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Aug 27, 2010

UN set to give Oz a serve on our racial discrimination record

The UN Committee that monitors breaches of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (the CERD Committee) will report on its examination of Australia this weekend.


Climate change was not the only pachyderm in the room during the elections. Australian racism has also been lurking, scratching its head with its trunk and wondering why no-one seems able to see it.

The UN Committee that monitors breaches of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (the CERD Committee) will report on its examination of Australia this weekend. Consideration of Australia’s 15th to 17th reports took place during the pre-election caretaker period.

Judging by the criticism that UN human rights mechanisms have previously directed at Australia, the Committee could be expected to give the government another serve. Amongst other things, it can be expected to request urgent revision of the Northern Territory Intervention because it still discriminates against Indigenous Australians.

It can also be expected to request the government end the discriminatory treatment of asylum seekers who arrive by boat, and to provide them with access to the same system of administrative justice available to on-shore applicants. It can be expected to request an end to mandatory indefinite detention for asylum seekers.

By signing human rights treaties the government pledges to abide by certain standards of behaviour. It pledges to protect the rights and freedoms the international community has recognised as those required by a civilised state. The CERD treaty prohibits:

“…any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”

Both Labor and Liberal governments have shared policies that violate this prohibition.

The Greens have provided almost a lone voice in arguing for change. Will the caretaker government, the opposition or the independents join with the Greens in asking for prompt action to clean up race-based discrimination in Australia? If not now, when?

*Until recently, Robyn Seth-Purdie worked for a human rights organisation. She has now returned to practice as an independent consultant.


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12 thoughts on “UN set to give Oz a serve on our racial discrimination record

  1. Norman Hanscombe

    I’m led to believe Australia wouldn’t accept human rights claims from U.K. residents who fear for their lives because their families were on the ‘wrong’ side during the Norman invasion. Australian bureaucrats apparently maintain things have settled down there since 1066, but surely this is a subjective opinion?

    After all, such judgments are in the eyes of the beholder, which may be why we’ve tended to see each of the numerous new ‘rights’ discovered during my lifetime to ( suddenly) have become ‘self evident’?

  2. Liz45

    And sadly, both Labor and Coalition govts will continue on with their racist behaviour! The Greens and Socialist Alliance people, plus some good Independents are the only ones with any credibility re anti-racist opinions and policies. Shameful! I believe the greatest threat to the problems facing indigenous people in this country is racism. This is also evident re asylum seeker polices, immigration and treatment of workers under the 457 arrangements. Again, shameful!

  3. John Bennetts

    To me, this situation is one of the disgraces which led to the Green/Independent/Informal rush a couple of weeks back.

    I, for one, do not agree with the current policies of Government or Opposition. The first two items on the UN’s list of things to do should be:

    1. Urge/demand that Governments of all persuasions and levels within Australia promote real human rights to all; and

    2. Adopt and promote a Bill of Rights as a local reference point to indicate and support the UN conventions on human rights.

    Of course, the Intervention and immigration issues are well worthy of places.

  4. Norman Hanscombe

    If only abstract ideas were a tad easier to grasp, there wouldn’t be so many quaint comments from well-meaning people, and issues might even end up being analysed, as opposed to ‘true believers’ of all stipes merely exchanging slogans; but I guess that’s a bridge too far?

  5. Liz45

    @NORMAN – And what do you classify as “abstract ideas” “quaint comments” and who in your view are the “true believers” and why don’t you do some analysing yourself instead of just putting nebulous ‘thoughts’ here. Who’s “merely exchanging slogans” and how close is your “bridge”?
    For over 200 yrs, ingrained racism has been in operation; for too many years it’s been fostered and fed by racist mainstream media, usually for their own interests also, and usually to provide a basis that will allow successive govts, state, federal and territory, to steal resources, and pay indigenous people as little as possible for them. It’s easier to steal and engage in racist practices if you demean the people first. Hitler proved that – and it worked for him?

