NACCHO Press Release : Aboriginal Health #18C and #Racism : Proposed changes to #18C will throw Reconciliation out the window

It is so disappointing that after all the talk in Canberra in February and the goodwill that was generated, the Government is sending such a poor message to Aboriginal people about acceptance in our own country,

“Racism and discrimination have well documented negative impacts on mental health. If we fail to deal with the alarming rates of poor Mental Health in Aboriginal people, it will have ongoing detrimental impacts in preventing and managing chronic disease

 Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people take their own lives at a rate five times that of other Australians and infant mortality rates are going backwards “

NACCHO Chair Matthew Cooke said just a month after the Prime Minister committed to a new partnership with Aboriginal people through the Redfern Statement, he has put forward measures that would have potentially devastating impacts on the health and well-being of Aboriginal people.

Download a copy of the NACCHO Press Release or read in full below

NACCHO Press Release response to 18c amendments

Download NACCHO full submission to #RDA #18c enquiry here

submission-to-inquiry-into-freedom-of-speech-and-rda-draft

The Kenbi land claim was a hard-fought land rights battle, but it represents so much more than a battle over land. It was a story that epitomised the survival and the resilience of the first Australians, the survival and resilience of the Larakia people“.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Great photo opportunity above for the PM during the 2016 election campaign , but what would be the #healthyfutures for these children with increased racial hate speech ?  

 ” In question time today, I asked Senator Brandis about the watering down of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

What insulting, offensive or humiliating comments does the Prime Minister think people should be able to say to me?

It’s sad that on Harmony Day, a day that celebrates Australia’s cultural diversity, inclusiveness and builds a sense of belonging for everyone, the Government wants to give permission for more racial hate speech

  Being the target of racist, hurtful comments is deeply distressing and causes deep harm “

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy addressing the Senate see video and text below

Along with powerful videos of MPs Linda Burney and Tony Burke addressing Parliament over 18C

“The challenging thing with regard to proposals to change the act is that they are being put forward by those who have never felt vulnerable. These are the people who have never been on the receiving end of racist comments or attacks.

“Our first Australians hold a special place in the Australian community. Our government should be taking action to empower, rather than to disempower them. To be serious about ‘Closing the Gap’, the evidence is clear around racism and all Australian governments should be doing everything in their power to address these issues .”

Members of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) were shocked by the Government’s announcement being made on World Harmony Day the intention to change Section18c of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, according to PHAA CEO Michael Moore.

”  The government’s reforms should, as the Inquiry recommended, address that problem specifically, and not be distracted with an abstract ideological debate, divorced from the social realities.

Section 18C is not needed to protect members of minority groups who are popular in the wider community. It is needed to protect members of unpopular minorities, and also vulnerable minorities, especially our First Peoples, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders.

We support the idea of improving the process for handling section 18C complaints, so that trivial or spurious complaints are terminated quickly.”

Rod Little and Dr Jackie Huggins, Co-chairs, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

As leaders of 10 organisations representing a wide range of culturally diverse communities in Australia, we are profoundly disappointed at today’s announcement by the Federal government of its intention to amend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Government’s planned changes to the Racial Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Commission will weaken the protection of Aboriginal Australians from racial abuse in this country at a time when suicide rates in Indigenous communities are among the worst in the world, the peak body for Aboriginal medical services said today.

NACCHO Chair Matthew Cooke said just a month after the Prime Minister committed to a new partnership with Aboriginal people through the Redfern Statement, he has put forward measures that would have potentially devastating impacts on the health and well-being of Aboriginal people.

Mr. Cooke said all Senators must carefully consider the issues and rise above petty point scoring politics to defeat these amendments – which are based on an hysterical media campaign about the merits of the legislation due to a single court case and a recently published cartoon.

“Any changes to section 18C will alienate the very Aboriginal people the government says it is trying to support, and create even deeper divisions in our community,” he said.

