“ Surveys suggested racism was already a near-universal experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, with 97% having experienced it in the past year and more than 70% reporting eight or more incidents in that period. Almost one-third said they had experienced racism in the health setting.
By settings standards of conduct, the law had an important role in containing the spread of racism and race hate, and described the watering down of sections 18c & d of the RDA as a “major risk” for the effective implementation of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023.
The Plan envisages a health system free of racism, offering effective, high quality, appropriate and affordable health services to Indigenous Australians “
Matthew Cooke Chair of NACCHO
Download our full submission here
Over 5 years we have NACCHO has published over 70 artiicles
” Whenever there is a racist incident in Australia we hear people talk about the need for more education. And, to be fair, a lot of racism that exists does stem from a lack of education but that is only true for those who soak up the racist rhetoric that is ever present in Australian media and politics, not those who create and exploit that racism in the first place,
Article 1: Croakey Under the skin’ – Australian health groups condemn proposed changes to hate speech law
” With the Northern Territory’s anti-discrimination commissioner Sally Sievers warning this week that casual racism could literally make people sick, we’ve taken a look at some of the health group submissions to the government’s inquiry into amending section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Aboriginal health groups have rejected the proposed changes, warning that physical harm from race discrimination began at an early age – “quite literally can get under the skin and make our children and young people sick” – with racism a key determinant of access to and experiences of health.
We’ve digested some of the major submissions, which make for compelling reading in full, and present a summary below.
Editor: Amy Coopes Author Under the skin’ – Australian health groups condemn proposed changes to hate speech law
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO)
Pointing to the Aboriginal definition of health as the “social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the whole community in which each individual is able to achieve their full potential”, NACCHO argues that any watering down of hate speech legislation will work in direct opposition to existing government programs and strategies to improve Indigenous health.
It describes combating racial discrimination as a key strategy in closing the gap on health outcomes, and details key evidence on the link between racism and health including:
Link between racism and reduced access to education, employment, housing and medical care, especially the deterrent effect of institutionalised racism in the health care system
Association between racism, psychological distress and risk behaviours such as substance abuse and self-harm, as well as physical injury from race-motivated assaults
Stress and cortisol dysregulation resulting from experiences of racism leading to mental health problems and physical impacts to the immune, endocrine & cardiovascular systems, beginning in childhood
Discriminatory health policies and practices including lack of language & culturally competent care, excessive wait times and unequal access to emergency and other services
Young people who experience high levels of racial discrimination were also found to have increased sleep difficulties, cellular ageing, inflammation and psychological wear and tear… Racial discrimination quite literally can get under the skin and make our children and young people sick.
NACCHO said surveys suggested racism was already a near-universal experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, with 97% having experienced it in the past year and more than 70% reporting eight or more incidents in that period. Almost one-third said they had experienced racism in the health setting.
By settings standards of conduct, NACCHO said the law had an important role in containing the spread of racism and race hate, and described the watering down of sections 18c & d of the RDA as a “major risk” for the effective implementation of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023.
The Plan envisages a health system free of racism, offering effective, high quality, appropriate and affordable health services to Indigenous Australians:
“Together with strategies to address social inequalities and determinants of health, this provides the necessary platform to recognise health equality by 2031.”
The Lowitja Institute echoes NACCHO’s concerns, saying the 2013-2023 health plan “went a significant way in identifying racism as a social determinant for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health” and amendments to 18c would undermine “hard fought policy gains”.
It said institutionalised racism, lack of cultural safety and distrust in the health sector was already affecting access and outcomes for Indigenous people, with high rates of discharge against medical advice contributing to chronic ill health including diabetes, kidney disease and cancer.
Asking at what cost so-called free speech:
Allowing people to ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or another group of people’ based on race can potentially cause harm and thus widen the health gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians.
Changes to the Act could cause potential erosion of hard-fought health policy gains for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
As a nation together we should strive for dignity, respect, equity and a deeper understanding of one another.
National Health Leadership Forum
NHLF describes racism as a key social and cultural determinant of health and said legislative protections were an essential component in addressing it.
It said freedom from racism and right to the highest attainable standard of health were fundamental human rights, and racism not only undermined health (noting a 17-year gap in life expectancy) but the realisation of these rights for Indigenous Australians.