    The fact that the numbers of applications for mining leases has increased from approx 180 to well over 400 from early 2007 until recent times, just might provide a basis for honest analysis? The fact that less than a handful of people have even been arrested for child sexual abuse, let alone been convicted. Too bad about the overwhelming majority of indigenous men who’ve been tarnished to the point of terrible depression by the lies of govts and media combined! Who cares anyway?

    Too bad that the federal govt is using almost slave labour of aboriginal people, in return for Centrelink payments, half of which is quarantined. These people are working side by side with non aboriginal people, who are being paid by the appropriate award. What part of ‘non racist policy’ is that? How come raw sewerage can be pumped out near a school in the top end, without any effort to take appropriation actions re health and safety, but if it happened in my street, emergency services would be spraying it with disinfectant just as a precaution, prior to children and the elderly being removed to safety? How’s that for discrimination? This happened in 2009 not 100 yrs ago!

    The incidence of alcohol abuse was exaggerated among aboriginal people, when we all know, that even taking differences in numbers, the overwhelming number of people who abuse alcohol are non-indigenous people. But if msm always use the same film every time they cover a story from the NT, they create a reality of drunken aboriginal layabouts, and that justifies removing the Anti-Racial Discrimination Act? How many homes have been built in the top end; how many older homes have been renovated/repaired, and how has school attendance improved, when kids with serious illnesses(ear infections/hearing loss) been given specialist attention?

    I’ve maintained for a long time now, that the Federal govt should engage in an educational television program that answers the myths and rubbish that too many of us see or hear on a regular basis. Why haven’t any of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Black deaths in Custody been implemented, and why weren’t the recommendations of the Little Children Are Sacred report also not been implemented. The main one being, that indigenous people should be engaged, consulted and involved in all actions! This report was used by Howard to help remove aboriginal people from their land; to use his Amendments to Native Title to use aboriginal land for other ‘means’ to wit, mining and a nuclear waste dump!

    Let’s see it for what it is. It’s obvious, that both(Howard/Rudd) federal govts have used this report for their own ‘needs and wants’ and what is now happening to aboriginal people is as bad if not worse than at any other time in our history. Fortunately, a lying and willing msm are being confronted. Many of us, and thankfully the numbers are growing, can see clearly what is happening and why. That’s why The Greens vote in the NT on 21st Ausgust was the highest ever. Many Unions and individuals are joining them!

    I welcome the UN report, and successive govts should be ashamed of themselves. The good work of the apology is just a dim memory in the reality of too many indigenous people. Talk’s cheap, the reality is disgraceful, and I feel ashamed, very angry and disappointed in a Labor govt! I expect better!

  6. Norman Hanscombe

    Surely, Liz, you don’t think the definition of abstract ideas is required? When I refer to True Believers, it’s all those so wedded to the certainty their group (be it Marxist, Christian, Labor, Liberal, whatever) that they blindly accept anything which they believe supports their side, while disregarding anything which isn’t compatible with what they ‘know’ to be true.

    Examples of what I see as quaint proliferate your emotive ‘essay’ including, in no particular order:

    1 The Gillard Government has been “using almost slave labour of aboriginal people, in return for Centrelink payments”. Let’s bring back Wilberforce?

    2. “Ingrained racism (was) fostered and fed by racist mainstream media — usually to provide a basis that will allow successive govts, state, federal and territory, to steal resources — etc”.

    3. The fact that the numbers of applications for mining leases has increased from approx 180 to well over 400 from early 2007 until recent times, just might provide a basis for honest analysis?

    4. “The fact that the numbers of applications for mining leases has increased from approx 180 to well over 400 from early 2007 until recent times, just might provide a basis for honest analysis?” Perhaps an honest ATTEMPT by you at analysis, Liz, but hardly a competent one.

