Racism survey shows public supports existing Racial Discrimination Act

A survey has found the Federal Government's plan to unwind parts of the Racial Discrimination Act does not have majority public support, and most people believe it should be unlawful to humiliate or insult people on the basis of race or ethnicity.

The Federal Government has announced plans to alter the Racial Discrimination Act so it is no longer illegal to "offend, insult or humiliate" someone because of their race and ethnicity. Existing protections against intimidation will remain, and there will be new protection against racial vilification.

This proposal runs counter to public sentiment as captured in the landmark Challenging Racism Research Project, headed by the University of Western Sydney, which surveyed more than 12,500 Australians to provide a national picture of racism, ethnic relations and cultural diversity.

"The public is very clear on this- they strongly believe the existing protections should remain in place," says the lead researcher of the Challenging Racism Project, Professor Kevin Dunn, who also conducted this survey.

In a recent survey, 2100 respondents were asked whether it should be unlawful to humiliate, insult, offend or intimidate someone according to their race, with the results showing:

  • Offend - 66% of participants agreed or strongly agreed it should be unlawful
  • Insult - 72% of participants agreed or strongly agreed it should be unlawful
  • Humiliate - 74% of participants agreed or strongly agreed it should be unlawful
  • Intimidate - 79% of participants agreed or strongly agreed it should be unlawful

"Only a handful of Australians oppose these legal protections, with only 10 per cent disagreeing with laws that prohibit the causing of offense on the basis of race, culture or religion, and fewer still, only 6 per cent, opposing humiliation on this basis," says Professor Dunn.

Professor Dunn says the Challenging Racism Project found 27 per cent of Australians have experienced racist talk.

"We can't expect the law to protect each and every victim of racist talk as it simply isn't possible," he says.

"What is possible is to establish laws with a symbolic role to set norms for us all, which encourage us to speak out and speak up when we hear people using uncivil language."

"Racism fades and flourishes over time according to political contexts, leadership and the nature of debate, and the laws around racial vilification send an important message about what is considered to be legal and civil, and what is uncivil".


26 March 2014
Contact: Mark Smith, Senior Media Officer

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