Coronavirus outbreak renews push for fresh anti-racism campaign

The coronavirus outbreak has refocused attention on racist attitudes in Australia and the federal opposition and experts are renewing calls for fresh anti-racism measures as a result.

Former Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane says he support new anti-racism measures being adopted.

Former Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane says he support new anti-racism measures being adopted. Source: AAP

The federal opposition has again called for a new national anti-racism campaign, following the rise in race-based attacks as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

It’s been more than seven years since the last major federally-funded action of this kind, and experts are warning the need for such measures has become even more pressing.

They fear anti-racism efforts have been under-resourced and a new campaign is required to reflect the increasing challenges confronting Australia.

Labor’s multicultural affairs spokesperson Andrew Giles fronted a social cohesion conference in western Sydney’s Parramatta to make his call for action.

“There is a creeping normalisation of hate and racism in Australia," he said.

“It’s time for a new national anti-racism campaign.

“If we fail to take action now, we may end up with more racism, more violence and a country that no longer resembles what we love most about Australia.”

Labor's Andrew Giles wants a new federally funded anti-racism campaign.
Source: AAP

Mr Giles pointed to a NewsCorp paper's recent mocking of former race discrimination commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane as an example of the problem.

The University of Sydney professor was callously labelled “race hustler Tim Sudafednasalspray” in one of their publication’s columns.

Dr Soutphommasane told SBS News anti-racism measures had become even “more urgent” than before amid a “marked rise” in racist extremism.

“Despite racism doing serious harm to our society,” he said.

“Since 2015, there has not been any dedicated federal funding for anti-racism campaigns or strategies.”

Former Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane.
Source: AAP

There are concerns racism against Chinese-Australians has risen alongside the coronavirus outbreak despite rejections of this behaviour by politicians and health officials.

Labor’s Andrew Giles travelled to the east Melbourne suburb of Box Hill last week, well known for its high concentration of people of Chinese-Australian heritage.

He said some businesses had experienced a 70 per cent drop: “no doubt because of fear and misinformation about the coronavirus.”

Dr Soutphommasane said those from Chinese and Asian backgrounds had indeed experienced increased discrimination in recent weeks.

“Fears about the coronavirus appear to have provided cover for some to engage in racism and xenophobia,” he said.

Adam Goodes speaks out as part of the Racism - It Stops With Me campaign.
Source: Racism - It Stops With Me

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard last launched the Racism – It Stops with Me Campaign in 2012 to create awareness of its harm on individuals and the broader community.

This saw 364 organisations get on board – but an evaluation by the Australian Human Rights Commission found with greater resources it could have achieved more systemic change.

The Australian National University's Dr Andrew Hughes specialises in social marketing campaigns and said governments should be running anti-racism campaigns all the time to reinforce these messages.

“This campaign needs to be ongoing – racism is not going anywhere – we’re seeing it getting worse across the world,” he told SBS News.

“That’s because governments keep on thinking that it is an issue solved and it’s not – it is one of those issues that keeps coming back all of the time.”

He said effective campaigns should educate people on the “social price” of unacceptable behaviour to encourage them to change their ways.

“You have got to identify the behaviour of what is racist, not the individual,” he said.

“If you focus on the individual you may radicalise people so they become entrenched in their behaviour.”

The Racism It Stops With Me campaign was famous for advertising commercials with sporting starts Adam Goodes, Greg Inglis and Liz Cambage.

But Mr Hughes warned against a “cash splash” on advertising without investing in grassroots programs in support of this messaging.  

“There has to be a coordinated and consistent campaign but it does start with a more grassroots approach to lead to long term behaviour change,” he said.

"You have to try different approaches, not just social media." 

The Morrison government has previously said it has zero-tolerance to all forms of discrimination, especially racism.

The latest report on social cohesion by the Scanlon Foundation found that racist attitudes persist, despite overwhelming support for a multicultural Australia.

Dr Soutphommasane has welcomed political leaders from both sides of politics for rejecting racism in light on the coronavirus outbreak. 

But he said a commitment to multiculturalism must be accompanied by a commitment to anti-racism.

"The vast majority of Australians reject racism, and don’t see it as a laughing matter," he said. 

"Social division comes from racism, not from our response to racism."

Published 12 February 2020 at 7:57pm
By Tom Stayner