• Dr Tim Soutphommasane says there's no compelling case for changing the Racial Discrimination Act. (Getty )Source: Getty
The Race Discrimination Commissioner, who will soon be leaving his post, warns against renaming the role and other attempts at changing the Racial Discrimination Act.
Jessica Minshall

12 Jun 2018 - 10:59 AM  UPDATED 12 Jun 2018 - 10:59 AM

Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane has mounted a defence against any changes to the name and work of the office he'll soon be leaving.

In a speech prepared for the National Forum on Racial Tolerance and Community Harmony in Sydney, Dr Soutphommasane has painted a grave picture of contemporary Australia.

"We are living through some turbulent times," he said.

With the speech in part marking the anniversary of the Racial Discrimination Act, which was passed into law on June 11, 1975, the Race Commissioner pointed to "panic" over African youth crime and concerns Chinese foreign influence extended to the Chinese-Australian communities as clear examples of the normalisation of racism in the media and public discourse.

He believes attempts to change the Racial Discrimination Act, particularly section 18C, will continue because the law is an effective tool to fight against racism.

"Those who dismiss the Act as being merely symbolic should look at a recent example of the law in action. In May this year, the Queensland Government agreed to apologise and deliver a $30 million settlement to 447 Palm Island residents for racial discrimination linked to riots in 2004."

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He is concerned the "next attack might come from a new direction", in changes that might be made to the title and the role of the new commissioner or their office.

Dr Soutphommasane argues that the language here is important and the Race Discrimination Commissioner shouldn't be renamed or redefined to something like the 'Community Relations Commissioner'.

"It is only right and fitting that we name racial discrimination," he said.

"Fighting racism is hard work at the best of times. We’ve got little chance of fighting racism, if we can’t even name it."

Of particular concern to Dr Soutphommasane, is that any change to the name would also involve a change to the Racial Discrimination Act.

"At a time when extremist nationalism is on the march, we should be ramping up our efforts to fight racism – not retreating from them."

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