Australia

Senator questions whether racism exists in Australia

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Queensland senator Ian Macdonald has put forward the example of Indigenous footballer Johnathon Thurston to question whether racism exists in Australia.

A Queensland senator has raised the popularity of Indigenous NRL star Johnathon Thurston to question whether racism exists in Australia.

The Liberal National Party's Ian Macdonald heaped praise on Thurston as he quizzed senior bureaucrats about the need for a race discrimination commissioner, as incumbent Tim Soutphommasane's tenure comes to an end.

"I might live in a bubble perhaps, but I find it very difficult to find any but very rare cases of racism in Australia," Senator Macdonald said during a committee hearing in Canberra on Thursday.

"I mean, in this building, we have two senior ministers who ... are clearly not white Australian male(s)."

Senator Macdonald described the North Queensland Cowboys captain as "the greatest hero, in fact the king" of his home state.

"If only I could get him to run for a political party he'd walk it in," he said.

"I just don't know ... there are obviously isolated aspects of racism in Australia, but I would think across the board they're very isolated."

Senator Macdonald also suggested an advertising campaign titled, "Racism: It Stops With Me" was racist against white men.

"It's hard to see how it promotes racial cohesion in an Australia which as far as I'm aware there is very, very, very little actual racism around," he said.

Dr Soutphommasane pointed out that last year 20 per cent of Australians said they'd experienced discrimination during the past 12 months.

"Those who don't experience racism find it easy to say there's no need for public efforts to combat it. Unfortunately racism does harm to many people," he posted to social media.

Representing the attorney-general at the Senate estimates hearing, Michaelia Cash said the LNP senator was entitled to his views, but confirmed the government would be hiring a new race discrimination commissioner.

Australian Human Rights Commission president Rosalind Croucher said she might restore the title "commissioner for community relations" for the position.

More than 50 people have applied for the senior public service role, which some conservative politicians and pundits want scrapped.

The position is up for grabs as Dr Soutphommasane's five-year tenure ends on August 19.

Dr Soutphommasane, who earns about $340,000 per year, was a vocal opponent of changes to the Racial Discrimination Act proposed by the Turnbull government last year.

Short-listed replacements will be interviewed in the first week of June, before Attorney-General Christian Porter brings a decision to cabinet.

A research brief written by Liberal-aligned think tank the Institute of Public Affairs, which was circulated to federal members of parliament, has called for the high-paid job to be axed.

But migrant groups say the role is needed.

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