Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Federal Member for Fenner, ACT Co-Patron
Original post on The Guardian by our co-founder Jieh-Yung Lo.
The year was 1998. My family just re-located from Footscray to Wantirna South in metropolitan Melbourne. I moved from my first secondary school in West Melbourne, at that time a school comprised of students from many nationalities, to a school where I was only one of two students from an Asian background in my year level. The two years spent at that high school in Ferntree Gully were not easy. During those years, I was not known by the majority of fellow classmates for my academic ability or sporting prowess. I was known as that “Chinese kid with the funny sounding name”.
My ethnicity also gave birth to many names in the playground such as “chink, zipper-head, ching chong and yellow monkey”. Every time I hear these names coming from my classmates, I would wonder why people living in this country, my country of birth, would judge me based on my ethnicity and appearance.
This experience motivated me to dedicate my life to put a stop to racism and vilification. Racist words and attitudes are hurtful, offensive and if no proper action is taken, can lead to further harassment. Racist hate speech can damage an individual’s self confidence and self-esteem leading to social attitudes of racial supremacism, prejudice and racial separatism. I do not want to see my fellow Australians of ethnic backgrounds experience such harsh treatment and judgment.
For four long years, alongside many multicultural community leaders, I have advocated for the retention of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA). Like representatives of the Jewish, Muslim, Asian-Australian, European-Australian, African-Australian and Indigenous Australian communities, we were concerned the Abbott government would move to repeal 18C all together. After nearly a decade working with multicultural and interfaith Australians, I have never seen an issue that has brought all community leaders together under one banner. Community representatives have taken to the streets as well as appearing at parliamentary committee hearings with the purpose of protecting 18C as it stands.
The anti-18C advocates have got it all wrong. Section 18C is not about freedom of speech, section 18D already provides protection of freedom of speech. Section 18C is about protecting Australians from all backgrounds from hate speech – and there is a big difference.
For the past 40 years, the RDA has played an important role in protecting and maintaining Australia’s cohesive, diverse and multicultural society. While Australia at the national level remains one of the very few liberal democracies to not have a national bill of rights, the RDA has effectively served in that capacity by ensuring all Australians, regardless of race and background, are treated fairly and equally.
According to a survey commissioned by SBS and Western Sydney University, one in five Australians have experienced racism in the past 12 months. Nearly a third of those surveyed said they have experienced racism within their workplace and educational facility. At least 35% of respondents said they’ve experienced racism on public transport and nearly half of Indigenous respondents said they have experienced racism in some shape or form at sporting events.
It is unfortunate that so many people are still made to feel unwelcome in our diverse country. This is why calls to water down section 18C and the RDA would send the wrong message to potential offenders that discrimination, vilification and hate speech is accepted in our society.
Results from the same survey indicate that up to 77% of Muslim women in Australia have experienced racism on public transport or in the street. To ensure Australians from interfaith backgrounds are given adequate legislative protection, I would like to see sections 18C and 18D strengthened by adding “religion” into the protection.
Such protections already exist in state based legislation such as the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 in Victoria and the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 in New South Wales and it should also be included at the federal level. We live in a society that allows an individual to practice any religion they choose. Muslim Australians should be able to practice their faith without fear, judgment and vilification.
After a three-month public inquiry, the parliamentary joint committee on human rights handed down its report this week. The report recommended minimal changes to 18C but the biggest change of all is to the operation of the Australian Human Rights Commission and the complaints handling process, including the appointment of a judge to serve as a judicial member to deal with initial complaints – a suggestion that many of us in the multicultural and interfaith communities have asked for.
Section 18C is not there to prohibit free speech, it is there to prevent hate speech. A majority of the anti-18C advocates do not understand how it feels to be judged on the basis of their skin colour or faith. They have never been put in a situation where their fellow citizens have made them feel unwelcome in their own country.
