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Chief Executive Blog

It’s time we have a more difficult conversation

21st March 2019

Today is Harmony Day, coinciding with Cultural Diversity Week and the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It is a time to celebrate inclusiveness, respect and belonging for all Australians, regardless of cultural or linguistic background. It also comes as our many communities debate and decry the state of our public discourse on issues of race. Still reeling and in deep mourning from the impact of the appalling act of violence in Christchurch- in which 50 Muslim people at prayer died at the hand of a white supremacist. Commentators on both sides of the Tasman and indeed around the world are involved in feverish debate about the context for this terrorism.

Cultural Diversity Week is often an opportunity to expound the many virtues of our multicultural community – I have doubtless on other occasions done exactly that. This year we absolutely must have a more difficult conversation.

This year we have been given a choice. A choice about how far the dog whistling, how loud the pleas of people of colour, how rank the displays of public racism before we acknowledge the facts and draw a line under the perilous state of this Country. How much more suffering before we move to actively address the structural inequities that render our communities unjust and therefore unsafe.

Despite the festivals, the food, the literature and wonderful ways many cultures make up the life of Victoria.

Australia has a serious problem with racism. This problem arises in the first as a result of living on stolen land never ceded and the persistent failure of successive governments to effectively negotiate a Treaty (or like). Every day this failure expresses itself in the suicide rates of young people at emergency levels, repeated deaths in custody and sky rocketing levels of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people. Unacceptable levels of poverty and health outcomes to match. This country is built on wrongdoing and failure to address this condemns us to the situation we are in. The only way to ‘close the gap’ is to address sovereignty and in this way ensure self determination.

Add to this the repeated calls for more active commitment to addressing growing experiences of discrimination, harassment and vilification towards anyone but a dominant minority. A bill of rights, anyone?

In the past decades the strenuous and relentless efforts of communities to highlight the growing level and type of hostility occurring in daily life, have gone unheeded. These experiences are not new but they are getting worse and as Christchurch highlights only too clearly, the consequence ever more dire.

This divide between those with the lived experience of racism and those apparently oblivious or indifferent, is what has given rise to a chasm across our communities. Parallel experiences, the experience of those who are living the burden of a community beset by discrimination, exclusion and harassment and those comfortable in the myth of a cohesive secular democracy. A divide brimming with frustration, rage, despair and betrayal – evident in testimony of some, especially those of Muslim faith who have said they were not shocked by the events in Christchurch.

For those who were surprised perhaps this may be treated as a wake up call to listen harder and become more active in the fight against racism. Ultimately the problem lies with the dominant minority and it is we that must take responsibility for countering and ultimately defeating it. The increased frequency with which politicians have weaponised debates as wide ranging as employment, family violence, public safety, transport and housing and of course immigration, asylum seekers and refugees – using each of these as a platform to promote ideology that is racist and at its heart relies on the white supremacist project.

These are the narratives that have (perhaps irreparably) stunted and damaged our communities. Those living the harsh consequences know it. Survey after submission after rally and op ed have sought to bring mainstream attention and effort to it- without success. This is a watershed opportunity for those who have perhaps not appreciated just how divisive, sinister and ugly the consequence in everyday life, to step up and redouble our efforts to demand better for our communities.

Multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion are, as many scholars have said, gentler, nicer and therefor most often preferred words. But in truth and as Christchurch has demanded, now is the time to recognise the hard and the harsh and name the problems for what they are -racism, power and white supremacy.

As member of the dominant class of people I remain profoundly sorry that so little has been achieved over the past many decades and that now in the present we continue to struggle to expose, address and remedy the inequity that besets us. Condemning our whole community to a dangerous, hateful and inequitable present.

Within cohealth we have an explicit commitment to addressing race based discrimination precisely because it is this more than any other factor that drives poor health outcomes in our communities. It is also this that gives rise to poor quality and a lack of safety in health care systems for so many. As an organisation we are explicitly committed to advocacy for equity because we understand that it is not populations themselves that must change but the rather the prevailing narrative and practise; as the World Health Organisation says, equitable distribution of money, resources and power.



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