“I urge all Senators to respect the voice of the first Australian peoples in this debate, listen to Aboriginal people about what needs to be done to close the gap, and vote down changes to laws that are likely to make it even wider.”

Mr Cooke said it was outrageous that watering down racial hate laws is a priority for the Government when the latest Closing the Gap report showed just one of seven targets are on track, and the Don Dale Royal Commission is shining a light on the treatment of Aboriginal children in detention.

Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people take their own lives at a rate five times that of other Australians and infant mortality rates are going backwards.

“It is so disappointing that after all the talk in Canberra in February and the goodwill that was generated, the Government is sending such a poor message to Aboriginal people about acceptance in our own country,” Mr Cooke said.

“Racism and discrimination have well documented negative impacts on mental health. If we fail to deal with the alarming rates of poor Mental Health in Aboriginal people, it will have ongoing detrimental impacts in preventing and managing chronic disease.

“The Government’s priorities should be on positive measures like the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan, which recognises the impacts of racism and discrimination inherent in the health system, and supporting the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health sector to fix the national crisis in Aboriginal health.”

PHAA urges all MPs and Senators to leave 18c alone

“Members of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) were shocked by the Government’s announcement being made on World Harmony Day the intention to change Section18c of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975,” according to PHAA CEO Michael Moore.

Earlier this week Mr Moore attended a meeting on Aboriginal and Torres Islander Health where the issue of impact of racial discrimination on health was discussed at length. “The challenging thing with regard to proposals to change the act is that they are being put forward by those who have never felt vulnerable. These are the people who have never been on the receiving end of racist comments or attacks”.

“Our first Australians hold a special place in the Australian community. Our government should be taking action to empower, rather than to disempower them. To be serious about ‘Closing the Gap’, the evidence is clear around racism and all Australian governments should be doing everything in their power to address these issues”.

“A similar impact on health will be experienced by anyone who is discriminated against on the grounds of their racial or ethnic background,” said Mr Moore.

“It really is those who are vulnerable, and those who have been subjected to hateful jibes and vilification, who should be the ones making suggestions for change rather than those who are in the dominant group,” added Mr Moore.

“The PHAA calls on all MPs and Senators to leave the Act as it is”.

“People who already feel exposed to inappropriate comments do not need to be made even more vulnerable,” Mr Moore added.

The Report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights “Freedom of Speech in Australia” set the tone. Over ten thousand submissions were made and the Committee did not recommend changes. Of the twenty two recommendations, there was no consensus about a change to Section 18c.

Mr Moore concluded that “MPs and Senators should be taking guidance from the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights that examined the issue rather than kowtowing to a small hump of ultraconservatives who have played political games in order to get the numbers for a proposal that will undermine the health of the most vulnerable groups in Australia”.

Harmony Day 21 March 2017

As leaders of organisations representing a wide range of culturally diverse communities in Australia, we are profoundly disappointed at today’s announcement by the Federal government of its intention to amend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

If implemented, these proposals will weaken, perhaps emasculate, existing legal protections against racist hate speech. They will give a free pass to ugly and damaging forms of racial vilification which do not satisfy the stringent legal criteria of harassment and intimidation. The publication of virtually any derogatory generalisation about an entire community group would, of itself, be permissible.

To offend, insult or humiliate a person or group because of their race or ethnic background necessarily sends a message that such people, by virtue of who they are, and regardless of how they behave or what they believe, are not members of society in good standing.

This cannot but vitiate the sense of belonging of members of the group and their sense of assurance and security as citizens, and constitutes an assault upon their human dignity. This has nothing to do with a contest of ideas or free speech – which is in any event protected under section 18D – and falls far short of the mutual respect about which we have heard.

Under the government’s proposals vulnerable community groups will now have no peaceful, legal means of redress against these kinds of attacks against their dignity. This would send a signal from government of a more lenient attitude to racism and would damage social cohesion. It is especially ironic that the government has put forward these proposals on Harmony Day.