    5. “The fact that less than a handful of people have even been arrested for child sexual abuse, let alone been convicted. Too bad about the overwhelming majority of indigenous men who’ve been tarnished to the point of terrible depression by the lies of govts and media combined!” Use of an exclamation mark, Liz, does NOT turn a non-logical statement into a logically structured claim. I realise you do care, Liz — I’d expect nothing less from a True Believer — but caring doesn’t mean non sequiturs are suddenly acceptable, or grant logical status to non-valid syllogisms.

    6. “The incidence of alcohol abuse was exaggerated among aboriginal people, when we all know, that even taking differences in numbers, the overwhelming number of people who abuse alcohol are non-indigenous people.” If this isn’t a quaint assertion, Liz, what is? You may reassure yourself by pulling dubious ‘facts’ out of the hat, but many careful observers who have spent time among indigenous Australians have been horrified by the unwitting damage bleeding heart do-gooders all too often can hurt those they seek to help.

    7. Finally, at the risk of causing you pain, Liz, I recommend that you go to the original Deaths in Custody Report’s findings. The evidence (rarely talked about in P.C. circles)) did NOT show the death rate for indigenous inmates was higher than the death rate for non-indigenous inmates. That was soon swept under the carpet, though, because True Believers “knew” the reverse “had” to be true. You checking out this, by the way, would be a prime example of a Bridge Too Far.

    I didn’t respond to all your points, Liz, but if you feel I’ve overlooked anything important, PLEASE let me know what you feel is your strongest SINGLE argument that Australia is wicked, and I’d be happy to respond.

  7. John Bennetts

    Norm, I appreciate your contribution. Nice try.

    Unfortunately, Liz45, who is probably a caring and energetic and long-term supporter of many good causes, has been doing so for so long that these causes have become her whole world.

    Liz is simply too tough a nut to crack. I know… I’ve tried. Quite likely we are all tough nuts, destined to bounce off other nuts but not to change. Nuts do not listen to reason, nor do they give a stuff about other nuts.

    My advice is that you should be prepared to move on once you have enjoyed the current journey.

  8. Liz45

    @NORM @JOHN BENNETTS – You can stop being so paternalistic and patronising. Norm, what you conveniently omit to mention, is that non-indigenous people only make up about 2% of the population, so comparing numbers of white deaths in custody(either police custody or prison) you need to multiply the number of black deaths to get an idea of the huge difference in numbers.

    Profile of Those Who Died (Chapter 2)
    The majority of the deaths investigated by the Royal Commission occurred in police custody; 63 in police custody, 33 in prison custody and three in juvenile detention facilities. In the same period, there were 129 non-Aboriginal deaths in police custody and 254 non-Aboriginal deaths in prisons.

    The deaths investigated by the Royal Commission were predominantly of younger Aboriginal men. There were eighty-eight deaths of men compared with eleven women. Nearly twice as many deaths occurred in police custody as occurred in prison custody. Almost half the deaths were of people aged twenty-nine years or younger.

    You can read the rest of this article here;


    What articles, books have you read? How many aboriginal people have you had discussions with or listened to? How often do you read, watch or listen to aboriginal current affairs programs etc.
    This country imprisons more aboriginal people now than Sth Africa did during Apartheid. Aboriginal people are too often jailed for crimes that non-aboriginal people would receive non custodial sentences for.
    John, the UN Report confirms the comments I’ve made about ingrained/embedded racism in this country. Amnesty International has made similar comments! It can’t be ignored nor can you castigate/humiliate/deride my comments when the facts are glaring at all of us so profoundly.
    Only a month ago I went to listen to aboriginal people from Muckaty Station who oppose the govt’s intended nuclear waste dump. How frequently do you tune in to what’s going on in their world. How frequently do you read the National Indigenous Times for example. How many reports have you read?

    Telling it how it is; speaking up against ingrained racism; advocating for a different reality for indigenous people is not being a ‘bleeding heart’ it’s advocating for equality through justice! If you can’t see that then you’re part of the problem, and will never contribute to the solution!

