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Racial discrimination

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At no time in our history has both the denial and

the recognition of fundamental rights been brought into

sharper contrast than in the last 40 years. The events of

the Second World War focussed attention on the need to outlaw

racial discrimination and, since that time, there has

been intense international activity to ban racial discrimination.

It should be a basic rule of law-making that laws

should only be made to remedy or put right some social

mischief. It is a rule unfortunately that is honoured more

in the breach than the observance. Racial discrimination

is a social mischief. Everything possible should be done

to put it right and laws can help in that regard.

Australia today is a multi-racial and multi-ethnic community.

Racial and ethnic communities exist in our big cities like

Sydney and Melbourne. In some parts of Australia like

North Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia

there are large groups of aboriginal and Torres Islander

people. The common lav/, of which we are justly so proud,

fails to give any protection against ethnic and racial

discrimination. It is for these reasons that a law such

as the Racial Discrimination Bill is important.

· In the United Nations Charter, the need to remove

discrimination based on race is something that is mentioned

in the very first article. The need is also recognised in

the first paragraph of the Universal Declaration of Human

Rights. The International Convention on the Elimination

of all Forms of Racial Discrimination was entered into in


December 1965. Australia supported this Convention at the

United Nations and it was signed by the then Minister for

External Affairs, Mr. Hasluck, in October 1966. Some 81

countries have in fact, ratified the Convention, including

such countries as Austria, Canada, Denmark, Fiji, Finland,

France, Federal Republic of Germany, India, Netherlands,

New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

There is therefore a good deal of international pressure in this

area and it is important for Australia internationally to

ratify this Convention as soon as possible.

However, it is impossible for Australia to ratify

the Convention unless laws are enacted to make racial

discrimination unlawful. That is what is required by the

International Convention, among other things. The Convention

also requires countries to provide effective remedies for

those who are made the subject of racial discrimination and

Article 7 of the Convention requires countries to take measures

in the field of teaching, education, culture and information

to combat prejudices that lead to racial discrimination and

to ‘promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among

nations and racial or ethnic groups’.

Need for laws to outlaw racial discrimination

- 82.

To implement Government policy in this field as well

as in other fields relating to human rights we have evolved

four main principles which form the basis of the action we

are taking. In the first place it is necessary to introduce

laws to outlaw racial discrimination and guarantee

fundamental rights. These laws do not at present exist in

Australia. As I have said the common law gives little or

no protection against racial discrimination. Unless this

important gap is filled it will be impossible for Australia

to meet its international obligations under the Convention.

So this is the first of our objectives . To provide the

laws that will be necessary to achieve these objectives,

we have introduced into Parliament the Racial Discrimination



Need for effective remedies

The second of our objectives is to create effective

remedies. Unfortunately, it is the case in some countries,

that guarantees of rights produce nothing because no framework

is set up to provide effective remedies to those whose rights

are denied. There -has to be a will if there is to be a way,

what we have done in our legislation is to provide a remedy

before the courts and this remedy may take the form of an

injunction, or something more positive, such as an order

requiring acts to be done to right the wrong that has been

inflicted and we provide also for the grant of damages, not

only for actual loss suffered by a person aggrieved, but also

for damages for humiliation and injury to feelings of the person

who has been the subject of discrimination.

I mentioned that guarantees of rights such as rights

against discrimination have not worked in some countries.

That is true. However they have worked with great success

in other countries. No-one can deny that the United States

of America is a better place in which to live today for

racial and ethnic minorities that it was even 20 or 30 years

ago. The improvement is largely the result of American

legislation enacted during that time. That legislation was

largely inspired and demanded by public discussion produced

by decisions of the United States Supreme Court interpreting

the famous American Bill of Rights. These were the decisions

of the Court then led by Chief Justice Warren. When I was

a boy American films depicted American negroes in menial,

degrading situations - as objects of ridicule and scorn.

Those days are long passed and legislation and the American

Bill of Rights helped make it so.

Need for conciliation and systematic enforcement

The third important principle that we have followed

is the need for conciliation and the need for someone to see

that the act is enforced on a systematic basis. We regard

this as extremely important because, in some cases, people

who are subject to racial discrimination are people who,


through langauge difficulties or other reasons, are in no

position to set in motion the legal process to enforce their

rights through the courts. We therefore think it is of the

greatest importance to establish an independent statutory

authority which will be there to hear complaints of racial

discrimination and endeavour to effect a settlement by

conciliation and mediation. I also mention that the remedies

provided under our legislation are civil remedies and not

criminal remedies. We consider that to introduce the criminal

law into this area would be wrong because it would only serve to

exacerbate tensions that underlie race relations. Similarly, .

we think that to encourage the process of conciliation is

something which will help to reduce racial tensions.

Need for programs of education and research

The fourth objective of our legislation is to attempt

to do something about the attitudes of the community. To .

promote attitudinal change is perhaps the most important

thing that we are attempting to do by the legislation. The

independent statutory authority established by the Racial

Discrimination Bill, the Commissioner for Community Relations,

will have the power to undertake promotional programs of

education and research.

This means that he will be engaged in producing

pamphlets, leaflets, displays and films and'he will be engaging

in promotion by means of advertising and eniisting of support

of the media, community leaders, organisations and governmental

bodies. He will hold seminars and conferences. He will

attempt to bring together community groups, racial groups and

governmental authorities in an attempt to promote a proper

understanding of the need to eliminate discrimination based

on race and colour. This is all the more important when

we realise the significance of our migrant community. One

third of Australia's total population is the production of

post war migration. 20% of our workforce was born overseas.

We have the highest foreign born workforce in the world.

85 .

I think that experience overseas has shown that

attitudes of the community can be changed. The work of the

various Human Rights Commissions in North America and the

Community Relations Commissions of the United Kingdom are

probably far more successful at reducing discrimination than

anything that can be attempted by court actions and legal


Brief description of Racial Discrimination Bill

I want now to give you a brief description of the

basic features of the Racial Discrimination Bill. Clause 9 of

the Bill outlaws racial discrimination. It makes it unlawful

for a person to do any act involving discrimination based on

race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, which

impairs the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms.

This provision follows closely the definition of. 'racial '

discrimination' in the International Convention, which the Bill

is designed to implement.

Clause 10 of the Bill guarantees equality before the

law without discrimination based on race or national origin.

The clause will make it impossible to deny rights to the

members of a particular race or national origin, where those

rights have been given to persons of another race or a different

national origin.

The Bill goes on to deal in greater detail with

discrimination in the enjoyment of rights on grounds of

race, colour or national or ethnic origin. The Bill deals with

discrimination so far as it concerns - ·

, , . access to places and facilities,

. the provision of land, housing and

other accommodation,

. the provision of goods and services,

. the right to join trade unions, and

. the important aspect of discrimination in



These provisions also apply where there has been discrimination

on the ground that a person is or has been an immigrant.


In conclusion, the philosophy behind our approach to

race relations and racial discrimination that is embodied in our ' \

Racial Discrimination Bill is that it is not enough merely

to pass laws to outlaw discrimination and to provide legal

remedies in the courts. It will also be necessary for us to.

ensure that there is systematic and effective observance of

the legislation, conciliation and mediation, and the promotion

of education and research and the introduction of programs to

change community attitudes if we are to make sure that the

elimination of discrimination by race or colour is achieved in

fact as well as in theory.

Sydney/Canberra. .

May 1, 1975