the committee heard that the 'original sin' of suppressing Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander culture parallels the discrimination experienced by
new arrivals to Australia today.
Participants highlighted a number of high profile examples of
discrimination against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to
demonstrate the prevalence of racial exclusion and vilification against the Indigenous
community. Witnesses noted the social media abuse of former senator and athlete
Nova Peris – the first Aboriginal woman in federal politics.
Another example presented to the committee was the treatment of footballer Adam
Goodes during a number of Australian Rules Football games where he was subjected
to booing from the crowd.
The Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission (NTADC) noted that
in a 2011 research study undertaken by the Indigenous Legal Needs Project,
22.6 per cent of Indigenous men and women reported directly experiencing
racism. This, NTADC told the committee, is only the tip of the iceberg:
In fact we are often told by Aboriginal Territorians that
they do not bring complaints to the NTADC because discrimination is so common
for them they would not know which complaint to bring, and would not have the
time to complain every time they were discriminated against.
Witnesses expressed concern that redress for the Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander community is yet to be seen. Many recommended buttressing
recognition of Indigenous Australians as a fundamental step in strengthening
multiculturalism and social inclusion in Australia.
Many participants of the inquiry agreed that Australia's reputation as a
successful multicultural country, with a strong program of settlement services,
has contributed to its economic and social status.
As a nation, it attracts high volumes of skilled migrants, international
students, tourists, and investment from overseas. According to the
Anti-Discrimination Commission of Queensland, in 2012–13, overseas students
contributed $14.46 billion to the Australian economy, with Queensland, New
South Wales and Victoria being the main beneficiaries.
Witnesses argued that the economic contribution of migrants is
demonstrated by Australia's record period of unbroken economic growth. According
to the Australian Multicultural Council, new migrants and refugees secure
employment quickly, earn above average salaries, and pay taxes.
Mr Peter Doukas, Chair of the Ethnic Communities Council of New South Wales
The real economics are that newly arrived people work harder
and are happier to sacrifice their own lives in favour of their children and
are happier to work harder and for longer hours than established people, and
that has been the tradition of Australian immigration from the beginning.
Witnesses cautioned, however, that increasing incidents of
discrimination have the potential to damage Australia's multicultural 'brand',
and have negative economic and social consequences. The Anti-Discrimination
Commission of Queensland cautioned:
On purely economic terms, Australia cannot afford to be
perceived by its Asia-Pacific neighbours as being a racist country, and needs
to pay close attention to its international image. Over the years there have
been numerous challenges to the view that Australia is a country that values
its diverse and multicultural society and is committed to the Asia-Pacific
Economic costs of racism can also be seen in the workplace. The
Challenging Racism Project, conducted by Western Sydney University, stated that
racism is associated with labour turn-over, absenteeism, and regulatory costs
associated with complaints resolution.
Despite governments' strong focus on 'productive diversity',
the Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland (ECCQ) warned the committee that a
disproportionate emphasis on the economic contributions of culturally and
linguistically diverse communities undermines principles of equality. ECCQ further
These reductions can mean that acceptance is based on an
individual's ability to contribute economically, at times above and beyond the
average person, which incites inequality from the outset.
On an individual level, witnesses and submitters suggested that racial
discrimination can also lead to significant economic disadvantage for those
from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The most prominent form
of systemic disadvantage presented to the committee was that of labour market
Labour market discrimination and barriers
Witnesses noted that the opportunity to work and contribute to the
economy is a fundamental aspect of settlement and social contribution. However,
the committee heard that many culturally and linguistically diverse individuals
experience labour market discrimination, despite high levels of education and
overseas working experience.
According to RCOA, research demonstrates systemic discrimination against
applicants from migrant and refugee backgrounds:
Racism and discrimination has been identified in research and
consistently through RCOA's community consultations as a profound barrier to
refugee and humanitarian entrants finding and sustaining employment.