  9. Norman Hanscombe

    1. LIZ, at the risk of seeming (to you at least) “paternalistic and patronizing”, I’m not the one who doesn’t understand. Reluctant as I am to suggest even more study for you, perhaps it would be best not to comment on stats till you’ve sought help from a competent statistician? Don’t feel bad, though, because it’s a quite common shortcoming these days, and you’ll be accepted in P.C. circles, because they’re frequently in the same boat.

    2. Reading articles won’t help you until you’re less statistically confused. Unless, perhaps, you come across the Royal Commissioner’s comments pointing out the misuse of his statistics (by your comfortable coterie) claiming what True Believers in this ‘noble’ cause want to ‘know’ is ‘true’?

    3. I doubt, Liz, that my interest is comparable to yours; but being from a family (on both the maternal and paternal sides) which was raising aboriginal issues as far back as the mid 19th Century, it’s possible I’m not too far behind your level of understanding, even if I lack your supreme certainty. As for books, it’s not merly that I began reading about the issues in the 40s, but also (and this is far more important) I read them a tad less emotionally blinkered than those with guilty backgrounds, or those in thrall to the current zeitgeist’s ‘certainties’. I’ve also lived and worked with indigenous Australians. I accept my experience may well be more limited than your apparent in-depth background, but you shouldn’t hold that against me.

    4. Unlike you, Lizzie, I haven’t visited Sth Africa or even Muckaty Station. Obviously my decades of involvement isn’t in the same class as your chat at Muckaty Station, is it? One advantage I do believe I do have, however, is that I’ve always been seen by others as being able (and willing) to examine evidence reasonably objectively, especially when it comes to not blindly assuming whatever seems to support my views is ‘obviously’ correct, and whatever is contrary to my view is ‘obviously’ incorrect.

    But for a ‘True Believer’ such as you, anonymous LIZ45, that would be an (extremely painful?) Bridge Too Far.

  10. Liz45

    No doubt you don’t agree then with not one but two(in recent years) reports from the UN. You obviously don’t agree with the Human Rights Commissioner in Australia(past and present) the findings of the First Australians documentaries, the walkoff in the 1960’s or the more recent one in the NT as a protest against the racist policies of first Howard, then Rudd and Gillard?

    The stats re the Black Deaths in Custody Royal Commission when used with the deaths of non-indigenous(all of which are horrific) has to be considered with the vast differences in population – otherwise they don’t disclose the awfulness of the situation. It’s also prudent to look at the deaths via suicide of those not in custody. The recent deaths in custody of Doomatje from Palm island, Mr Ward from WA and TJ in Redfern, Sydney all have a common theme – the involvement of police or other police like personnel(WA) and they also share a nasty aspect of police collusion and lies? Such things would not happen if the situation was reversed?

    When the Bringing Them Home investigation is also added to the ‘mix’ you don’t have to be a ‘do gooder’ or have rose coloured glasses or obscured vision to realise, that ingrained racism has and still is part of our psyche. It’s perpetuated on every level of govt, and in the broader community.
    I was agreeing with the recent findings; the last one, and the continuing patronising and paternalistic attitudes of too many national govts. Due to their outrage of being misrepresented and walked over, many groups in the NT brought out their own thoughts, feelings and differences re the Intervention – it’s called, “This Is What We Said’? This is in response to Jenny Macklin’s assertions, that not only were her policies working well, but she had overwhelming support of indigenous people – this was just not true! I don’t know why black people aren’t considered competent enough to be heard, and have their feelings etc respected. The attitude to these people is not the same as the attitude of the rest of the community. Further, we take those many aspects such as water, sewerage, garbage removal etc for granted. They have to fight for this basic right. We don’t! It’s scandalous!

