Nyunggai Warren Mundine on Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, Aboriginal Language, Juvenile Justice, Employment and Training

As public debate whirls around Senator Brandis’ proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, the mood of Warren Mundine, Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council was palpable. If there was one thing that was designed to short circuit any good will or cooperation with his council then Senator Brandis found it. Mundine’s role has always been controversial within the Aboriginal community. The de-funding of the National Congress of First Australians made his role very difficult and his diplomacy on this issue behind the scenes probably scored him some begrudging points. But Brandis’ action make any defence of the government amongst the Indigenous community impossible.

As Mundine himself says all of the energy and capacity of his fellow Council members has been spent simply trying to retain their own credibility. It is a dreadful situation to be in. Mundine and all of the Indigenous leaders who Prime MInister Abbott have chosen to work with have no choice but to directly critique Brandis and the government, thereby potentially undermining their own work. 

There is only one possible consolation from Brandis’ actions and that is that it draws public attention to the already weak and insipid quality of the Racial Discrimination Act’s penalties against racial vilification. As public consciousness grows it may be that greater use will be made of the Racial Discrimination Act and it may also mean that even if Senator Brandis succeeds at some time in the future in amending the act, the momentum in the future will be to finally strengthen the RDA and bring it into harmony with the International Covenant on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination of which Australia is a signatory.

The whole debate indicates how much we all have to learn about Aboriginal Australia and the difficulties of being a non-White, non-Anglo-Saxon Australian citizen or resident. The existing ignorant and latent racism which still seems to be prevalent in Australia’s media is something to be shameful about. Many commentators seem to have no concept of Australia’s indifferent position in the international community given the long history of the White Australia policy, the very late constitutional and civil recognition of Aboriginal Australians in 1967and the many troubling episodes in the history of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.

Peter Botsman 29 March 2014

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