This is evidenced by research such as that conducted by
Colic-Peisker and Tilbury in Western Australia. Colic-Peisker and Tilbury's
compelling study concluded that, despite similar levels of human capital
(English proficiency and qualification level) and similar length of residence, the
differing employment outcomes could only be explained due to structural and
Witnesses said that labour market discrimination is particularly acute
for some ethnic groups. The Australian Association of Islamic and Muslim Studies
pointed to research demonstrating discrimination against Muslims:
One Australian report found significant labour market
discrimination against Muslims, despite similar levels of education to the
Australian average. It concluded that 'a significant proportion of Muslim Australians
occupy a relatively marginal position in Australian society socially and
Volunteering SA&NT also noted that many individuals from Chinese,
Middle-Eastern and Indian backgrounds experience discrimination simply based on
the inclusion of their name on a job application:
...a Chinese-named applicant would need to put in 68 per cent
more applications than an Anglo-named applicant to get the same number of calls
back. A Middle Eastern-named applicant needed 64 per cent more and an
indigenous-named applicant 35 per cent more.
Ms Huong Truong from the Victoria Chapter of the Vietnamese Community in
Australia stated that the representation of culturally and linguistically
diverse communities is lacking in upper management roles:
...discrimination is really at a systematic level. If I look at
my colleagues in the local government organisation that I work at, I see that diversity
is fairly non-existent when you go beyond the level of managers, directors and
CEOs. When we are talking to our local representatives or we are looking at
question time, we are not seeing a lot of diversity in our political
representatives either. So at that level I think there is still what I think is
commonly referred to as a bamboo ceiling.
To improve employment outcomes for refugees and migrants, the Australian
Multicultural Council recommended enacting legislation to broaden the mandate
of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to apply to culturally and
linguistically diverse individuals.
Other witnesses, however, cautioned against using targets to increase diversity
in the workplace. For example, Ms Viv Nguyen, President of the Victoria Chapter
of the Vietnamese Community in Australia, commented:
From my experience as a head of diversity for a major
financial institution, we hire people who look different but who behave exactly
the same. So there is no diversity at all. Even though we look physically
different, our ability to contribute to what is different and to what is
diversity is non-existent.
Media plays a crucial role in shaping the views and perceptions of culturally
and linguistically diverse Australians. According to data produced by Nielsen,
OzTAM and Regional TAM, the average Australian watches approximately two hours
and forty minutes of broadcast television per day.
Additionally, it is estimated that seven in ten Australians are active social
media users, and 86 per cent of households access the internet.
The ECCQ stated:
Media is deeply embedded within the hierarchical power
structures of society, and has the ability to not only represent dominant views
and perspectives, but to also mutually reinforce prejudices and stereotypes
within those views.
Many participants to the inquiry expressed concern that the media
presents unfair and unfounded representations of culturally and linguistically
diverse communities. Media broadcasters were accused of failing to provide
balanced reporting, instead employing negative and fear-inducing language and
imagery for the purpose of boosting sales.
The Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland stated that the mainstream media appear
'disinterested in positive stories of social cohesion' and are unconcerned
about presenting accurate representations of ethnic and migrant groups.
One such example brought to the committee's attention involved a recent
headline about the results of the 2016 Australian Census. The headline drew
attention to the increased number of Australians reporting affiliation with
The headline is 'Census 2016: Aussies losing their religion
as Islam soars by 160 per cent'. And I thought, okay, Hinduism has increased by
533 per cent. Why don't we start with that, and go down? Hinduism has increased
by 533 per cent, Buddhism by 200 per cent and Islam 160 per cent.
