The Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee has recommended the Federal Government not proceed with proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA).
Campaign Co-Chair Kirstie Parker said the proposed changes would significantly weaken protections against racial hatred.
“We know that racism makes us sick and we know that legislative protections play a key role in shaping acceptable social norms.
“One recent study from Victoria revealed that 97 per cent of participants had experienced racism in the past 12 months. Eighty-four per cent of the participants had been sworn at or verbally abused and 67 per cent had been spat at or had something thrown at them,” said Ms Parker, who also co-chairs the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.
“If we are to close the unacceptable health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians, racism must be addressed. The RDA in its current form has a critical role to play,” she said.
Campaign Co-Chair Mick Gooda, who is also the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, said the evidence speaks for itself and the proposed changes should not go ahead.
“Evidence clearly demonstrates experiences of racism are associated with both poor health outcomes and health risk behaviours. Racism is linked to anxiety, depression, poor mental health, psychological distress, suicide risk, diabetes, smoking, alcohol and substance misuse and emotional and behavioural difficulties,” Mr Gooda said.
“Before making any changes to the RDA, the Federal Government should explicitly consider the evidence on the impact of racism on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It must ensure that any proposed change does not have a negative health impact,” Commissioner Gooda said.
The submission details the significant evidence that links Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s experience of racism with negative impacts on health.
The Close the Gap Campaign has advised the Attorney-General that strong anti-racism measures, including protections of the type currently included in the RDA, are required to combat interpersonal and systemic racism.
The submission makes two recommendations:
That the Australian Government does not proceed with introducing the Freedom of Speech (Repeal of S.18C) Bill 2014 (Cth) into Parliament;
That prior to introducing an amendment to Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth), the Australian Government, utilising the existing evidence base, assess the impacts the proposed changes could have to the physical and mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and that this assessment be made publicly available.
The Close the Gap Campaign is Australia’s biggest public movement for health equality. It is a coalition of Australia’s leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous health and human rights organisations.
At this year’s National Close the Gap Day approximately 150,000 people participated in 1,298 events across the country showing their support for closing the gap.