NHLF also quoted from the government’s 2013-2023 health plan, and described the proposed RDA amendments as counterintuitive to its bipartisan support:
Racism is a key social determinant of health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and can deter people from achieving their full capabilities by debilitating confidence and self worth which in turn leads to poorer health outcomes.
cohealth, Australia’s largest non-for-profit community health service, says health is impacted by many factors including social inclusion and participation, with stigma and racism contributing to health inequalities.
It cited Australian and global research identifying:
- The link between self-reported discrimination and depression & anxiety, both of which are major contributors to disease burden
- Emerging evidence linking race-based discrimination with poor physical health including diabetes,obesity and hypertension
- Association between discrimination, stress and chronic conditions (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer), as well as smoking, substance use, harms from abuse and violence, poor self-assessed health status and high psychological distress among Indigenous Australians
Importantly, cohealth noted that research had also shown that state intervention such as legislative change and the signalling that discriminatory behaviour was acceptable itself contributed to poor health:
The very holding of this inquiry, and the questioning of whether race hate protections should be reduced, sends a message to ethnic and rcial groups that in the eyes of the government they are less important, less included, less valued and less protected than other members of Australian society. This has the potential to contribute to significantly reduced health and wellbeing.
Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance
The peak professional group for Australia’s media questions the government’s “free speech” motivations for the RDA inquiry, arguing that it occurred against a backdrop of much graver threats (many directly due to government legislation), including:
Persecution and prosecution of whistleblowers in the public and private sectors and threat of up to 10 years jail under the ASIO Act
Anti-corruption bodies’ “star chamber” powers bypassing journalist shield laws
Use of warrants to secretly access journalists’ information and discover confidential sources
Use of defamation, contempt of court and suppression orders to intimidate or muzzle legitimate public interest reporting
The veil of “operational security” by government ministers & departments to refuse disclosure of information or to answer questions and narrowing of application of FOI laws
MEAA Media members are left to ponder the apparent limitations of the Parliament’s free speech agenda.
It said the rise of digital technology had seen hate speech increase in Australia since the 1995 introduction of the RDA, and described such speech as “antithetical to ethical journalism”.
We believe media outlets should take appropriate measures to speedily and thoroughly deal with complaints from the public, and to do so publicly. Too often the public turns to a third party without first raising a complaint with the specific media outlet that has published or broadcast the item in question. Media outlets must be willing to be held accountable for their failings by the consumers who put their trust, and their time and money into supporting the media outlet.
Whenever there is a racist incident in Australia we hear people talk about the need for more education. And, to be fair, a lot of racism that exists does stem from a lack of education but that is only true for those who soak up the racist rhetoric that is ever present in Australian media and politics, not those who create and exploit that racism in the first place, Luke Pearson says.
We talk about racism in the 21st Century as an anomaly, a throwback to the outdated ideas of yesteryear that for some unknown reason still manage to linger in the hearts and minds of too many, otherwise lovely, white Australians.
We talk about how racism impacts on our health, how it limits education and employment opportunities, and we talk a lot about how it feels to be on the receiving end of it. We still try to get people to develop empathy and we still ask, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” as though Shakespeare wasn’t making that exact point about racism back sometime around the 1590s. Personally, I am sick of being asked to rip the band-aid off every time to show that I bleed blood as red as anyone else.
What we don’t talk about, however, is that racism drives profits and power. Not just the One Nation type of political power either, but all of it. Major political parties tread lightly on these issues and although some may provide lovely sound bites about multiculturalism or ‘progress’, they still too often support racist policies, from the NT Intervention through to watering down the Native Title Act or the Racial Discrimination Act.
The reality is that racism has always been a useful and effective tool for power, profit, and control.
I read somewhere, many years ago, that ‘Europeans didn’t become slave traders because they were racist. They became racists because they were slave traders’. The argument being that in order to sustain such a brutally horrific, but highly profitable, practice as slavery while also being able to maintain a self-image of being ‘good Christians’ it was necessary to dehumanize and demonise those who were being enslaved. This led to ‘scientific’ arguments of black people being less evolved and not really human, and Biblical arguments of black people being the ‘sons of Ham’ and as such cursed by God, in need of punishment for perceived sins, and thereby justifying their exploitation, murder, and enslavement.
The history of racism is too often explored through the lens of it being a lack of education, empathy, or understanding. Instead, it should be looked at as a highly effective and complex tool for the acquisition of land, exploitation of resources, sourcing free or cheap labour, and as a convenient scapegoat to avoid blame for those in power.
There is not a lot of racism that exists today that doesn’t in some way still serve one or more of the above stated needs, and no amount of feel-good anti-racism education for those who use racism to gain power and/or make profit is going to change this.
