The racial other

In March 2014, the Federal Liberal Government announced its proposed changes to repeal Sections 18B, 18C, 18D and 18E of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (‘the Act’). Under the proposed Federal Liberal Government’s changes to the Act, it would no longer be unlawful to publicly “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person on the basis of race, colour, national or ethnic origin.

The aforementioned changes triggered an unprecedented avalanche of criticism from culturally and linguistically diverse communities across Australia. Consequently, the Federal Liberal Government dumped its proposed changes to the Act. However, it is interesting to note how recent events in Europe are having a spill over effect in Australia.

The atrocious gunning down of French Cartoonists in the Office of Charlie Hebdo Magazine has renewed the discourse in Australia about changes to the Act. Unfortunately, the Charlie Hebdo massacre has become a sordid opportunity for some Federal Members of Parliament to recuperate their attack on Australia’s anti discrimination laws. South Australian Family First Senator Bob Day, and South Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi, called for the reintroduction of changes to the Act.

The current anti-discrimination law, passed under Labor Prime Minister, the Honourable Gough Whitlam MP, aims to prevent racism and give effect to Australia’s obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  These anti-racism efforts by the late Gough Whitlam are now being toyed with by some of our politicians.

With a projected resident population of 23.74 million, Australia is a nation that prides itself on cultural pluralism. The 2011 Australian Census projected that while vast majority of the population are Australian born, more than 75% of Australians identified with an ancestry other than ‘Australian’. For the purpose of this piece, I will not dwell on the meaning of the term ‘Australian’, which is widely challenged.

Approximately 2% of the Australian population identify as Indigenous, 43% have at least one parent who was born overseas, and 30% of our population was born in another country. I am the 30%. I was born in the midst of a Sudanese Civil War. My family sought refuge in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. Four months shy of my 9th birthday, my mother, Abur Malual, along with my older brothers, Ariik and Peter Agoth, migrated to Australia under the Refugee and Humanitarian Program. After four years living in Australia, we were granted Australian Citizenship. We pledged our allegiances to this great Commonwealth of ours, and in return, we were promised membership and the protection of our inalienable rights and freedoms.

I am acutely aware of the differences in my appearance, culture and tradition. What will protect me, and hundreds of thousands of Australians like me, from racial discrimination in the event that Section 18C of the Act is repealed? I am as much Australian as I am South Sudanese, and I should have full enjoyment of my inalienable right to live, work and feel safe in Australia.

I acknowledge the importance of freedom of expression, a key principle that cemented our liberal democracy. But as a nation, as a people and as a culture, we must find a content balance between freedom of expression and prevention of racism.

We must create an environment where all Australians can conduct their affairs mindful of the impacts that our words, acts and omissions, might have on the rights and freedoms of others.

DISCLAIMER: Any views or opinions represented in this article are personal and belong solely to the author of the article and do not represent those of the people, institutions or organizations that the author may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated.

Nyanwell Agoth was raised in the north-east of Adelaide in South Australia. She has a longstanding interest in the development of Australia's legal system, and participation of young people in institutional political processes.

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