Papers from the 40 years of the racial discrimination act 1975 (cTH) conference sydney, 19 20 February 2015

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SYDNEY, 19 - 20 February 2015

40 YEARS OF the


SYDNEY, 19 - 20 February 2015

Perspectives on the Racial Discrimination Act

RDA @ 40 Conference


August 2015

Table of Contents

Tim Soutphommasane 4

A sword rather than a shield

Gillian Triggs 5

A brave Act

Tim Soutphommasane 7

Address by the Governor-General

Sir Peter Cosgrove 12

Part 1 - History of the Racial Discrimination Act
Australian opinion on issues of race: a broad reading of opinion polls,


Andrew Markus 16

The Racial Discrimination Act: a 1970s perspective

Sarah Joseph 32

Part 2 – The Impact of the Racial Discrimination Act on Public Law

and Human Rights
The Racial Discrimination Act and the Australian Constitution

George Williams & Daniel Reynolds 41

Translating the International Convention on Racial Discrimination into

Australian law

Hilary Charlesworth 55

The Racial Discrimination Act after 40 years: advancing equality, or sliding

into obsolescence?

Beth Gaze 66

Part 3 – Racial Vilification
Psychological dimensions of racial vilification and harassment

Winnifred R. Louis & Matthew J. Hornsey 82

Freedom and social cohesion: a law that protects both

Peter Wertheim 91

Why the campaign to reform the Racial Discrimination Act failed

Geoffrey Brahm Levey 97

Part 4 – Cyber Racism
Hunting for the Snark and finding the Boojum: building community resilience

against race hate cyber swarms

Andrew Jakubowicz 105

Regulating online racism in the online age

Kevin M. Dunn & Rosalie Atie 118

Part 5 – Attributes
Mere definition? Blurred lines? The intersection of race, religion and the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth)

Kate Eastman 125

Muslims and the Racial Discrimination Act

Mariam Veiszadeh 148

Part 6 – Systematic Outcomes
The impact of section 18C and other civil anti-vilification laws in Australia

Luke McNamara & Katharine Gelber 156

Alternative dispute resolution: an effective tool for addressing racial


Tracey Raymond 168

Part 7 – Special Measures
A glass half empty? Alcohol, racial discrimination, special measures and

human rights

Jonathon Hunyor 183

Australia’s First Peoples: still struggling for protection against racial


Shelley Bielefeld & Jon Altman 196

Notes on contributors 207

Appendix 213


The year 2015 marks the 40th anniversary year of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth). It has been an important opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved in race relations since the Act’s inception, and on what remains to be achieved.

This publication brings together a selection of papers presented at a conference held on 19 and 20 February 2015 to mark the occasion. The conference brought together leading scholars and experts in human rights, public law and multiculturalism – with more than 100 people attending sessions on each of the two days. Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove also delivered a special address to the conference.

The papers in this publication reflect the major themes explored in February: the Act’s history and impact, the question of racial vilification and free speech, emergent challenges concerning cyber racism, the relationship between race and religion, systemic outcomes and the law, and the Act’s ability to protect Indigenous Australians against racial discrimination.

I thank staff at the Commission who worked in organising the conference and in collating these papers: Katie Ellinson, Ting Lim, Stephanie Fowler, Lucian Tan, Kristian Barron, Rivkah Nissim and Anna Nelson.

Most of all, I hope this publication will be a valuable contribution to public understanding of the Racial Discrimination Act and its vital role in countering racial prejudice and discrimination.

Dr Tim Soutphommasane

Race Discrimination Commissioner
August 2015

A sword rather than a shield

Gillian Triggs
Welcome to you all to the Australian Human Rights Commission to celebrate 40 years of the Commonwealth’s Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (‘RDA’).
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay respect to their elders past and present.
This comprehensive two day conference aims to recognise the RDA at 40 and provides an opportunity for scholars, lawyers, historians and those working in multicultural and Indigenous policy to come together to discuss not only the impact of the RDA over the last 40 years, but also to consider its vulnerability to exclusion and current efforts to reform it, and to reimagine the role of the Act in the cyber age.
I congratulate Dr Tim Soutphommasane in his role as Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner for his initiative in bringing you all here today.
The RDA warrants both celebrating and interrogating. The Act came into force on the 31st October 1975, a month or so after Australia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 1969. It might be worthwhile to remind ourselves of the extraordinary vision and breadth of the Convention that commits all State Parties to:
Prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, color, or national or ethnic origin, to quality before the law, to personal security, and to all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
The Convention is the universal commitment to racial equality and has over the years proved to be a vital foundation stone for all contemporary democracies. Australia’s implementing legislation has also come to be fundamental to the success and stability of our multicultural society.

As an international lawyer, I say this advisedly and with some passion, for it has emerged over these last 40 years that the RDA is one of the few international human rights treaties to which Australia has become a party that has been made directly part of Australian law. In short, it is a sword for enforcement of human rights rather than a shield.

One of the greatest challenges for the effective implementation of human rights in Australia has been our ‘exceptionalist’ approach. We have few constitutional protections for freedoms and rights, no Charter of rights and little implementing legislation other than in respect of the Conventions on race, sex and disability. Indeed, we have recently seen a shrinking of the legislative commitment to human rights in amendments that virtually eliminate our obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and an expansion of executive discretion without judicial oversight.
But we are here to celebrate the RDA and so we should.
One of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s most important functions is to investigate complaints and try to resolve them by conciliation. We receive about 21,000 inquiries and complaints a year that distill into about 2,300 formal complaints, of which we successfully conciliate about 70 per cent of them. But we are not a judicial body and can make findings and recommendations only. Last year we received 380 complaints under the RDA, seventeen per cent of all received complaints, most of which arose in the context of employment and the delivery of goods and services.
The Commission also has a role in education and community discussion. Tim’s leadership in the campaign Racism. It Stops with Me. has been highly successful and 336 organisations have now signed up to the program.
This conference emphasises the importance of evidence-based research on racial discrimination and will make an important contribution to a more comprehensive commitment by Australians to the RDA. However, 40 years is not a very long time and the RDA remains vulnerable and fragile. I know that this conference will help to strengthen the Act and ensure it remains a cultural and legal norm for Australian society.
Thank you all very much for being part of this exciting conference.
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