In a speech at the National Press Club in Canberra, on the 40th anniversary of the enactment of the Racial Discrimination Act, Dr Tim Soutphommasane said groups like Reclaim Australia and United Patriots Front have been embolded because of the rising terror threat and because of anonymity online.
“I hold serious concerns about a deterioration of community harmony. A deterioration that warrants close attention from governments and leaders. Anxieties about the threat of Islamist extremism, harassment of Muslim and Arab Australians, many of whom feel under constant suspicion,” he said in his speech.
He also said the Prime Minister’s use of the phrase “Team Australia” isolated a portion of the community.
“Last year when the official terror alert was raised to high and when the language of team Australia was introduced to our political lexicon I had many community organisations and members, particularly of Muslim and Arab background, express their concern.”
Dr Soutphommasane also used the speech to lobby for a non-discrimination clause to be constitutionally enshrined, to keep it out of the hands of politicians after sections of the Racial Discrimination Act were under consideration for repeal last year.
“We have an opportunity to right old wrongs. We have an opportunity to make a statement about racial equality. And it’s time that our constitution is purged of ideas about racial superiority and the natural order of imperial power. It’s time that we also guarantee that all Australians have a protection from racial discrimination, because our constitution should and must speak more truly in the spirit of our democracy. One committed to equal citizenship and to the rejection of racism,” he said.
This month the Australian Human Rights Commission will launch the second phase of its “Racism, it stops with me” campaign. The campaign will be guided by two themes – supporting diversity and inclusion and continuing to combat prejudice and discrimination.
Dr Soutphommasane said stopping racism is the responsibility of every Australian.
“Our advice at the Human Rights Commission is to encourage people to do what they can, if it’s safe to do so. We’re certainly not encouraging people to throw themselves in harm’s way.”