Dr Joshua Roose of the Australian Association of Islamic and Muslim
Studies observed that the media has fluctuated in its discourse around Islam,
but are now unconsciously playing a role in fuelling social unrest:
Any time there is even a hint of an attack with Muslims
involved it is broadcast without any nuanced understanding of who is driving
it, where it is coming from and so on...Every time the so-called Islamic
State—and I will refer to them as the Islamic State movement, because they are
effectively only populist movement—gets negative media coverage, or any
coverage at all, it is actually to their benefit. To fail to understand what they
are attempting to do in terms of polarising the political discourse is to
actually do the job for them. Every time they get negative media they do not
really care. Publicity is the point. By getting that coverage up onto the front
pages without any really nuanced interpretation or engagement with it, the
media in some ways is unwittingly doing their job for them.
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights submitted that racial prejudice
works through socialisation, communicating messages that create individuals'
sense of what is normal and what is ordinary.
The committee therefore considers that mass media holds significant power in
determining the public discourse around multiculturalism and social inclusion
Language and imagery
The committee heard that the choice of language used in the media has
the potential to influence the way Australians view culturally and
linguistically diverse communities, creating social bias that unfairly targets
segments of society.
Founder of Media Diversity Australia, Ms Isabel Lo, presented an example of the
way in which housing affordability issues have been disproportionately linked
to foreign investors, particularly those of Chinese descent. She told the
Now if we drill down and have a look at the numbers, Chinese
foreign owners account for just one per cent of the entire market. That is not
really what is causing sky-high prices; it is local investors. That kind of
dominant voice, without the other side arguing for the alternative look, means
there is a social impact. It trickles down to the average buyer. I am of a
Chinese Australian background, and that kind of rhetoric has had an impact on
me. When I turn up to a house auction, for example, I get the sense that there
are a lot of negative views towards me. I walk in and they think: 'Oh, no; it's
a foreign buyer. There's no way we're going to be able to afford this house
now.' There is a very negative view of every Asian person who is looking to buy
a house. It is feeding the hysteria of frustrated buyers...
Multicultural Youth South Australia told the committee that the reference
to African refugees in media reports about the 'Apex' gang in Melbourne is a
key source of settlement stress for young African migrants. Despite later
clarification that the Apex gang was 'never predominantly African and instead
is comprised mainly of Australians', media reports placed disproportionate
emphasis on the ethnicity of a few of the gang's members, having a damaging
effect on the African community:
Such political and media representations, and subsequent
public discourse, significantly impacts the day to day lives of young African
refugees. Many experience frequent street level racism including challenges
from members of the public about their right to be in Australia.
Participants to the inquiry also highlighted the proliferation of
language around 'boat people', 'terrorists' and 'queue jumpers'. They told the
committee that such inflammatory language paints a picture of new arrivals as
being illegal and undeserving of their place in Australia.
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights noted that this language is de-humanising
and can cause those described to feel excluded and marginalised.
Research by the Victorian Multicultural Commission into the effect of
media representation on young people found that many young Victorians felt that
negative media images fuelled stereotyping and racial profiling.
Similar results were reported in the Western Sydney University's study into the
attitudes and experiences of Australian Muslims, which revealed that 79 per
cent of Muslims believe that the Australian media's portrayal of Muslims is
unfair and 83 per cent believe this contributes to non-Muslims' views of
Social media and cyber-racism
Witnesses and submitters expressed particular concern about the role of the
internet, and specifically social media, in contributing to incidences of
racial abuse, discrimination or vilification.
According to research by the Challenging Racism Project, the prevalence of cyber-racism
has increased over recent years, manifesting primarily on Facebook, online news
commentary and YouTube.
Professor Andrew Markus of Monash University stated:
The power of social media grows as the centre weakens—as our
national broadcasting weakens and as our newspapers almost pale into
insignificance, in the current context, relative to social media.
The committee was told that giving a voice to the public, in the form of
social media and online communications, can serve to embolden minority voices
that protest Australia's increasing diversity.
