10 November 2016


I would like to thank the Hindu Council of Australia for organising, once again, an excellent event in Parliament House on Monday night to celebrate Deepavali, the Festival of Lights.

I particularly want to mention Professor Nihal Agar, and Kanti Jinna of the Canberra Hindu Society.

I also want to mention outgoing High Commissioner Navdeep Suri. We will be sorry to lose him. He has been an excellent representative of his government and the people of India in Australia.

I also want to mention the representatives from a variety of cultural and religious communities who joined in the festivities, including Sikh, Jain and Fijian representatives. And I am delighted to note that I recently received an invitation to celebrate Hanukkah in the next sitting fortnight.

That brings me to the issue of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. It is one in which I have had a long involvement and a very deep interest since its inception 20 years ago, including the fact that it arose from recommendations from a number of inquiries, including the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

It is well known that the inquiry conducted by Attorney-General Brandis in 2014 was one in which the community spoke loud and clear, saying that it did not want these provisions against racist hate speech watered down. I went around the country. I heard the real stories, including those from people in the member for Moreton's electorate from communities who did not want this change to occur.

In this place, we often talk about theoretical arguments. The reality is that these are issues that affect people's lives. We have some very serious challenges in terms of the economic consequences of racism in this country. We have some very serious challenges for some specific cohorts—for job seekers who are being subjected to exclusion in the labour market based, often, on their race. Here I will quote from my colleague Dr Andrew Leigh, who found, in a 2009 study, that people without Anglo names had to submit many more applications to get the same number of job interviews as someone with an Anglo name. The study found that:

To get as many interviews as an Anglo applicant with an Anglo-sounding name, an Indigenous person must submit 35 per cent more applications, a Chinese person must submit 68 per cent more applications, an Italian person must submit 12 per cent more applications, and a Middle Eastern person 64 per cent more applications.

That was in 2009. I wonder what the results would be now.

This is more than talking about what a successful multicultural nation we are. We here are all decision makers. The laws we devise and amend do have real-world consequences. We have many other significant challenges to address in this community, including culturally-sensitive aged care. Our energy and focus should be on addressing those, rather than concentrating on what divides us.