Howard nobbles anti-discrimination body
By James Vassilopoulos
A bonus for racists contained in the recent federal budget is the savaging of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, which will lose 40% of its funding over two years.
The commission has been a strong campaigner against racism. It produced 20,000 copies of the booklet, Face the Facts, which proved that talk about Australia being "swamped" by Asians is nonsense.
The HREOC's budget will be reduced from $19.3 million to $11.8 million by 1998-99. One in every three workers at the commission will lose their jobs.
Human rights commissioner Chris Sidoti told Green Left Weekly that the cuts will "go right to the core of the organisation. All parts of the commission will be affected. We will have to reduce the work that we do right across the board."
The cuts will torpedo its campaigns to combat racism, defend the rights of the disabled and gain equal wages for women. The cuts could virtually snuff out the commission, leaving only a shell.
Since Hanson's maiden speech in parliament there has been an increase in the number of racist incidents. Sidoti said that phone inquiries to the HREOC about racial abuse have tripled and formal complaints under the Racial Discrimination Act have doubled.
During the same period, complaints arising from discrimination against women and people with disabilities have remained stable.
"We don't know why the commission is being cut this drastically. Nothing has been said to us to justify this level of cuts", Sidoti told Green Left Weekly.
The activities of HREOC in recent years include:
- <~>education in, and advocacy for, racial tolerance and anti-discrimination;
- <~>promotion of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander people, most recently by the publication of Bringing Them Home — The Report of the National Inquiry into the Removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families;
- <~>protection of the rights of the especially vulnerable such as homeless children, the mentally ill, the elderly and those living in remote areas;
- <~>promotion of non-discriminatory industrial and employment standards for women.
Sidoti added that the HREOC aims to "to protect people from governments. Even in democracies, there is an ever present danger that the government could degenerate into an authoritarian one. This is especially important in Australia where human rights are not entrenched in our constitution."
Daryl Williams, the federal attorney general and justice minister, defended the cuts, which he said will "strengthen the role of the HREOC".
Reihana Mohideen, convener of Asian Australians Against Further Intimidation, told Green Left Weekly that the cuts are "a racist attack against the HREOC. Few other government bodies have suffered cuts of this size.
"The cuts to HREOC come on top of other racist budget cuts of which Pauline Hanson would be proud. These include a $2 million cut to the Red Cross to help asylum seekers, a $500,000 cut in the $5 million Anti-Racism Education Campaign and a $39 million cut to Abstudy. Who said that Howard is not implementing Hanson's racist agenda?"
Mohideen said that HREOC's work "has exposed the consequences of the right-wing economic rationalist program of the Howard government and its policy of appeasement in the face of Hanson's racist offensive. This is why Howard wants to nobble it."