Mr Eddie Micallef, Chair of the Ethnic Communities' Council of Victoria,
I think the media has played a role in—how shall I say
this—giving the elements that mitigate against social cohesion a voice and an
attitude is presented to many members of the community who are not well
informed and it enhances some of the ignorance and bitterness that they host
The committee held a public hearing in Bendigo to expressly examine incidents
in Bendigo during 2014–15, including the use of social media in mobilising
anti-mosque and anti-Islam protesters. The committee heard that social media
has also led to a movement of tolerance and social harmony in the same area.
Mosque protests in Bendigo,
The City of Greater Bendigo is a large municipality in central Victoria
with a population of over 110 000. It is becoming increasingly diverse, with
seven per cent of residents born overseas, and two per cent of households speaking
a language other than English at home. From 2011 to 2014, the city saw a 178
per cent rise in new Australian citizens.
In 2014–15, Bendigo received a large amount of media attention regarding
a proposal to build a mosque for the approximately 300 Muslim residents in the
town. The council approval decision was met with a series of appeals through
the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and the Victorian Court of
In August and October 2015, protests took place in the town centre, led by
members of the Bendigo Action Coalition and the United Patriots Front.
Anti-racism groups also held rallies in opposition to anti-Islam groups.
Participants in the inquiry pointed to the role of social media in amplifying
community attention around the events. It was later revealed that many of the
protestors were not locals, and had travelled from Sydney, Queensland and
Adelaide to participate in demonstrations.
A representative from Believe in Bendigo, a pro-diversity movement, observed
that leaders of the anti-mosque movement used social media to advertise protest
...[one of the leaders of the anti-mosque movement] doesn't
organise things; she just puts it on her Facebook page. She will have organised
the protest today at the mosque site. She just puts on her page that she's
going to the Yellow Tie Dinner,
wrapped in her flags and her signs...and people just come.
Ms Kate McInnes, Executive Officer at Loddon Campaspe Multicultural
Services, reiterated the way social media
was used to marginalise culturally and linguistically diverse members of the community:
...after 2014, when plans for the first mosque were approved,
we saw an increase in incidences of interpersonal racism in Bendigo of our
clients and our community members. This was towards visible migrants but
particularly towards Muslim women who wear the hijab. We believe a combination
of public discourse around the mosque, activity on social media and local
protests led to this increase in racist incidences...
However, the committee heard that social media also assisted in galvanising
support for multiculturalism, and was used as a tool to spread a message of
peace and harmony to counter anti-mosque protests. Founder of Believe in
Bendigo, Mrs Margot Spalding, told the committee:
We got Believe in Bendigo up very fast. We had to have
somebody who was good at social media, because we have such a strong social
media following...In that way we were able to get it up and going...Within 10 days,
I think, we had 5½ thousand followers on Facebook, which was fantastic. People
were actually joining Facebook, because it was the only way.
Years on from the mosque protests, witnesses and submitters described
how social media continues to be used as a vehicle for promoting positive
messages of social inclusion within and beyond Bendigo. Mr Abhishek Awasthi
from the Bendigo Interfaith Council told the committee that the organisation's
Facebook page is now used 'as a promotional tool and educational element where
we spread out the information and share good, happy news stories'.
Believe in Bendigo also used social media to share a recently produced series
of videos depicting community members from Karen, Muslim, Italian and
Aboriginal descent, and the positive contribution they have made to the
regional town. Mrs Spalding stated:
We try to represent Bendigo very positively and we want
Bendigo to be known as a very welcoming place for everybody to live and have a
very happy life.
One of the arguments often put forward in the debate about media
commentary is that of free speech. Participants in the inquiry claimed that
arguments for free speech are used to justify racially abusive commentary. The Edmund
Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education (ERC) adamantly noted:
Many of the people who criticise Section 18c as limiting 'free
speech' were the loudest critics of an ANZAC Day social media post from Yassmin
Abdel-Magied. It makes no sense that individuals...defend the right of people to
make offensive comments about someone's 'race', colour or national or ethnic
origin but call for Abdel-Magied to be sacked for writing an insensitive
comment for which she later apologised. ERC believes that, in many instances, 'free
speech' arguments are used to justify and normalise racist, discriminatory and
culturally offensive statements and language.
