Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs Giulia Jones has written to the ACT Human Rights Commission calling for an easier way for people to report racially fuelled abuse or incidents of racial vilification.
She did so after meeting with multicultural leaders like Chin Wong from the ACT Chinese Australian Association, South Sudanese Association head Marial Kot and India-Australia Association of Canberra president Sandi Mitra.
Each leader spoke about recent racist incidents, including an Indian person being verbally abused in the street and Chinese-Australians being accused of bringing COVID-19 to the Territory.
Mrs Jones said there were also concerns among Canberra’s South Sudanese community after negative media attention on their Melbourne counterparts during lockdowns.
Community broadcaster Vikas Sharma is also involved with the group.
He spoke out recently about his own experience with racist attacks that left him feeling unsafe in his own home. He is currently in the process of setting up an online database where people can record instances of racial abuse, anonymously or otherwise.
Mr Sharma says he hopes to ensure Canberrans are “aware of the problem that does exist with racism” and wants to provide a safe, community-minded space for people who may struggle with long government forms.
Mrs Jones is asking for an easier way for people to report incidents of racism, saying the current system is cumbersome for people who might not often engage with government or speak English as their second language.
She also thinks there needs to be a ramping up of police efforts in this space.
In response to Mrs Jones’ letter, a spokesperson for the ACT Human Rights Commission said it “looks forward to working with community members to ensure that its complaints process is accessible to everyone in the Canberra community”.
Some of the ways the Commission makes itself accessible to people from multilingual and diverse backgrounds include providing translation services over the phone. They can also be contacted via social media, email and their website, and anonymously if required.
It also recently ran a community radio program with ads in different languages explaining how to contact the Commission.
Mrs Jones still thinks more could be done to make the first step when reporting being a victim of racism easier.
“Even if someone doesn’t make an official complaint at the start, it might just be leaving a recorded message or having a support worker to help them talk it out,” she said.
“It just needs to be simple. Engage a company that knows multicultural audiences to show you how to communicate with them perfectly.”
Speaking on breakfast radio earlier this week, Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan said ACT Policing takes racism very seriously.
“It has no place in our community,” he told ABC Radio.
He encouraged people who may be victims of such an attack to try not to inflame the situation to the point where a racist comment could become a physical attack, but they should make police aware of such incidents by calling 131 444.
A spokesperson said alongside an initial complaint, police usually require a formal statement from a victim for a matter to proceed to court.
“The charges laid after an offence will be the most appropriate based on the evidence available and those most likely to support a successful prosecution,” the spokesperson said.
The most serious criminal offence – Serious Vilification – could see offenders face fines of up to $8,000.
If you experience violence, abuse or other criminal behaviour, you can report it to the ACT Human Rights Commission on 6205 2222.
If you need support, you can call Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis support line on 13 11 14.