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Pacific News Minute: Australia’s Race Commissioner: “Race Politics is Back”

Australian Human Rights Commission

In a speech last night, Australia’s Race Commissioner blasted the government and parts of the media. “There has never been a more exciting time to be a dog-whistling politician or race-baiting commentator in Australia.”

In his final speech at the end of a five-year term as Race Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane acknowledged that Australia is “one of the most successful multi-cultural societies in the world.” But then went on to assert that race relations are getting worse, and blamed both politicians and media outlets.

He cited Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton for their remarks about African youth crime in Melbourne. “Yes,” he said, “the small Sudanese community is over-represented in crime statistics, but so are the much more numerous New Zealanders and Australians.”

The Race Commissioner also noted the debate over Chinese influence in Australia “a legitimate concern,” he said, but he labelled terms like “silent invasion” or “planting a fifth column” as “a re-run of old fears about the Yellow Peril.”

“This is dangerous territory,” Soutphommasane said, “Where the seeds of racism are planted in political speech, they will bear bitter fruit in society.”

The Race Commissioner also accused sectors of the media with “using racism as part of their business model.” Last week, a commentator for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation wrote a column about a “tidal wave of immigrants” who he said were sweeping away “what’s left of our national identity.”

Credit JJ Harrison / Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Australia's Parliament House, Canberra

In response, the government’s Citizenship and Multi-Culturalism Minister Alan Tudge told the newspaper The Australian “It is the easiest thing in the world to yell ‘racism’ but much harder to respectfully and honestly discuss the emerging challenges in our nation.”

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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