The proposal to insert a generic “reasonable person” standard into the legislation has superficial appeal, but is unfair and unworkable. The proverbial person in the pub or on the “Bondi tram” does not have the background knowledge and insight into the particularities of a minority group that would be needed to make a fair and informed assessment of what is reasonably likely to “harass or intimidate” members of that group.

Under the existing law, the assessment is made by a reasonable member of the targeted community, that is, by a member of that community who is neither overly sensitive nor overly thick-skinned. This is both more logical and more just.

A generic reasonable person test would also create the possibility that members of a group that happens to be unpopular at any time for any reason would be unfairly treated. Section 18C is not needed to protect members of minority groups who are popular in the wider community. It is needed to protect members of unpopular minorities, and also vulnerable minorities, especially our First Peoples, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders.

We support the idea of improving the process for handling section 18C complaints, so that trivial or spurious complaints are terminated quickly.

We note that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights was unable to reach a consensus, or even a majority opinion, in favour of any of the government’s proposals to amend the substantive law. Its recommendations were all limited to suggested reforms to the complaints-handling process.

This is the sensible way forward. The problems identified by the QUT case and the Bill Leak complaint all related to deficiencies of process. The government’s reforms should, as the Inquiry recommended, address that problem specifically, and not be distracted with an abstract ideological debate, divorced from the social realities.

Rod Little and Dr Jackie Huggins, Co-chairs, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

John Kennedy, President, United Indian Association

George Vellis, Co-ordinator, and George Vardas, Secretary, Australian Hellenic Council NSW

Peter Wertheim AM, Executive Director, Executive Council of Australian Jewry

Patrick Voon, Immediate Past President, Chinese Australian Forum

Tony Pang, Deputy Chair/Secretary, Chinese Australian Services Society

Randa Kattan, CEO, Arab Council Australia

Vache Executive Director, Armenian National Committee of Australia

 

Senator McCarthy:  My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. The Prime Minister has on at least 16 occasions ruled out his government amending section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Today, on Harmony Day, we learned that the Turnbull government is proposing the removal of the words ‘insult’, ‘offend’ and ‘humiliate’ from section 18C. What insulting, offensive or humiliating comments does the Prime Minister think people should be able to say to me?

Senator Brandis: Might I begin by correcting the premise of your question: the Prime Minister has never, not on 16 occasions and not once, said that the government would never reform section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. He did say, as was the case at the time, that it was not a priority for the government.

Nevertheless, I think we all know that events have happened in this country in the recent past, in particular, the treatment of the QUT students, which was disgraceful, and the treatment of the late Bill Leak, which was disgraceful. The report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, to which Labor senators and members of the House of Representatives continue, proposed beneficial law reform. What the Prime Minister and I announced a short while ago was a strengthening of the antivilification provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act.

What you did not mention in your question, which I think is a very important consideration, is the insertion, into section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, of a prohibition against racial harassment. Did you know that in 1991, when the then—

Senator Brandis: If your leader, Senator Wong, would just control herself, I might be able to address your question. You may or may not know that in 1991 the then Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission—

Senator Cameron: On relevance. The question was: ‘What insulting, offensive or humiliating comments does the Prime Minister think that people should be able to say to the senator?’ That was the question, and he has not gone near it. He should actually take off that Harmony Day badge. It is absolutely crazy that he has that on.

The PRESIDENT: On the point of order, the Attorney-General has been giving a detailed response to a detailed question. He is aware of the question.

Senator BRANDIS: In 1991, when the current part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act was recommended, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission actually recommended to the parliament that one of the grounds of racial vilification should be harassment. That was one of the grounds recommended by the predecessor body of the Human Rights Commission. For some unaccountable reason that was not done by the then Labor government.

The PRESIDENT: Senator McCarthy, a supplementary question.

Senator McCarthy:  Minister Wyatt has twice indicated he would cross the floor to vote against changes to section 18C. What consequences will there be for members of the coalition who vote against the Turnbull government’s attempt to water down protections against racism?

