Since the outbreak of coronavirus there has been a rise in misinformation and xenophobia towards the Asian community.
I was in Box Hill last week in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Box Hill is home to a big Australian Chinese community.
I spoke to businesses that had experienced a 70 per cent drop in business – no doubt because of fear and misinformation about the coronavirus.
But I also heard stories of Chinese people being yelled at on public transport – told to go back home – and Chinese people being denied rides on ride-sharing apps, like Uber.
The truth is that racism in Australia is on the rise.
Near-constant denigration of African-Australians by elements of the media.
We have seen a spike in attacks on Australian Muslims, including the shocking assault of a heavily pregnant Muslim woman in Parramatta by a stranger.
40 per cent of Australians admit to having negative or very negative feelings towards Muslims, according to the latest report on social cohesion by the Scanlon Foundation, and there’s been an alarming 30 percent rise in direct anti-Semitic attacks in Australia.
Whether it’s on Facebook or in the supermarket; whether it’s on the football field or on the street, or the disadvantage experienced by our First Peoples – racism persists in Australia.
Meanwhile Australia’s government has been missing in action.
The Abbott Government’s proposed changes to Race Discrimination Act to weaken protections against hate speech, and then Senator George Brandis said “everyone has the right to be a bigot”.
The parliament was disgraced by the hateful maiden speech of Queensland senator Fraser Anning, who called for a “final solution” to what he described as Australia’s immigration problem – followed by Coalition senators voting in support of Pauline Hanson’s infamous “It’s ok to be white” motion in the Senate.
These actions carry heavy consequences.
Without doubt racism can take a real and lasting toll on individual lives and communities.
So what can we do?
First and foremost the Government must renew its commitment to anti-racism and equality, for all Australians. Remembering that the standard we walk past, is the standard we accept.
The aim must be to help create a culture where people are able to identify racism or discrimination and have the confidence and ability to act when they see it.
It’s been more than seven years since Prime Minister Julia Gillard funded the Racism – it stops with us campaign.
That campaign helped raise awareness of racism in the community and galvanise action.
Across Australia people and organisations are doing good things to reduce and prevent racism, particularly following the high profile Adam Goodes documentaries.
But they can’t do it alone, we also need political leadership.
It’s time for a new national anti-racism campaign.
If we fail to take action now, we may end up with more racism, more violence and a country that no longer resembles what we love most about Australia.
Andrew Giles MP
House of Representatives for Scullin, Victoria