When we look at racism in this light we no longer feel compelled to say ‘I can’t believe this is still happening in 2017!’, because we understand that racism is not just a throwback to outdated scientific beliefs of social Darwinism, and we also understand that human and civil rights are not on a slow but steady incline towards greater understanding and inevitable equality.
Racism has not reduced or disappeared over the years on this; it has simply become more elusive; more sophisticated. Overt racism may have slowed down for a few decades after the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, and it must be acknowledged that significant wins have since enshrined in law; particularly concerning segregation and other exclusionary practices and policies.
However, the strategically made argument that these policies represented not just a decrease in racism but that it actually went too far and created ‘reverse racism’ ensured that the shift in racism was limited to the shift from overt to covert, and not in its actual dismantling. This process has actively blurred the social understanding of what constitutes racism to the point that there are those who argue that any acknowledgement of race constitutes racism, particularly when it involves using the word ‘white’ in any context whatsoever.
The only purpose the colour-blind racism theory serves is making conversations about racism impossible. Racism gets reduced to merely being prejudice, and the role of societal power and privilege is completely ignored. Any argument, no matter how shallow, is used to claim that racism doesn’t exist; is not a factor in a given incident; or only exists because people keep mentioning it. If that does not suffice then finding any Aboriginal person who will agree that racism doesn’t exist is used to argue against all those who think it does (this strategy works for climate change against 97% of the scientific community, so it isn’t too surprising to see how effective it can be on issues of racism).
The shift from overt to covert racism meant that the statistics that once demonstrated without question the impacts of racism are once again being used to justify it. Incarceration rates, child removal rates, unemployment rates and other statistics that highlight the impacts and consequences of discrimination and inequality are now more commonly used to justify an unspoken but clearly hinted at belief in innate criminality, a lack of paternal and maternal instincts, and moral and cultural deficits.
The catch cry of ‘We need to keep Australia white’ was replaced with ‘We need to protect our way of life’. The slavery of Aboriginal people in Australia has been replaced with ‘work for the dole’ and prison labour. The displacement of Aboriginal people on reserves and missions for land grabs has been replaced with closing remote communities because of ‘lifestyle choices’, the forcing of remote Aboriginal communities onto long term leases, and the constant watering down of native title rights. These changes are only in branding not in substance, and certainly not in impact and effect. The end result is always the same; dispossession, disempowerment, regulation, and control.
Overt racism still exists of course, and has become increasingly popular in politics over the past few years. Asians are apparently ‘swamping’ again, this time along with Muslims as well. Asylum seekers have all become illegal immigrants. Any mention of difference or diversity or inequality is now labelled ‘divisive’. And it is now acceptable again to argue that all non-white Australians need to assimilate.
Despite this, the national dialogue about racism in Australia still ignores this and is too often limited to ‘casual racism’, and education aimed at building empathy is all too often the only solution that we are interested in putting forward at a national level. The goal of anti-racism is aimed at making white people feel good and alleviating themselves of any sense of responsibility or culpability rather than looking at how we dismantle the systems that perpetuate racism as the status quo. Even that seemingly lofty goal would still be insufficient. We cannot simply dismantle existing systems, we must replace them with new ones that empower Indigenous people within them and do what Malcolm Turnbull has become very fond of saying but refuses to actually do – systems that do things with us and not to us, and that are driven by Indigenous people ourselves. And just for the record, no… having an Indigenous friend or partner isn’t ‘reconciliation in action’.
Acknowledging white privilege is not the same thing as giving it up, or fighting against it.
And whenever we encounter racism we are expected to calmly and rationally explain why it is racist, and provide solutions that do not require anything more than a superficial change or acknowledgement to fix it.
As long as this remains, we can rest assured that the systems in place that maintain racism and inequality will remain unchallenged, and our grandchildren will one day say to each other, “Wow, I can’t believe racism is still a thing in 2077!”
Acknowledging white privilege is not the same thing as giving it up, or fighting against it.
Racism is not simply borne of ignorance, and no amount of walking across bridges or photos of a white hand shaking a black hand will make it less appealing to those who exploit it for profit and power.
There is definitely a role in education for reducing the symptoms of racism, but I don’t think it will be enough to ever address its root causes.
I don’t know how (or if) we can eradicate racism, but I hope recognising racism as more than just misguided attitudes, hurt feelings, and the purported mental health status of political correctness might be a good start.