Senator Brandis: I am absolutely certain that every member of the coalition will be voting for these changes to strengthen section 18C, every last one of them.

The PRESIDENT:  Senator McCarthy, a final supplementary question.

Senator McCarthy:  When asked why the government had no plans to amend section 18C, the Prime Minister said, ‘We did not take an 18C amendment proposal to the election.’ Why is Prime Minister Turnbull willing to cave in to the Right of his party room on section 18C, while he continues to refuse a free vote on marriage equality, despite the defeat of his proposed plebiscite?

Senator Brandis: Although I am a little loath to dwell on internal politics, may I say that strengthening protections against racial vilification and vindicating freedom of speech are causes that are embraced by all elements of the Liberal Party and the coalition. You may say that section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and the complaint-handling procedures of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act are perfect and incapable of reform. You may say that, but if you do you would be alone because there is no serious person in this country who has followed human rights debate who says that section 18C in its current form, which actually omits to prohibit racial harassment, or the complaint-handling procedures of the Human Rights Commission cannot be improved. Certainly, that is what Professor Gillian Triggs has said, and I agree with her. (Time expired)

 

QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS

Racial Discrimination Act 1975

Senator McCarthy:  The answer was incredibly disappointing, in particular on this day, Harmony Day. As we reflect on Harmony Day, I want to go to some of the answers to me and my questions by Senator Brandis. I want to begin with Senator Brandis’s response in terms of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. I asked, first up, about the fact that Mr Turnbull has said on at least 16 occasions that he had ruled out his government amending section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Senator Brandis said that he had not said that—certainly not that many times. I just want to point out some very important media coverage of the moments when Mr Turnbull denied that it was a distraction for his government. In news.com, on 31 August 2016: ‘The government has no plans to make changes to section 18C’. He said it again on 30 August in The Australian:

It’s filled the op-ed pages of newspapers for years and years but the government has no plans to make any changes to section 18C. We have other more pressing, much more pressing priorities to address.

Then again on 14 November 2016, on ABC 7.30, Mr Turnbull said:

18(C) is talked about constantly on the ABC. It’s talked about constantly in what’s often called the ‘elite media’. I’ve focused overwhelmingly on the economy.

It appears that Prime Minister Turnbull has changed tack. Today is one of the most significant days in Australia and across the world. The purpose behind Harmony Day is to reflect on the diversity of culture across this country, something that unfortunately has been really stained by the Prime Minister’s move to change the Racial Discrimination Act on this day in particular. It is incredibly sad. It really is a watering down of protections against racial vilifications. The irony of it being done on this day! The Attorney-General says he does not believe the Australian people are racist.

Senator Brandis: No, I do not.

Senator McCarthy:  As a white man growing up in Petersham, attending private schools, I am sure you have never been denied access or service in a shop. You have never had taxis drive past, pretending not to see you. You have never received hateful letters and emails because of your race or the colour of your skin. I really wish I could believe there are not any racists in Australia. But certainly my personal experience, and my family’s experience, informs me of the reality that I live in this country. It is deeply unfortunate.

I asked you in my question: what else do you need to say to me and to many other people of different races in this country that you cannot say now? What is it that you are so determined to say that you cannot say to people now?

My predecessor, Senator Nova Peris, had a disgraceful time in this Senate, standing here, being called all sorts of things—in fact, even on her Twitter account today—in terms of what racism she received from the general public. Just to clarify, in case you were thinking I meant it occurred in the Senate; I meant this is where she raised the issue about the racism that was displayed against her by the general public across Australia. It is really important to put this on the record. She stood courageously here to point out from her own personal experiences that racism is very much alive and strong in this country. We as parliamentarians in both the Senate and the House of Representatives must show leadership about the importance of harmony, diversity and cultural respect. That is something that is not happening now today in the Turnbull government.

Being the target of racist, hurtful comments is deeply distressing and causes deep harm. expired)

 

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