Australian Government

Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council

Ms Helen Szoke

Race Discrimination Commissioner

c/o National Anti-Racism Secretariat

Race Discrimination Team

Australian Human Rights Commission

GBO Box 5218


Dear Ms Szoke

On behalf of the Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council, I would like to thank the Australian Human Rights Commission for the opportunity to provide advice on developing and implementing a National Anti-Racism Strategy. Our detailed response can be found in the attachment to this letter.

I look forward to the Board’s publication of the next How Australia is Faring report.

Yours sincerely

The Hon Bruce Baird AM


Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council

18 May 2012

The Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council (RRAC) is a key body providing advice to the Government on matters relating to refugee and humanitarian settlement. Council members are appointed by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship on the basis of their individual experience, expertise and commitment to settlement issues, in particular relating to refugees.
The Council’s perspective and opinions on the National Anti-Racism Strategy are primarily influenced by its concern with refugee welfare.

Objective 1: Create awareness of racism and how it affects individuals and the broader community

The National Anti-Racism Strategy should seek not only to raise Australians’ understanding of other cultures but also to invoke empathy for the personal, economic and social damage that racism can cause. Heightened anxiety, stress and depression among those who experience racism can alienate victims from engaging in the broader community, including education and employment opportunities. This can result in lower lifetime income, higher welfare dependency and community-wide segregation.

It is in the interest of all Australians to prevent this from happening and to ensure that refugees and other minorities feel welcome and become or remain productive members of society.

People should be encouraged not only to be tolerant of difference but to embrace multiculturalism and the benefits of cultural diversity.

RRAC recommends that the Strategy involve a whole-of-government approach that aligns with the National Social Inclusion Agenda. In particular, the Council suggests that the Australian Human Rights Commission work collaboratively with the Australian Social Inclusion Board, which has expressed an interest in indicators and evidence of racism and discrimination in Australia.

Objective 2: Identify, promote and build on good practice initiatives to prevent and reduce racism

RRAC would value the identification of employment, education and sports as priority areas for the Strategy in promoting a better understanding of refugee and other migrant circumstances, and encouraging changes in attitude and behaviour to embrace diversity.

One of the current priorities for RRAC is enhancing employment and educational outcomes for refugees. Refugees are generally highly motivated to find employment and are committed and willing to give back to the Australian community. However, they may face a number of barriers to employment including labour market discrimination.

A recent study of Refugees and Employment in Australia[1] noted that:

·  Discrimination on the basis of race, religion and ethnic origin plays a role in creating unsatisfactory employment outcomes; and

·  ‘Everyday’ street racism does not affect levels of life satisfaction among refugees as much as perceived racism in the labour market.

Further, research conducted by economists at the Australian National University[2] noted that job applicants found it easier to get an interview for entry-level jobs if they had an Anglo-Saxon name. This suggests that the attitudes of the broader community have a real impact on outcomes for refugees.

The Council is working with the Government to engage with employers to promote better understanding of what refugees have to offer the labour market and to facilitate pathways to employment. This initiative focuses on a need to drive behavioural change as well as attitudes.

In terms of youth education and outreach, most schools are likely to have an anti-racism policy in place. In addition, an initiative was launched in 2000 by the NSW Department of Education and Communities, Racism. No way!, aimed at assisting Australian school communities and education systems to recognise and address racism in the learning environment ( The Commission may wish to consider researching the impact of such policies and initiatives; in particular some of the innovative approaches schools have used to address problem behaviours and attitudes. Whilst some may be very specific to the local community, others may be suitable to include as ‘best practice’ models in future educational resources.

Initiatives such as these require high level support from Government and leaders in business and the community in order to affect change. It is also important that all levels of government present a unified message on the importance of identifying and addressing racism.

Modelling of positive language and behaviours by public figures such as celebrities, musicians, sports people, academics, politicians etc, can strengthen positive messaging to the wider community. Engaging popular, well-known and respected figures in public announcements and media campaigns may be particularly effective in ‘reaching’ people and potentially changing racist behaviours and attitudes.

A recent example of this is the broadcasting of radio announcements featuring sporting personalities for Play by the Rules, an initiative to create a safe, fair and inclusive environment in sport and recreation (to which the National Anti-Racism Strategy is already linked) (

The Council would like to highlight the important role and positive influence that sport has within our community. Sport can bring people together to share in a mutual passion or strive for a common goal; it can unite people of all ages and ethnicities, and foster a sense of belonging, acceptance and an understanding of other cultures. Utilising this platform through sports clubs and sporting events can be an effective tool to foster inclusion and combat racism.

In addition, while specialised events such as Harmony Day, which celebrates cultural diversity, play an important role in promoting tolerance and respect, mainstream sports and cultural/musical events provide the opportunity to reach a potentially wider audience.

In developing the Strategy, the Commission may wish to give consideration to the ways in which broader initiatives could be tailored to meet the specific needs of local community circumstances. It is essential that ordinary members of the community are encouraged to show initiative and feel that they have a stake in ensuring Australia continues to develop as an inclusive and welcoming society.

The Council commends innovative approaches which provide a range of opportunities for people to feel connected through new digital and social media technologies as well the more traditional television, radio and visual advertising mediums.

An example of this is the 2011 SBS series, Go Back to Where You Came From (, comprising a three-part series and subsequent discussion forum, generating much interest and discussion in the broader community. The reality show challenged the perceptions of six ordinary Australians and many viewers (between 500,000 and 600,000 per episode) as it documented their experiences of what life might be like for an asylum seeker coming to Australia. The accompanying website provided an opportunity for members of the community to interact and have their say through a range of forums including a fact-based simulation, a quiz, a competition, conversation streams, and accompanying school resources.

Objective 3: Empower communities and individuals to take action to prevent and reduce racism and seek redress when it occurs

Positive role models and personal stories of people who have spoken up against racism and experienced positive outcomes need to be promoted and publicised. These serve to empower others who may feel discriminated against, victimised or marginalised.

People need to be made aware of their rights in regards to discrimination and have access to avenues where they are encouraged to speak up and talk about their experiences. Processes for reporting or redressing discrimination should be straightforward and easy to use so that victims are not discouraged from pursuing justice.

Anti-racism initiatives should seek to complement the work of local communities and not duplicate unnecessarily. Initiatives should also offer opportunities for people to share their views in the anti-racism discussion.

[1] Colic-Peisker, V. & Tilbury, F. (2007). Refugees and employment: The effect of visible difference on discrimination. Centre for Social and Community Research, Murdoch University.

[2] Booth, A., Leigh, A. & Varganova, E. (2010). Does racial and ethnic discrimination vary across minority groups? Evidence from a Field Experiment. Australian National University