Racial Discrimination Rises in Australia as Debate Continues on Proposed Changes to Racism Act

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By Reissa Su | April 7, 2014 4:13 PM EST

Racism or discrimination because of cultural diversity is once again on the rise in Australia. According to the new Mapping Social Cohesion survey conducted by the Scanlon Foundation, 19 per cent of Australians experience discrimination because of their ethnic origin, religious beliefs and colour of skin.

The latest figure has increased from 12 per cent in 2012. Since the survey began in 2007, it was the highest level of discrimination rate. Experts blame the rise of racism to uncertainty in the economy, surge of asylum seekers and the current government's interest to amend the Racial Discrimination Act.

Attorney-General George Brandis defended the proposed changes in Parliament and said, "people do have the right to be a bigot, you know." By giving that statement, he gave approval to 30 per cent of Australians who do not feel comfortable with cultural diversity to express their racial prejudices.  

The Executive Council ofAustralian Jewry's Report on Anti-Semitism in Australia, discussed in a general meeting in Melbourne in 2013, revealed that anti-Jew incidents rose 21 per cent.

According to the report, there were 657 cases reported involving racial violence against the Jewish community in Australia between October 2012 and September 2013. Serious physical attacks were at their lowest rate with reported incidents fewer than 20.

The council's research officer, Julie Nathan, said Australians in general "do not particularly like or dislike Jews." Ms Nathan is also the author of the report together with Jeremy Jones, director of international and community affairs at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

The authors said stereotypes of Jews are part of Australian culture, but it is not deeply ingrained in the people unlike those in the Middle Eastern and European cultures. Although Anti-Semitism "remains at the fringes of Australian politics and society," it is not generally a part of a larger issue.

It was worth noting that the 202-page report did not include the recent assault on five Jews who were walking home from a Shabbat dinner in Bondi. The brutal incident happened in October 2013 and described as the worst anti-Semitic case since historical records were started in 1989.

The Coalition government has announced a draft of its proposed legislation on March 25 to replace racial discrimination laws which have been in place for nearly two decades and used by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. Under the federal government's proposed changes, the new Racial Discrimination Act will no longer make it illegal to "offend, insult or humiliate" an Australian because of their race or ethnicity.

Yin Paredies from Deakin University said weakening the Racial Discrimination Act will create an environment in which people will begin to think it's alright to be a racist. 

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