Anti-racism efforts need to be better coordinated in Australia

Australia’s three tiers of government have come out on top in a report assessing the effectiveness of anti-racism policies and programs over the past five years, with officials reluctant to use the word “racism,” it said.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) believes there is a lack of adequate responses to address racism in Australian society.

The Commission used the 2018-19-2022-2023 mapping report on these policies and programmes to identify particular weaknesses in systemic government approaches that are strengths-based, intersectional and coordinated.

“The government’s preference over the last decade for the term ‘social cohesion’ has weakened the approach to anti-racism work,” the commission said, noting that government policies and programmes tend to avoid references to racism.

It was one of 12 key findings that also criticised the failure of policymakers to measure the impact of anti-racism work, the tendency to focus overt attention on victims or communities experiencing racism or racist behaviour in order to ‘solve the problem’ alone, and ad hoc, fragmented, disconnected and reactive efforts across all three levels of Australian government.

“The work being carried out does not reach the public in any significant way,” the commission said.

“Limited or no monitoring and evaluation means there is little or no assessment of the impact of work already undertaken, including government-funded programmes run by community organisations.”

The report praised Victoria’s efforts to combat racism using a cross-sector approach, saying that when academic experts, government agencies and local councils drew on the experience and knowledge of other community members, government initiatives were more effective.

“This type of work is highly siloed and lacks a whole-of-government approach that does not rely on the leadership and direction of the Australian Human Rights Commission as a small body,” the commission said.

“The lack of coherence and direction across government agencies and governments is obvious. This is also true across the sectors considered in this study—government, nongovernmental organizations, and academia.”

The report, published by the AHRC on Wednesday, aims to support the development of a new national anti-racism framework by identifying gaps in existing initiatives by national, state, territory and local governments.

This report complements work on the 2023 Mapping social cohesion report, which found that declining national pride and a sense of belonging in Australia, as well as financial hardship and a weakened sense of community fairness, have all negatively impacted on cohesion.

By examining a wide range of anti-racism programs and policies in Australia and conducting interviews with government and community representatives, the AHRC considered issues of multiculturalism, anti-racism, social cohesion and ATSI equality initiatives.

It noted that local councils had “excellent examples” of anti-racism action, but were given a low score for generally failing to “consider anti-racism action” at either local council level or at state and national levels.

The AHRC made six recommendations for change, starting with the establishment of a National Anti-Racism Council, the development of a national definition of racism, a clear, whole-of-government strategic approach to combating racism and racist behaviour in Australian society, a formal monitoring and evaluation approach to track and report on anti-racism efforts in schools, and the establishment of a national database or clearinghouse for anti-racism programs, research and outcomes.

The federal government has provided the commission with $7.5 million (over four years, beginning in 2022) to support anti-racism education and awareness initiatives and to support the development of an initial national anti-racism framework.


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