A senior commissioner at the ACT Human Rights Commission (ACT HRC) is worried by a community perception that the complaints process for reporting racist incidents is difficult.
Discrimination, Health Services, Disability and Community Services Commissioner Karen Toohey has responded to concerns of that nature raised by local ethnic group leaders by welcoming the opportunity to meet with them to discuss the current process and what can be done.
In response to a letter sent by Opposition spokesperson on multicultural affairs Giulia Jones on behalf of some multicultural community members, Ms Toohey expressed her disappointment about reports that some victims of racial abuse were confused about reporting these incidents.
Ms Toohey also noted that there are various reasons people may experience difficulties and have concerns with the reporting process. She explained that some people may contact the commission but may not necessarily want to deal with the matter through a formal complaints mechanism as it can be distressing for them to revisit the events.
Despite this, she said there has been an increase in the number of complaints made under the ACT Discrimination Act. In 2016/17, the Commission received 78 complaints; there were 218 last financial year.
In 2020/21, around 21 per cent of the discrimination complaints received raised issues of racial discrimination or racial vilification.
Mrs Jones has been actively calling for action in this space in recent months after she was approached by several community members who said they had noticed an increase in racism in the community since lockdown began.
She then raised a motion to establish an inquiry into racism and what causes it. It recently passed with tripartisan support in the Assembly.
Mrs Jones said she was very pleased the commissioner was keen to meet with ethnic community leaders.
“Racism in any form cannot be accepted in a civilised society, and we have to take every step we can to help victims of racial abuse understand there is a legal framework in place to support them,” she said.
Ms Toohey echoed these sentiments, saying that there is “always more that can be done to prevent racism and racial vilification occurring in the first instance”.
On this, Ms Toohey said a multicultural liaison officer (MLO) works in the Victims of Crime Commissioners team and is active in a range of community forums, education and awareness-raising initiatives.
In addition, the Children and Young People Commissioner, Jodie Griffiths-Cook, is partnering with the Multicultural Hub and Indigenous consultancy Curijo to undertake a consultation with ACT children and young people about their understanding and experiences of racism, and to explore their suggestions for addressing racism.
Due to the recent lockdown, consultation for this had to be postponed due to early 2022.
The ACT HRC does not play an advocacy role for victims of racism. Instead, it provides an impartial complaint handling process that allows people to seek redress if they experience racism or racial vilification.
Ms Toohey encouraged all Canberrans to report any instances of racism, racial vilification, or other type of discrimination experienced in the ACT to the commission so that any trends can be better identified and tracked.
“We understand people do not always think a complaint is the best way to deal with experiences of racism, but people who make a complaint often find it to be a useful and empowering process,” Ms Toohey said.
Submissions for the inquiry can be made until 31 January 2022 by emailing LACommitteeECI@parliament.act.gov.au.