The decision to prevent racist hate speech from gaining further prominence is in the hands of the prime minister. For the sake of Australia’s multicultural, harmonious and inclusive society, we hope he will make the right decision and put an end to any further attempts to water down 18C.
Jieh-Yung Lo is the co-founder of Poliversity and a member of the Australian-Chinese community.
Jieh-Yung is an experienced policy advisor, campaigner and writer.
In his experience working with Australia’s multicultural and CALD communities, Jieh-Yung has noticed the lack of involvement and interest shown by political parties when it comes to engaging multicultural communities in policy development and discussions. As a result, he decided to establish Poliversity to encourage greater culturally diverse representation within Australian parliaments and governments.
Jieh-Yung is currently serving as a local councillor at the City of Monash. In addition, Jieh-Yung has worked as a senior policy and project officer at two of Victoria’s largest peak bodies, the Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA) and the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV).
Jieh-Yung regularly writes opinion pieces for a number of publications on multiculturalism, cultural diversity, social inclusion and politics. His op-ed pieces has been widely published in The Age, The Big Issue, the Australian Financial Review, SBS: The World Game, South China Morning Post, Online Opinion and Pro Bono News. He holds a Bachelor of Arts with majors in Political Science and Asian Studies from the University of Melbourne.
Wesa is Director of Cultural Intelligence, a specialist consulting firm with cultural diversity experts from a range of professions. We combine academic understanding with real world experience to deliver solutions for businesses and individuals. She is also a regular commentator on television and radio and has published a range of articles and opinion pieces on international education, cultural diversity and the Asian Century. She has received the following awards and honours:
- Victorian International Education Award 2016
- Finalist Agenda Setter of the year – Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards 2016
- Australian Leadership Award 2013
- Inductee to Victorian Honour Roll of Women 2012
- Rising Star Award for Young Alumni (University of Melbourne) 2012
- Young Victorian of the Year 2010
- Australia Day Ambassador and Responsible Gambling Ambassador
- Finalist Premier’s Community Volunteering Leadership Award (Metropolitan) 2010
- Volunteers Award 2006
- Award for Excellence in Multicultural Affairs 2006
- Melbourne Award (Youth) 2005
- Delegate to Australia-China Youth Dialogue
- Scholarship to Global Leadership Program in Boston 2011
Wesa is a director for Carers Victoria and formally InTouch – Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence, Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria and 3ZZZ Melbourne Ethnic Community Radio. She was also a member of the Ministerial Overseas Students Experience Taskforce.
She has more than a decade of experience working with people from diverse backgrounds and specialises in Asian cultures. Some of her previous professional roles include, senior manager, project officer and management consultant in industries ranging from healthcare, IT, aged care, disability and international education.
Wesa contested in the 2013 Australian Federal Election an ALP candidate for the seat of Higgins.
She is a PhD candidate in leadership, holds Masters in Business Management; Graduate Diploma of Law; Bachelor of Engineering and Commerce (specialising in software engineering and marketing), and is a qualified teacher.
Karamzo is a Policy and Government Relations Adviser who has worked for the United Nations University developing policy research and communications materials for African Governments and international partners.
He has previously worked for Amnesty International as an adviser providing policy advice, developing advocacy strategies around various human rights issues and representing the organisation at state and federal parliament and at stakeholder meetings.
Karamzo has a private sector background in investment finance and holds a Bachelor of International Business and Economics and a Master of International Relations.