    There are hardly any workers for drug or alcohol abuse; pre-school facilities or indeed all areas of education are either non-existent or inadequate. The housing issue is horrific, health and associated resources are still either inadequate or not present. It’s envisaged that $700 million is required just for the basics, to have some impact on health issues. From what I’ve read, there’s money spent on beaurecrats, shiny new Toyota 4 wheel drives, but not much in the way of housing, promised employment or basic necessities, such as adequate food etc? In order to get to the only two supermarkets that people are allowed to shop at, some people have to pay hundreds of dollars in taxi fares to get there. They also can’t pool their money and buy in bulk like they used to before, like flour and sugar etc? Those stores, which also employed people have either closed down voluntarily, or been forced to due to lack of patronage!

    If I was standing up for a non-indigenous area that had raw sewerage in the street, coupled with all of those I’ve listed and more, I would be protesting for basic human facilities that I can take for granted. If I took exception to some workers being paid $4 per hour while they were working next to others being paid the award wage, I’d be called a person fighting for justice? Imagine if we found out, that persons working decades ago were still waiting to be paid? That successive govts just say ‘we can’t afford to pay you’ or ‘ooops, sorry we’ve spent your money’ and got away with it???When I take the same stand for indigenous people, I’m castigated as a ‘do gooder’ and or a bleeding heart. It’s those who take this stand who need to check out their values, not me! How do you know I’m not an indigenous person? You don’t? If I was, you’d just be one more person blaming me for my own ‘problems’?

    If I was a bloke, would yourself and John bennetts call me a ‘bleeding heart’ or a ‘do gooder’? Probably not! He didn’t even have anything to say about the report, only patronising crap about me! Speaks volumes!

  11. Norman Hanscombe

    Why did you begin your response to my comments with such an irrelevant non sequitur, Liz? If you really want an analysis of the logical shortcomings in most ‘human rights’ beliefs, give me your emial address, and I’d be happy to oblige; but too many issues at once can spoil the broth.

    As for your non-response to my comments re the Deaths Commission, since you duck the question of the Commission’s actual findings (including the Commissioner’s valiant attempts to explain to those like you who have adopted uneducated and mathematically absurd interpretations of the stats) talking to you about what the stats showed would be as unproductive as trying to discuss Jane Austen with a typical yurt dweller in Outer Mongolia.

    Much the same is true with any attempt to discuss ethical issues when you show no sign of having a sound understanding of the basis of the value judgements you assume to be self evident truths; but I’m sure it helps you feel good?

    As someone who helped prepare the material for the Territory’s first equal pay award for aboriginal stockmen, I was pained to see the manner in which all too many indigenous rural workers were affected by some of its unexpected consequences. Returning a few years back to Pilliga Scrub timber mills where 50 years ago there were aborigines fitting in and earning as much as or even more than many white workmates, I was appalled to see how the welfare mentality had affected so many aborigines. There was no town water or sewerage, Liz, but individuals, black, white and all shades in between knew they were responsible for maintaining standards — and they did.

    You’re not being, “castigated as a ‘do gooder’ and or a bleeding heart.” I understand it’s not your fault you haven’t had the good fortune to be able to analyse material, or prevent your emotional needs resulting in membership of whatever non-theistic, quasi-religious collectives make you feel nobler than those with the temerity to not follow your line. Enjoy that certainty, won’t you, because that’s its main evolutionary value.

    Finally, drop the ‘you’re only picking on me because I’m a female” routine, and be grateful my maternal grandmother (who grew up among aborigines outside Rockhampton in the 1870s-80s) isn’t still around, because she probably wouldn’t be as gentle with you as I am.

  12. Liz45

    And you haven’t addressed the obvious fact, that indigenous people are only 2% of the population? Nor have you addressed the fact, that the issues aboriginal people make about how they’re forced to live don’t even arise in the rest of the population? Why is this do you think, if it’s not racism? I recall the wonderful speech Prof Mick Dodson made in the Opera House as part of the celebrations of the preamble to the Constitution – as an indigenous person, he made the very same comments that I’ve made. Malcolm Fraser has also, as did Sir William Deane on the same day as Mick Dodson. There are many prominent Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous who’ve been making these statements, comments for decades? Are they ill informed too? Hardly!

