Senator Helen Polley – Estimates questions to the Australian Human Rights Commission regarding whether there has been an increase in social discord around the Israel-Hamas conflict

October 24, 2023

I’m particularly interested in the campaign in light of the significant unrest within the community around the Israel-Hamas conflict. Are you seeing any increase in social discord, and have you thought about considering starting that campaign as a priority?

Senator POLLEY: I want to go to the National Anti-Racism Framework. How much money has been allocated to the program to implement the national anti-racism strategy and the campaign. Also, when did the campaign start?

Prof. Croucher : There was $7.5 million allocated for a specific aspect. Work on the National Anti-Racism Framework is in train at the moment and is due to deliver a report in March next year.

Ms Smith : Regarding the funding for the national anti-racism strategy, which includes the framework and the Racism. It Stops With Me campaign, the funding received in October 2022 was $7.5 million over four years, with an ongoing commitment of $1.4 million in future years.

Senator POLLEY: When will the campaign start, with advertising and communications?

Prof. Croucher : There are two elements. The Racism. It Stops With Me campaign is ongoing work of the commission. There’s been a range of outputs already. There was an excellent community service announcement—the precise timing of which I will clarify—using the device of a mirror. It had a range of people, including Craig Foster and a senior Australian and a whole range of other people, and the device of the mirror in terms of what do you see when you look in the mirror. It was a very constructive contribution and received excellent feedback. That was part of the community service campaign. The campaign itself has a number of components. The development of the framework is another part of the program of work within an overall anti-racism strategy.

Senator POLLEY: Have you been undertaking community consultations regarding the design of the campaign, and, if so, who have you consulted with?

Prof. Croucher : There’s been a large program of consultation in the work towards the development of the Anti-Racism Framework. A scoping report was released at the end of December, which reported the initial rounds of consultation. There are some further consultations in train at the moment, including with First Nations people, using First Nations leaders and experts in consultation, particularly with community groups. There’s been quite a program of consultation developed over the last couple of years, which is working towards the completion of the framework in March next year.

Senator POLLEY: What about the anti-racism campaign?

Prof. Croucher : The Racism. It Stops With Me campaign is the other component. The community service announcement I described using a mirror was part of the elements of the anti-racism campaign, which has been an ongoing program. It started a number of years ago—about the same time as the national action plan in 2012. It was funded for a few years, then the commission funded itself for a few years. Now we’ve got some additional funding through the October budget. I’ll get Ms Smith to give the particular details. I’m carrying the hat of acting Race Discrimination Commissioner at the moment. I don’t have all the specific pieces quite in place, but I certainly know the work we’re doing. In terms of the specific funding, Ms Smith can give a bit more information.

Senator POLLEY: I’m actually interested in the main messages from that consultation that was taking place. What were the main messages out of that? We have the figures for the funding, but I’m more interested in the messages.

Prof. Croucher : The scoping report that was released as part of the National Anti-Racism Framework, which was released in December, distilled the feedback from consultations and submissions that had been received at that time. They were looking at the overarching principles for a framework. The antiracism campaign and the framework are working together, and the distillation of the consultations was reflected in that the scoping report that was released at the end of 2022. It had the key themes that were necessary to develop the overarching principles, and some sector specific themes. For instance, media regulation and standards was one of the themes.

Senator POLLEY: I’m particularly interested in the campaign in light of the significant unrest within the community around the Israel-Hamas conflict. Are you seeing any increase in social discord, and have you thought about considering starting that campaign as a priority?

Prof. Croucher : Yes. In fact, it raised the question of what more we could do in terms of the really good work that was underway. What was the opportunity for the commission to use its existing messaging, which was really focused on the need for respectful interactions—it was a message of antiracism, a message of being respectful, but also it was a human rights message on the right to peaceful assembly. So there are a whole lot of human rights issues in play.

But in terms of the antiracism work, we see that there is an opportunity for building out that community service announcement approach and building and refocusing, revamping some of our existing materials in a way that speaks to the moment. We’ve been having some conversations with relevant parts of government to see how we can enhance the work we’re already doing, and pivot in a way that also adds to the building of social cohesion at the same time as the antiracism strategies that resonate with our current work.

Senator POLLEY: In terms of the conflict and the discord within our communities at the moment, understandably, are you considering starting that campaign as a priority? Have you actually started spending any of that $7.5 million? Do you not see this as a priority at this point in time for the Australian community?

Prof. Croucher : There are a number of threads in your question. Absolutely it’s a priority. Absolutely we’ve started the spending. The $7.5 million had a clear budget and program of expenditure behind it, and that was being implemented immediately that the funding was dedicated to us. And because of the commitment under the existing program of work, for which the $7.5 million was budgeted, we’ve had discussions about an opportunity for perhaps some additional funding in the moment so that we can pivot some of our existing work to address the particular situation of the moment. The issue is making sure that what the commission does is consistent with our development of an antiracism framework, consistent with the core functions that we have, and where our role as a national human rights institution can assist in the issues of concern amongst the various communities that we represent—particularly, in this moment, our Muslim community and also our Jewish community.

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