Dr Kadira Pethiyagoda is a Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is a former diplomat and Foreign Service officer who has advised Members of Parliament on foreign policy and national security matters. He was a visiting scholar at Oxford University. His upcoming book examines the role of cultural values in Indian foreign policy. Kadira has published widely on international affairs and politics – particularly on the growing call for economic equality and anti-establishment sentiment. He advocates for Left Wing political movements like Labor to harness the populist wave sweeping the West to bring about greater economic justice. He has worked on political campaigns at all three tiers of government. Kadira’s articles have been published by The Guardian, Foreign Affairs, Lowy Institute, European Council on Foreign Relations, ASPI, major newspapers and Oxford Analytica. He has his own blog with Huffington Post. He has been interviewed by CNN, Reuters, Bloomberg, and others. Kadira won a manuscript sponsorship to write a book on his experience as a Sri Lankan migrant representing Australia as a diplomat. He served as a Board Member at Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre. Dr Pethiyagoda has been an active member of the Sri Lankan community in Melbourne since migrating as a child in the 80s. He has volunteered in Sri Lankan community organisations and NGOs. Kadira has a PhD in International Relations from Melbourne University, a BA and Masters in Business Systems from Monash University, and is currently undertaking a Masters in International Human Rights Law at Oxford University.
Daye is a management consultant with Nous Group and a PhD candidate at the Michael Kirby Centre for Public Health and Human Rights in the Faculty of Medicine at Monash University. As part of her consulting work, she has participated in many stakeholder interviews and surveys of board members, senior teachers and university academics. She has contributed to reports which pitch messages and arguments at an appropriate level for stakeholders. She has helped design solutions to complex organisational and legislative problems by taking practical and political constraints into account. She is able to see a solution within its long-term context to help minimise conflict in an evolving world.
Daye also has independent research and advocacy experience with a particular focus on non-legal justice processes. She has published a paper on collaborative practice and her PhD is an evaluation of the South Eastern Centre against Sexual Assault Restorative Justice Pilot. She is currently preparing a paper on racial bias in the decision to imprison in the Victorian County Court.
In late 2016, she is writing a report on transitional justice policy in a future unified Korea with the Citizen’s Alliance on North Korean Human Rights, based on her experience on the executive of the International Commission of Jurists Victoria.
Helen Said was born in England and migrated to Australia in 1962. Her parents were Greek-Maltese refugees from Egypt’s Suez Canal Crisis. Helen grew up in Melbourne’s west and completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne.
As a student, Helen formed strong political convictions in support of multiculturalism, women’s equality and disability rights. She has played a leading role in numerous community actions including public transport and single mothers’ campaigns. She is the author of Five Egyptian Pounds: the story of George Said, which describes her family’s refugee experiences and her father’s contribution to multiculturalism. Helen runs writers workshops about preserving family immigration history.
Helen now works as a tutor and has several students on the autism spectrum. She chairs the Education Working Group of Inclusive Labor, which campaigns for strong disability policy and diversity. She has also recently been elected as a rank and file representative on the ALP National Policy Forum.
Joshua Funder is an entrepreneur, healthcare investor, author, company director and aid worker.
Joshua has served as chairman and director of US and Australian companies including Celladon, Peplin and Spinifex Pharmaceuticals Inc. and is a winner of the AVCAL early stage investment award. He previously worked at Infinity Pharmaceuticals, a drug discovery start-up in Boston, at BCG in San Francisco, and with the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative where he successfully negotiated reduced prices for anti-retrovirals and initiate pharmaceutical supplies across eastern and southern Africa. Joshua was a Co-founder and former chairman of Per Capita, a progressive think thank attracting thousands of active members and changing the Australian political debate in areas such as NDIS funding, TAFE reform and longevity.
Joshua earned a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Laws degrees at the University of Melbourne, a Master of Laws degree at the London School of Economics and a PhD in intellectual property for biotechnology from Oxford University.
Stuart has studied and taught political economy, international public policy and international business. He is an alumnus of the Asialink Leaders Program at the University of Melbourne and has worked in community relations and the legislative process in the Australian House of Representatives and the Senate. Prior to that Stuart worked for six years in the university and vocational education sectors.
Stuart has provided strategic research, communications and coaching support to academics and professionals across a range of business, science and engineering disciplines on projects in Australia, France and China. Stuart currently operates his own business Policy Edge Consulting and has served in management roles on a range of community organisations.