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Media misses the point of Inquiry into anti‑vilification protections

The response by national mainstream media to a report tabled last week by the Victorian anti vilification protections inquiry, completely missed the point and instead we saw sensational headlines of Nazi Swastika banned or Nazi flags banned.  

The report which produced 36 recommendations, came about after months of contributions by organisations and personal testimonies from groups including Muslim, African, Jewish communities, LGBTQI, Disability, and faith based groups throughout the country.  

In the course of the Inquiry, I gave my personal testimony, representing the Victorian Indigenous community.   Supported by organisations such as the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and Victorian Legal Aid my case mirrored other experiences of racial abuse and indifference that many Indigenous people experience throughout their lifetime.  It showed how inadequate Victoria Police training and understanding of the current Vilification laws and a high legal threshold, can hinder services like the police in pursuing such a complaint by an Indigenous victim seeking redress.  My case stumbled twice in this system.  

Initially at the community police level, where despite my efforts providing both a statement, and CCTV footage, the decision that it did not meet the legal threshold wasn’t explained to me, as none was given.  So when I pursued my case through the Australian Human Rights Commission, I was again let down by the Police.  They informed the commission that a brief had not been compiled on my matter and that any paperwork relating to my case, had been ‘misplaced’. 

Many Australians don’t give pause to think about it, but they know these behaviours exist, yet it is not talked about out loud until a high profile Indigenous person brings it to our attention. 

One of the most persistent aspects of today’s discourse regarding racism in Australia is the very denial of its existence.

Out of all the most sustained political campaigns operating in Australia, the political project of controlling and diminishing Indigenous human rights and dignity is by far its longest.  It has cost us much, in lives and loss of access to country, high incarceration rates and alarming mental health and health statistics. 

Our media choose to personify racists as those Nazi’s or Proud Boys, with the effect that all other forms of racial vilification are at best of lower importance and at worst – invalidated in the eyes of the public consuming this media. It highlights the systemic nature of how perceptions of racism are controlled, perceived and presented to the general public. This narrow definition of ‘racist’ paints a picture to the public and reduces the impact of our calls for action to address racism we uniquely experience. 

Media is a powerful and political instrument in our national landscape and the response by mainstream media to the tabling of the recommendations from the Inquiry into Anti Racial Vilification protections, sought to fit its ground breaking recommendations to broaden access and responses to racism into a narrow racist trope.  Nazi’s and right wing extremism received the focus.

The sensationalistic headlines neglected the plethora of vulnerable marginalised groups whose individual stories gave both its credibility and facts that underpinned the report’s recommendations.  

When Nazi’s turned up in the Grampians or a Proud Boy member at a Survival Day Rally, the headlines screamed sensationally look there it is – Racism!  

Yet racism invariably doesn’t always look like that.  Yes these extremists are deliberate and vile in rhetoric, even violent yet the statistics don’t bear out because everyday racists look like you and that reality is too close or uncomfortable. 

I was not vilified by Proud Boy’s. I was vilified by a teenage boy and his family. I was denied justice by a system that does not care about Indigenous people. A system that includes the people who make the laws, enforce those laws and the media who report about those laws. 

Sensational reporting of Proud Boys empowers them. Without such reporting they exist mostly on the edges of society.  Neglecting to report on the ‘polite’ racism and discrimination faced by marginalised groups every day empowers the white colonialist system in Australia to continue. 

Racial vilification can and does occur anywhere, and if we are to be more responsive as a society then it’s these interactions that we need to acknowledge, be just as offended by and committed to eradicating.   

So I welcome the report and its recommendations to address the threshold of racial vilification and bring it into line with the reality of racial vilification in the community. It also recommends that police in investigating and understanding the impacts of racism on its victims are adequately trained and give greater access to Indigenous Australians to its protections.  

After all, Indigenous Australians have faced racism and vilification for over 200 years, long before any proponents of the modern day Proud Boy was born and will continue to do so long after their flags are torn down.

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