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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 17399


Mr Laurie Ferguson asked the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, upon notice, on 24 March 2003:

(1) Is he aware of research released by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission on 24 February 2003 on the phenomenon of cyber-racism; if so, does the research show that the Internet is being used to promote: (a) notions of racial superiority and violence, (b) racist groups, (c) extremist literature, (d) race hate music, and (e) racist games, via email, websites, chat rooms, newsgroups and web order catalogues.

(2) Do the aims of the Living in Harmony initiative include an effective focus upon combating racism and encouraging respect, goodwill and understanding between Australians of all ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds and does the prevalence of cyber-racism run counter to these aims; if so, what actions, if any, has he taken to initiate suitable educational measures to alert the Internet industry and users of the Internet to the need to combat the phenomenon.


Mr Hardgrave (Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) I am aware of the research undertaken by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and agree that the research highlights the use of the Internet for a range of race-hate related activities.

(2) Yes, the aims of the Living in Harmony initiative do include an effective focus on combating racism and encouraging respect, goodwill and understanding between Australians of all ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. The Living in Harmony initiative aims to do this through the three complementary elements of a community grants program, a partnerships program and the public information strategy led by Harmony Day each year.

The Internet provides another forum through which racist propaganda can be promulgated. No specific actions have been taken to date through the activities of the Living in Harmony initiative to initiate educational measures to alert the Internet industry and users of the Internet to the need to combat cyber-racism. The presence of cyber-racism is a global issue and HREOC and other agencies are currently exploring possible options for regulatory control of racist material on the Internet generated from within Australia.

I note that non-regulatory options to combat cyber-racism discussed at the related symposium hosted by HREOC included:

· the further supply and use of appropriate electronic filters by Internet Service Providers;

· the possibility of a content rating scheme for websites, and

· the need for a stronger presence of organisations and individuals on the Internet as anti-racist advocates and educators.

While the Australian Broadcasting Authority may have a future role in addressing the first two options, the Living in Harmony initiative certainly has a role to play in relation to the third. The initiative has a strategy of encouraging the development of positive values and processes that promote community harmony and address racism at the local level. A large number of past and current Living in Harmony community grants and partnerships have used the Internet as a vehicle for promoting the positive outcomes of their projects and the broader messages of the initiative.

The presence of the Living in Harmony initiative therefore continues to grow on the Internet and more broadly within the community, thus encouraging attitudinal change in a non-regulatory way. Since the commencement of the initiative in 1998, 179 community grants and 34 partnerships have been funded; all of which have addressed issues of racism and promoted community harmony in a variety of ways. On 21 March 2003 we enjoyed the most successful Harmony Day yet in terms of the level of community participation. The strengthening presence and recognition of the Living in Harmony initiative across the community and on the Internet helps to combat the phenomenon of cyber-racism.