The Australian Human Rights Commission submitted:
What is called 'free speech' is allowing hatred to have a
voice, allowing the young and the weak of mind to be led to believe that it's
OK to hate someone, to think they are less than you because of their race, the
way they look or their beliefs.
The Australian Human Rights Commission acknowledged that free speech is
a central tenet of democracy, however asserted that respectful discourse is not
at odds with robust debate. They illustrated this by noting a previous study on
the impact of hate speech laws:
One large-scale study on the impact of hate speech laws
analysed 'letters to the editor' published in Australian newspapers over many
years. It found that the public debate on matters of race and ethnicity had not
abated over the 1990s and 2000s [when the Parliamentary Code of Race Ethics was
introduced], though the manner in which issues were articulated became less
prejudicial or discriminatory as time went on.
The committee considers that while the right to free speech is
important, it should be inevitably superseded by basic human rights. Dr Tasmin
Clarke from the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights put it plainly:
The media is required to be responsible and basically
truthful, and individuals are required to exercise respect and civility in
their public communications.
Strengthening the narrative agenda
Participants of the inquiry called for greater intervention to address
inflammatory discourse that undermines social cohesion. The Executive Council
of Australian Jewry expressed frustration about the lack of leadership shown by
online media sites in combating hate speech:
The fact that antisemitic comments are frequently allowed to
remain online demonstrates the online media's tolerance for antisemitic
comments, and/or a lack of knowledge, insight or capacity to identify
antisemitism. The content of the comments reveals the extent of anti-Semitic hatreds
that exist even in a relatively tolerant society like Australia.
The committee was told that broadcasters should be required to adopt a
'narrative agenda', that is, a framework for engaging with and speaking about
culturally and linguistically diverse communities and individuals.
Participants also described this in terms of 'framing' media content in such a
way that principles of social inclusion are upheld.
This could take the form of a voluntary code of conduct, whereby broadcasters
are presented with a set of guidelines and given the option to opt in.
The notion of an independent watchdog to monitor and assess broadcasting
content was touched upon throughout the inquiry. While some participants suggested
strengthening the role of the Australian Press Council or issuing them
others focused more on the functions to be fulfilled:
We need a completely independent Ombudsman outside the ABC,
appointed on a cross-partisan basis by parliament through a public selection
process, to monitor public broadcasting, assess complaints about news, current
affairs programs, documentaries and online standards and report regularly to
the Australian people.
Government funded broadcasters, such as the Australian Broadcasting
Corporation (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), are required to
report in a balanced and impartial way, and are asked to 'reflect the nation to
itself—including changes in migration, as well as geographic, demographic and socio-economic
Participants supported the role of public broadcasters in condemning racist
commentary, and promoting positive examples of multiculturalism and culturally
diverse communities in Australia.
Ms Mandi Wicks from SBS described the organisation's role in educating the
community about core issues through providing background information to balance
This is evident in the production of SBS Radio's Dear Homeland program,
which explored migrants' experiences of arriving in Australia and seeking a safer
and better future. SBS explained:
The purpose of the programming was to bolster all Australians'
understanding of different migration experiences by providing an insight into
the lives of people settling in Australia. It featured new arrivals from Syria,
Somalia, Iraq and Italy.
Another example presented to the committee was the third season of Go
Back to Where You Came From, which 'provoked national debate about how
Australia seeks to responds [sic] to refugees and asylum seekers'. Witnesses
said that these programs serve as 'myth-busting content', presenting viewers
with a range of different perspectives and allowing them to form their own
The committee also noted the proactive role of broadcasters in
developing and upholding media reporting standards. The SBS Charter makes specific
mention of promoting understanding and acceptance of culturally, linguistically
and ethnically diverse communities,
and the ABC's Charter requires that the ABC take into account the 'multicultural
character of the Australian community'.
