Community groups await result of RDA campaign

02 May 2014By Greg Dyett


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The campaign against proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act involved joint action by groups that don't always work together.

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(Transcript from World News Radio)


Community groups are waiting to see whether they've been successful in a strong campaign against a federal government proposal to amend the Racial Discrimination Act.


The proposal is to repeal a section of the Act that makes it unlawful to offend, insult or humiliate people based on race.


The campaign against it involved some joint action by groups that don't always work together.


And some say it could serve as a template for future co-operation.


Greg Dyett reports.


Community, ethnic, religious and political groups mobilised a vigorous campaign against the federal government's proposal to repeal Section 18 C of the Racial Discrimination Act.


Indigenous, Arabic, Jewish, Armenian, Chinese, Korean and Greek organisations mounted a joint campaign.


Rhanda Kattan, from the Arab Council Australia, says that has been almost unprecedented.


"On this particular thing in the public domain it hasn't happened at such a grand scale as it has now, I guess, and I think we will continue to work together on issues of mutual concerns to our communities."


Rhanda Kattan can recall previous campaigns where her organisation has reached out to others, including Indigenous groups.


But she says this one went further.


"I must say that our organisation back in 1998, we offered an apology to the Indigenous people of Australia and that apology continues to hang in our foyer. But with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, historically we haven't worked with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry before but with the Jewish community we have. I have been, I was the inaugural chair of the Sydney Alliance and we have worked with the Jewish Board of Deputies who are part of the Sydney Alliance a long with us."


In this campaign the Arab Council reached out to the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples.


Its co-chair is Les Malezer.


"It is a common interest. There's complete agreement amongst all of our groups about how we should be approaching this exercise and that we shouldn't be supporting the changes that the government is pushing for. And amongst that we're finding that there's a lot more common interest that we have to, it's not just about 18 C of the Racial Discrimination Act but it's about a view of a strong, tolerant multicultural society in Australia, including respect for the first peoples."


Rhanda Kattan from the Arab Council says unifying to oppose the RDA changes might well lead to more co-ordinated activism.


"Absolutely, it could have a broader benefit but I'm not naive to suggest that we will all forget where we come from or the communities that we represent, that's different to what we are working on. Right now, we are totally opposed to the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act."

The office of the Federal Attorney General George Brandis says the submissions it received on the proposed changes to the RDA are now being reviewed and a draft bill is likely to be put before the Cabinet in the next few weeks.


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