“Looking at racism and denial in Australia — do we have zero tolerance, or is it zero acknowledgement of racism?”
Race Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes asked this question in an August 9 address to the National Press Club in Canberra.
While he referred to numerous instances of anti-migrant racism, including racism in sport, Australia’s appalling treatment of refugees, vilification on the basis of cultural dress and employment discrimination, he singled out the violent attacks against Indian and other international students, and the official denial that these were racist.
But the main focus of his address was racism against Indigenous Australians and how this has worsened under the Northern Territory intervention.
“The Northern Territory Emergency Response legislation — all five Bills and 480 pages of it — contained far reaching measures, including suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act … I don't accept that to take the urgent action required, it was necessary to discriminate on the basis of race.
“The entire legislative process — including a Senate inquiry — took ten days. This was a scandalously abbreviated parliamentary process. And remember, there was no Aboriginal representative in parliament at the time.
“So, was the intervention racist?
“The UN Committee thinks so. The UN Special Rapporteur thinks so. Most importantly, many of the people living under the intervention think so.
“Zero tolerance … or zero acknowledgement?
“Throughout my term, I’ve been concerned about the use, or misuse, of the special measures provision of the [Racial Dicrimination Act]. Because delivering standard services to Aboriginal communities, that are available to all other Australian citizens, cannot be properly considered as special measures.”
Mayor of Barkly Shire Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, who achieved world-wide recognition as the 14-year-old star of the 1955 movie Jedda, also condemned the intervention, particularly the government’s efforts to close more than 500 Indigenous remote communities and outstations by resourcing just 21 “growth towns”.
“We disagree with being herded by the army into the big centres,” she said on August 9 in Canberra, where she launched an Amnesty International report that advocates Indigenous people’s rights to remain on their homelands.