The ABC is also guided by its Editorial Policies which make specific
reference to standards such as:
7.7 Avoid the unjustified use of stereotypes or
discriminatory content that could reasonably be interpreted as condoning or
The committee was told that public broadcasters are fundamental in supporting
settlement outcomes and allowing new arrivals to feel welcomed in Australia. As
the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia noted:
One of the most important functions performed by the SBS
generally is its role in representing the views and interests of CALD
communities and of new and emerging communities and of telling the stories of
migrants. The value of this is broad. It encourages links between communities
of origin and communities of settlement.
Training multicultural voices
Researchers from the Challenging Racism Project suggested that an
effective solution to counter poor media coverage of minority groups is
resourcing and training targeted groups to self-represent in public debates.
This was supported by the ECCQ who noted that training programs empower
migrants and refugees to interact with the media, and provide opportunities for
mainstream journalists to consider their point of view.
Ms Helen Kapalos of the Victorian Multicultural Commission noted that
simple supports such as mentoring and public speaking training could greatly
assist culturally and linguistically diverse individuals wanting to engage in
The distinct lack of multicultural voices in the media, and the
perception of a predominantly Anglo-white voice in discussions around
multiculturalism, is illustrated in Media Diversity Australia's comments about
Yassmin Abdel-Magied's treatment:
Whether one agrees with her point of view or not, the fact
that she's been given such an elevated position in the media in a rather short
period of time, is because simply, there are very few people who are willing to
hold such 'controversial' public views for fear of being castigated... The end
result is a situation where Abdel-Magied is forced, by an absence of greater
diversity, to represent an incredibly complex community, leading to stilted
debate on the issues.
Diversity in media content
According to Screen Australia's Seeing Ourselves report, minority
groups are severely underrepresented in Australian television.
The report examined the prevalence of diversity in Australian TV drama and
found that non-Anglo-Celtic Australians make up 32 per cent of the total
population, but only 18 per cent of TV drama main characters and 24 per cent of
actors playing those characters. Miss Tessa Mills of Screen Australia
concluded that 'non-Anglo-Celtic characters were underrepresented by around 50
Participants in the inquiry noted that on-screen diversity plays an
important role in showcasing and strengthening Australia's multiculturalism. It
shows individuals that they are part of society, and acknowledges their
cultural identity as being part of the broader Australian population.
Ms Ly Ly Lim stated:
People need to see faces on television that reflect their
communities. Otherwise, the subliminal message is that those who they do not
see do not matter, and if they do not matter they do not belong here in this
Witnesses and submitters noted that cultural and ethnic representation
in the media also broadens community expectations of diversity. Representatives
from SBS referred to The Family Law, a program which features a
principally Asian cast, and an Indigenous animation called Little J &
Big Cuz which normalise diversity, and 'enable people from all backgrounds
to see themselves reflected in modern media'.
Ms Clare O'Neil from SBS stated:
...one of the great things about The Family Law program
is that it really does tell universal family stories, not specific cultural
stories...it is very relatable for people from a whole range of backgrounds. The
fact that it is a cast with a principally Asian background is almost incidental
for a lot of the storylines. It is about telling those stories in a way that is
accessible to everybody.
Some witnesses countered that Australia has a strong track record of
promoting diversity on-screen. Programs made by Indigenous Australians, such as
First Australians, Redfern Now and Songlines on Screen, serve
to preserve the language and culture of Indigenous Australia and bring it to
the broader Australian population.
However, despite these positive examples, witnesses and submitters agreed that
Australia needs to do more to promote diversity in Australian media content.
