First Nations people battling 'major discrimination', new report reveals

In a new report, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well as young people have reported feeling the most discrimination during 2020.

Protesters participate in a Black Lives Matter rally at Langley Park in Perth in June 2020.

Protesters participate in a Black Lives Matter rally at Langley Park in Perth in June 2020. Source: AAP

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience far more instances of "major discrimination" than the rest of the Australian population, new research reveals. 

The report, conducted by Monash University researchers on behalf of Inclusive Australia, found the number of First Nations people who experienced a major form of discrimination spiked between 2018 and 2019. 

In 2018, some 29 per cent of First Nations people reported experiencing a form of major discrimination. This number jumped to 52 per cent in 2019, and 50 per cent in 2020.  

Major forms of discrimination include serious unjust treatment such as being unfairly denied a job, or being discouraged from continuing education.

In contrast, one-in-five people within the wider population have reported experiencing racial discrimination in the past two years, according to the study.  

Protesters participate in a Black Lives Matter rally at Langley Park in Perth, Saturday, June 12, 2020. The protest is to raise awareness of Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright) NO ARCHIVING
Protesters participate in a Black Lives Matter rally in Perth, 2020, to raise awareness of Aboriginal deaths in custody. Source: AAP

Inclusive Australia board member, Yorta Yorta man Ian Hamm, says the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on Australia society has revealed a “dismaying set of events” when it comes to First Nations rights.

“The Black Lives Matter movement occurred at the time that Covid really started to hit,” Mr Hamm told SBS News.

“It was a movement about race in this country, about Aboriginal people in the justice system and I recall a lot of the reaction on the radio, television and general media wasn’t about the subject matter but more about how people could be out together without social distancing and possible Covid outbreaks.”

Nearly two-in-five Australians said they either "never" or "less than once per year" had contact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, or people from religious minority groups. The report noted that those who carried lower prejudices had more contact with a minority group.

"Australia is evolving as a society and a community but I think it’s doing that in an uneven way and it’s taking a while, for every two steps forward there’s one step back," Mr Hamm said.

"This is generational change, there are parts that can be forced … but how do you win the hearts and minds of people? That’s a longer game.

"It takes a while to move to where diversity is the status quo."

Younger generations

In December 2020, Australians rated their overall personal wellbeing as 6.7 out of ten on average. Report results show the population was most satisfied with their feeling of safety and their personal relationships while being least satisfied with their future security.

Young people aged 18 to 24 reported feeling excluded during the pandemic, being hit harder by unemployment rates and had doubts surrounding future security.

According to the report, major discrimination against young people increased in 2020 to 56.8 per cent in comparison to 44.5 per cent the year prior. 

Students take part in theStudents take part in the School Strike 4 Climate protest in Sydney, in May 2021.
Students take part in the School Strike 4 Climate protest in Sydney, in May 2021. Source: AAP

“A lot of young people feel like they’ve had the worst of Covid and that’s true, they were disproportionately hit,” Mr Hamm said.

“Young people feel like they were least thought of in terms of their education with the shutdown of schools and universities.

“They are also more concerned about their world generally, like with the environmental debate, they want to be a part of that… they feel like they’re being discriminated against by not being included.”

According to Inclusive Australia CEO Andrea Pearman, while the pandemic and its restrictions may have reminded many of “the importance of family, community and looking after our most vulnerable people,” COVID-19 also highlighted the gaps.

“What’s incredibly confronting is the stark gap in compassion and inclusion that has been shown towards young people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared to others during the pandemic and beforehand,” she said.

“It is a problem that we must seek to better understand and start to turnaround.”

4 min read
Published 24 May 2021 at 3:45pm
By Jennifer Scherer