Although a mouthful to pronounce, SULS’ DLA Piper Social Justice Conference (#SJcon14) addressed many current concerns, including the background of imprisonment and racial vilification.
In her keynote address, Alison Churchill identified the effects of colonisation, dispossession of land, over-policing and child removal as being “inextricably linked” to the overrepresentation of Indigenous Australians in our prisons.
Clearly it’s inaction (combined with destructive, ineffective action) permits these unsettling figures to persist.
The panel discussion focused on our government’s approach to racial vilification, with Tim Soutphommasane, David Rolph, Kirstie Parker and Kingsley Liu on the panel. All were in favour of the current protections allowing complaints against racial vilification retaining intact.
Race Discrimination Commissioner and fabulous Tweeter @timsout noted that while the law cannot singlehandedly end racism, it does have a role to play. He expressed deep worry over the “socially dangerous message” that the proposed reforms communicate to our community.
Importantly, the panel identified worrying discourse of “prosecution” and “conviction” surrounding the now infamous Racial Discrimination Act, exposing clear misconceptions about what is in fact a complaint-based system.
Concern for this lack of understanding about the scope of the legislation (did you know there are exemptions under the often overlooked s 18D !?) and its operation are clearly warranted, Dr Rolph pointing out that this inaccuracy fuels our “distorted and superficial debate on freedom of speech.” Despite the panel being in agreement, opponents of RDA provisions can hardly deny that this confusion is objectively problematic.
While most instances of vilification are unlikely to proceed to complaint, Parker, Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, said “it does provide a level of comfort to people” in affording Indigenous and other voices a medium through which to be heard. Unfortunately, discrimination and vilification against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples remain at a disproportionately high level, and in the words of Parker, while it’d be nice not to need these protections, we’re “nowhere near being the fair…society we’d like to kid ourselves we are.”
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2014 Indigenous Officers