Barriers to participation
Witnesses from the media industry told the committee that systemic
barriers to pursuing a career in the media have contributed to the lack of
diverse representation. Media Diversity Australia noted that some aspects of
the job demand culturally confronting circumstances that may preclude some
members of the CALD community from participating:
...for the first two years of their cadetship they might be
rotated through a variety of roles, but one of those roles was being sent out
to a regional town to do reporting out in the country...For someone from a
culturally diverse background—let's say a Muslim background—their family might not
be as comfortable with them being sent out to a country town all by themselves.
If this person is female and of a certain religious extraction, they might not
feel comfortable going through some of the processes that a cadet has to go
through. As a result, they might end up dropping out of the cadet program
because they think, 'This is not for me; I don't feel comfortable being sent
out as a young person on my own to this particular beat,' and they self-select
out of that program, which is a huge pity. So there are some structural and
institutional barriers. It is not just attitudes and unconscious bias that
companies have to look at.
Similarly, representatives from the Victorian Multicultural Commission
stated that greater supports are required to ensure that hiring employees from
culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds is not simply a 'tick the
box' exercise, but instead demonstrates a genuine effort to diversify
representation in the media.
Other barriers to diverse media that were raised throughout the inquiry
included the high cost of locally-produced programming. Witnesses from SBS
noted that 'Australian content is very expensive',
and may contain an element of commercial risk. As one-quarter of SBS funding is
sourced from advertising and commercial sources, Ms O'Neil, an officer from SBS,
revealed that this may influence broadcaster decisions about what programs they
Mr Patrick May, a policy analyst from Screen Australia, maintained that
despite the commercial risk associated with diverse content, many public and commercial
broadcasters are slowly beginning to feature more diverse programming:
Since then  Channel 9, Channel 7 and Channel 10 have
all had either focused diversity or incidental diversity through The Secret
Daughter, through The Wrong Girl and through Here Come the Habibs.
They are all working in this space in different ways.
Witnesses noted that the underrepresentation of culturally and
linguistically diverse Australians in mainstream television can impact on
opportunities and aspirations for future generations. As Miss Mills from Screen
Australia stated, '[i]t is often said that you cannot be what you cannot see'.
The committee recognises the impact of public and commercial media broadcasters
in shaping public discourse about multiculturalism and culturally and linguistically
diverse communities in Australia. In the committee's opinion, the use of
inflammatory language and imagery, and the conflation of broader social issues
with multiculturalism, has damaged Australia's relationship with its
The committee notes that the incidence of racial discrimination and
vilification has also been influenced by the development of social media and
information technology. This was particularly evident in the incidents
surrounding the mosque building proposal in Bendigo, Victoria. The committee
observed that in this case, social media played a significant role in
mobilising various groups in their expression of opposition or support for the
Whilst the free speech debate was explicitly examined in the recent Parliamentary
Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into freedom of speech in Australia,
the committee believes that all media platforms, including social media, should
adhere to principles of social cohesion and non-prejudice. The committee commends
the existing SBS Charter and the ABC Charter in endeavouring to promote and
reflect Australia's diversity, and sees a need to extend these guiding
principles to other broadcast media.
The committee recommends that the Australian Press Council develop a
broadcast media Code of Conduct, requiring commercial broadcasters to report in
such a way that raises awareness of Australia's diversity and prohibits
misrepresentation of culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
The committee contends that the evidence presented throughout the
inquiry demonstrates a lack of diversity in on-screen media content, which is in
part due to systemic barriers to participation by, and representation of,
culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
The committee acknowledges the current initiative being developed by the
ABC in partnership with the Victorian Multicultural Commission, offering three
paid internships to young journalists from culturally diverse backgrounds. The
committee applauds the ABC's recently announced National Indigenous Affairs
Coverage team, and recommends that all media broadcasters seek to improve
pathways for culturally and linguistically diverse individuals and communities
to participate in broadcast media.
The committee recommends the introduction of cadetships for culturally
and linguistically diverse individuals amongst all public broadcasters and
recommends that all media broadcasters seek to improve pathways for culturally
and linguistically diverse individuals and communities to participate in
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