Five years ago, when I began my term as Race Discrimination Commissioner, I wouldn’t have said it was likely that we would see the resurgence of far-right politics. I wouldn’t have expected that the biggest threats to racial harmony would come from within our parliaments and media.
Race looms large. It’s there in the panic about “African gangs”, the warnings about multiculturalism veering into “ethnic separatism”, the questioning of a non-discriminatory immigration policy, the alarm about foreign influence by China.
Debates about such issues help set the tone for our society. They have made some groups in our society more vulnerable than ever to racism. In Melbourne, for example, Sudanese-Australian leaders have spoken about how members of their communities fear being targeted. Many are fearful about leaving their homes.
This is how racism works. It creates doubts and divisions – and it forces its targets into retreat. And where the seeds of racism are planted in political speech, they bear bitter fruit in society.
And it’s false to charge that calling out racism is an act of national disloyalty. Anti-racism is in fact an expression of patriotism. We fight racism because it diminishes our nation. We fight it because it is an assault on our values and our fellow citizens.