Community voices concerns on race legislation at forum

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Senator Sam Dastyari’s forum, over the ANZAC weekend, on the proposed changes to sections of the Racial Discrimination Act turned out to be a lively and productive debate that gave many concerned members in the community an opportunity to raise their concerns and understand the stakes involved in the issue. The session was organised by Aisha Amjad. The organisers say the turn-out was an indication of level of concern in the community on this matter. The organisers also felt, from the responses and questions at the event, that sub-continental communities had genuine concerns about the proposed changes.

The forum had a number of panellists including lawyers, academics, and community leaders

From the range of views and audience responses it was clear that racism is alive and thriving in the community and there was a real need to combat it. Many participants shared their personal experiences of racism at work, when applying for jobs, looking for properties, as well as the racism their children have been experiencing at school.

Senator Dastyari spoke of how the Government’s proposed changes sends a strong and wrong message that people have a right to be bigots, and that this could have reverberations in all areas of society, including schools.

Professor Kevin Dunn of the University of Western Sydney said that the Government hadn’t bothered with any impact statement nor provided any substantial reason why the changes to the Racial Discrimination Act are important. He spoke at length about the Challenging Racism project he has been heading for 15 years. According to Professor Dunn’s research, Australians don’t like racism, Australians have different rates of experiencing racism, depending on their ethnicity, and that most Australians are not supportive of changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.

Aisha Amjad who helped organised the Section 18C forum said that it was important for the subcontinent communities to get together, share their thoughts and collectively speak out against the changes.

She said: “For the last two years India has overtaken China and Britain to become Australia’s biggest source of migrants. Permanent migration from India hit around 30,000 places or 15.7 percent of the total skilled migration and there are more than 36,000 Indian students in Australia. Combine this with statistics from other subcontinent communities and that makes us one of the biggest targets of racism and discrimination.

“These changes will have a detrimental effect, particularly for our subcontinent communities as racism has been on the rise over the past few years, especially towards refugees, migrant families and international students. That’s why it was crucial to have this forum because rather than protecting and respecting ethnic communities, these changes are detrimental and will open the floodgates for bigotry disguised as free speech. If anything the law on racial discrimination should be strengthened and consolidated, not repealed and weakened”

Professor Jayraman, Vice President of Hindu Council of Australia, Bawaji Secretary, Australian Sikh Council and Ejaz Khan President of the Pakistan Australian Association also spoke.

Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Community in Sydney)

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