Changes to the Racial Discrimination Act being proposed by the Australian Government, are not warranted and would send the wrong message, according to Diversity Council Australia (DCA).
In its submission in response to the Australian Government’s Exposure Draft of the Freedom of speech (Repeal of S. 18C) Bill 2014, DCA argued that an adequate case for changing the Act had not been made.
“We believe the current framework of the RDA has worked well over a number of decades, strikes an appropriate balance between the rights of individuals to live free from racial discrimination and vilification and the need for free speech in the community, and is one that business is experienced in working with,” said Catherine Petterson, DCA’s Acting CEO.
Business has an important role in promoting a cohesive and multicultural society through continued efforts to combat racism – a role that requires ongoing effort and attention from all levels of government, together with the corporate sector and the broader community, said Catherine.
“DCA’s own research echoes other studies that show racism is still a problem in the workplace. Non-Australian born respondents are significantly more likely to report being discriminated against on the basis of cultural background (11% vs 2%) and racially harassed (14% vs 6%), and DCA's survey found racial harassment (9% incident in previous twelve months) was more common than sexual harassment (6%). Further, Indigenous Australians were up to six times more likely to experience inappropriate workplace behaviour than non-Indigenous Australians.
“Changing the RDA in the way currently being proposed would send a negative message about the type of behaviour that is now acceptable in the community, and this will inevitably have a flow on effect into the workplace,” said Catherine.
Australian businesses are very aware of the importance of a culturally diverse workforce and providing workplaces which are free from cultural bias, discrimination and vilification, said Katriina Tahka, DCA’s Cultural Diversity Director and Chair of DCA’s Building Cultural Capability Network.
“Employers have long recognised the benefits of pro-actively preventing workplace discrimination and harassment, and effectively managing issues and complaints when they arise. Indeed, the large number of employers currently participating in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Racism: It Stops With Me campaign, emphasises the interest of Australian business in supporting initiatives which promote racial harmony in the workplace. In addition, we work closely with many leading employers that understand the great benefits offered by a culturally diverse workforce and culturally competent global engagement,” said Katriina.
DCA also recognises that racism and racial vilification are not issues which can be addressed through the law alone but that leadership is important.
“Our experience and that of our members highlights that workplaces which are both tolerant and inclusive of cultural diversity require a commitment from organisational leaders; a commitment to act decisively against discrimination and harassment where they occur, and also to actively raise awareness about the business benefits of cultural diversity.
“We strongly encourage the Australian Government to actively support initiatives which promote cultural diversity in the workplace and in the wider community,” added Katriina.