Human rights boss lashes 'race to bottom'
Tom Reilly and Yuko Narushima
Sydney Morning Herald
September 10, 2010
THE race and discrimination commissioner has attacked the election campaigns of Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, describing their debates on asylum seekers as a “race to the bottom”.
Graeme Innes said that until there was stronger political leadership on the problems of racism, society would continue to be damaged by the issue.
Mr Innes, who heads the Human Rights Commission, made his remarks at a debate on racism in sport hosted by the University of NSW's indigenous law centre.
Responding to a comment from the audience about racism continuing to be an important issue in society, he replied: “We haven't had any multicultural policy or racism strategy for 10 or 15 years.
“We have political leaders – and I'm talking about both sides of politics – who make these statements about Australia having a zero tolerance to racism. But when you go below the surface that's not supported by other statements they make.
“You only have to look at the race to the bottom that you saw in the recent election on asylum seekers.
''Don't tell me there's not a racist part in that issue.”
He called for strong leadership and a well-funded strategy to combat problems with integration in society.
“Until we get some much stronger political leadership and until an appropriate and appropriately resourced multicultural and anti-racism strategy we are selling ourselves short. The diverse society we have, the fabric of that society is being damaged by not addressing that issue.”
Both leaders yesterday deflected questions on their conduct, referring them instead to their immigration spokesmen.
The Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, defended the government's approach to asylum seekers.
''I reject Commissioner Innes's assertions,'' Senator Evans said. ''At all times as minister I have sought to promote a rational debate and ensure Australia's response to this complex problem is underpinned by our values and shared sense of human decency.''
The Opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, did not respond.
The chairman of the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia, Pino Migliorino, said the debate about population growth also perpetuated racism.
''There was no attempt to nuance that whole debate,'' he said.
Concerns about strains on infrastructure were purposely blurred to fan xenophobia towards migrants, he said.
The racism-in-sport debate also heard from the chief executive of the National Rugby League, David Gallop, and the former Australian netballer Marcia Ella Duncan.