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Racist violence report

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Philip Ruddock MP 13

Federal Member for Dundas Shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs ' Tel: (02) 858 1011

Fax: (02) 804 6739

Electorate Parliament House

Tel: (06) 277 4343 Fax: (06) 277 2062


The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission was requested by the Government in December 1988 to inquire into racially motivated violence and intimidation. This request came at a time when the incidence of such violence was apparently increasing in Australia.

After two years the evidence collected indicates that there is cause for concern and the report warns against complacency in confronting the problem.

Nevertheless it is encouraging to note that in its preface, the report states that the evidence presented to the Inquiry indicates that community relations work well and the level of violence is nowhere near the level which exists in other multicultural societies.

Indeed, in the context of the Gulf War, Australian society proved resilient under provocation from outside forces intent on testing the strength of racial tolerance in this country.

The Commission has made a number of recommendations which address the problem at an institutional level. These include specific recommendations regarding police practices, the justice system, public housing, industrial awards and community education.

Most significant however is its recommendation to the Federal Government to enact a new criminal offence of racist violence and intimidation.

The report usefully reviews State Government initiatives, such as the NSW Racial Vilification Legislation. At this time objective evidence is not available on the impact of such initiatives. Anecdotal evidence however suggests the law has ameliorated anti social racist behaviour.

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Any role for the Commonwealth in covering the field legislatively, should have regard to the extent to which State Governments have undertaken reforms in their jurisdictions.

In making its recommendations the Commission was mindful of the need to achieve a balance between its legislative proposals and the fundamental right of free speech. The task is now to determine whether or not that balance has been achieved.

The difficulty for the Commission in evaluating its findings and making its recommendations is to establish benchmarks against which legislation can be formulated and then tested for efficacy.

Last November the Leader of the Opposition indicated our willingness to consider legislative reform in this area. The Commission's report puts forward a large number of worthy recommendations which the Opposition will examine closely. ■ ~

The Government should allow timely debate on the recommendations of the Commission so that in this important area the community is fully consulted and State Governments given the opportunity to consider their own racial vilification legislation.

April 18 1991