    In contrast was John Howard’s comments. It was his comments that encouraged me to participate in the walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge the next day! It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

    I’ve been subjected to the ‘one of my best friends’ or ‘my neighbour’s uncle’ etc is aboriginal. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t now. The fact is, that this country is sadly racist, and it’s that racism that has brought about the plight of indigenous people, and the so-called asylum seeker policies/debates etc. It’s what caused the horrific attacks on people from India during their stay in this country while they attend University etc. All the denial or excuses by you or other sympathisers with racism doesn’t change the reality.

    Incidently, as far as aboriginal stockmen receiving decent wages – I’ve never heard your rationale in any other area of slave labour? I’m sure some right wing nutter could think up a good reason why you shouldn’t receive any wages, or why I shouldn’t have when I was in the work force – that doesn’t make their claims right or just. I’m damned sure that some white people who abuse their incomes via buying cigarettes, alcohol or gamble to excess would be justifiably outraged if you advocated that they shouldn’t be paid. You conveniently omit to comment on the stolen wages of hundreds if not thousands of aboriginal people? It is inconceivable, that the same thing would ever happen to non-indigenous people?

    These situations only came about through racist and unjust policies. The same sort of racism that brought about the massacres of years ago, and where such august media outlets like the Sydney Morning Herald justified. I read Peter Stewart’s amazing book called, Demons at Dusk, which was about the massacre at Myall Creek. He researched this book for 20 years. It’s the only massacre where white men were hung, let alone be brought to account. While I don’t support capital punishment, it was amazing how the determination of one white man insisted on doing the ‘right thing’? It’s worth reading. The images in that book stayed with me for several weeks!

    The books of Henry Reynolds and another called, ‘A Rape of the Sould so Profound’ have too much history and information in them of the history of white colonialism and domination of indigenous people. Aboriginal men who also fought in both world wars were treated in a different manner than white men. One small example, was that they were only allowed in a pub on Anzac Day – every other day they were denied entrance. It was only a few years ago that two prominent aboriginal women were denied service by a racist taxi driver. The saga continues. The racism is real and the affects are demoralising and offensive. I’m not surprised that the life expectancy of indigenous people is less than the rest of the community – racism and the heartache it causes, among other emotions would be injurious to health!

    I notice that you also didn’t comment on the recent deaths in custody that I raised. TJ in Redfern was a 13 yr old boy. His family and many other aboriginal people in that part of Sydney spoke/speak of the racist manner that they are treated by the police. There’s a scandal in the Victorian police service at this moment about racist and sexist emails that have been doing the rounds of several police officers. I’m sure that this isn’t an isolated case. The Queensland police also have a strong reputation of racism, and under Bjelke Petersen, it carried over to workers as well. Anyone who tries to deny that entrenched racism exists in this country is either in denial, a liar or an apologist for these practices. The reality is blatantly clear – the denials continue!

    I don’t give a toss about your background or assertions of superior knowledge, due to your grandmothers involvement. I’ve heard those assertions before – it’s your own actions and beliefs that are relevant! My family lived at one time in a town that I later found out, was the most racist town in NSW – I was only 7 when we left, so obviously I wasn’t to blame for that, but it did make me ask some pertinent questions of myself – for example, why didn’t I remember any aboriginal kids at my school? Probably because, white people had the right to object to the presence of an aboriginal child, and that was sufficient for them to be told to stay home. I don’t know whether that happened or if aboriginal kids had their own school, but it was a racist town. This came about after an inquiry by members of the NSW Govt, in the 70’s I think.

    I’ve read a few biographies of aboriginal people. I don’t think there’s many aboriginal people who haven’t been affected by the stolen generations disgrace – either directly or indirectly. Some people who didn’t experience this directly have married people who have. The affects of those tragedies was plain to see on Feb 13 2008! Sadly, that good and overdue apology has been spoiled by the intervention.


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