Victims of racism urged to litigate

The Australian

National Affairs

by: Patricia Karvelas
From: The Australian
December 06, 2011 12:00AM
Kate Lundy

Senator Kate Lundy

VICTIMS of racial injustice are being urged to pursue cases and use the “full force of the law” as part of the Gillard government’s renewed policy on multiculturalism.

Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Kate Lundy told The Australian the government’s new policy would focus on educating people about existing laws and encourage their use, to send a message that racial injustice was not tolerated in Australia.

Senator Lundy said that, while she was open to creating even tougher laws to stop racism and encourage multiculturalism, she believed current provisions in federal law should be used more and the government should play a stronger role in encouraging action to stamp it out.

“It’s about calling it as a government and saying ‘yes, there is a problem and we need to address it using the full force of the law that we already have in place’,” she said.

Senator Lundy said she supported Race Discrimination Commissioner Helen Szoke, who gave qualified support to a federal multiculturalism act along the lines favoured by the Victorian Liberal government.

Dr Szoke called for a broadening of the Racial Discrimination Act to enhance multiculturalism, saying a specific act might be needed if there was found to be gaps in protections of ethnic minorities from racial vilification. She will use a review by federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland of anti-discrimination laws covering race, gender, age and sexuality to call for reforms to give ethnic minorities more rights to fight racism if a review lessens those rights.

“I think it’s a case about awareness,” Senator Lundy said. “I’m really keen to see how the human rights commission will take that campaign. We’ve provided resources.

“I think our laws are strong, I think there needs to be an awareness and education about those laws and people having a good understanding of their rights and being able to pursue complaints and challenge behaviour. That will be a terrific step for all of us.”

In the wake of the Muslim community arguing for the establishment of Koran courts and Islamic law, Senator Lundy said the multicultural policy would never allow groups to have a different set of rules.

“People come to Australia because they admire our values, so it’s not about changing Australian law; it’s about asking people to subscribe to those values.”

She said stamping out racism in the workplace was a “top priority”. “We need to remind everybody that is in a position of power and employs people that they have obligations under Australian law not to discriminate.

“We need to be educating and supporting employers to make good decisions that are not discriminatory … and supporting the people who are applying for the jobs so they know their rights and we have a good system of handling complaints.”

Senator Lundy ruled out a broader constitutional recognition of racial diversity.

“I think that our very character as a nation is one built on migration and there’s a lot inherent in who we already are,” she said. “I think it is a fact rather than some stated policy that we are multicultural, so that is not something I’m considering.

“We can’t tell people what they can and can’t do, there’s no magic clicking of fingers.”