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Commissioner's interview on race discrimination

Interview of the Commissioner, Anne Gale, on race discrimination on 639ABC
Radio transcript from 22 March 2013

Annette Marner: Yesterday, while we were on air, we heard that in the Upper House of the State Parliament, Bills had passed that effectively changed the State Constitution, recognising Aboriginal people and the wrongs of the past. Today we’ve heard reports from the Equal Opportunities Commissioner in the press, Anne Gale, of cases of racism in country areas and in Adelaide and we’ve asked her to join us … What kind of complaints of racism do you tend to hear at your office?

Anne Gale: We do get quite a variety of complaints, they can range from the sorts of examples that were quoted this morning so they were two examples of Aboriginal people feeling discriminated against or being treated unfairly. We also get complaints about people from other countries coming here and being treated differently in the workplace, being called different names of countries where they come from so it’s both migrants as well as, you know, local Aboriginal people.

Annette Marner: You say Aboriginal people say that they’ve been treated unfairly … obviously you can’t identify individual cases but can you tell us the kinds of things that certainly warrant your officers’ attention?

Anne Gale: I think in terms of employment, like we can only deal with matters of public areas and what that means is, if someone’s being treated poorly in employment or in goods and services, that tends to be where we get the complaints, if it’s … private individuals we can’t deal with that at our office but we could certainly deal with it if it’s employment or goods and services and that’s where we’ve got most of our complaints. In fact, Aboriginal people feeling treated differently in the shops or in a hotel -

Annette Marner: Denied service or given poorer service?

Given poorer service or being called bad names.

Annette Marner: Oh really?

Anne Gale: And not being, in some cases, it’s not just Aboriginal people, we’ve got instances in clubs where people are not being allowed access into a club at night and they might have the same clothing on as the person in front of them but they’re told their clothing’s not
good enough so it’s often indirect as well and people feel that it’s because of their race so we get those sorts of enquiries and sometimes people go as far as taking it to a formal complaint. Last year we had 175 enquiries relating to race.

Annette Marner:And how many ended up with someone actually having to pay a penalty?

Anne Gale: In terms of financial, I don’t have that data. We had 30 official complaints that we followed through on and quite often people were just seeking an apology … money’s not always the driver, they are seeking recognition and an apology and quite often that’s what we achieve and sometimes, or quite often, that will also lead to training so if any employer – one of the examples was a young woman who was told to get employment with her own people.

Annette Marner: She was Aboriginal was she, or identified as Aboriginal?

Anne Gale: She did identify as Aboriginal, yes, and in that case the employer apologised to her and also undertook training for the employer and their staff so there was greater cultural awareness so they’re the sorts of proactive things we like to get out of these matters when the dispute

Annette Marner: There was also a case reported in today’s ‘Tiser that happened at a country pub …

Anne Gale: Yes, that was unfortunate in the sense there was a local
person who was attending the hotel, he was a regular and he saw some other Aboriginal people come in to the hotel and the hotelier – or one of the staff … said “You don’t belong here you black so-and-sos” and so this person took that matter up and said that in keeping of public service, or a service to the community, people shouldn’t be treated that way and called names so that was a good outcome. That person received financial compensation of $500 of injury to feelings but the more important thing is that people who are giving services are actually treating everybody the same.

Annette Marner: So what does this say generally about the culture across our state, and for that matter, across Australia. Still a long way to go in your view or has much been achieved?

Anne Gale: Look, I think a lot has been achieved. We have a very multicultural society but it is important and days like the elimination of racial discrimination day like yesterday, you know, they’re important for us to … take stock and think ‘Are we all being fair, are we really challenging some of our unconscious biases that we may have grown up with and are we treating and accepting people from other countries in the same way?’ and because we still get complaints we clearly have a way to go and I think you see it in social media, you see quite a lot of free speech and there are indications there that we still need to educate our community and we’re doing quite a lot with sport, that’s a fantastic way to get to the young kids and get community sporting bodies trying to be more inclusive.

Annette Marner: Yes the AFL has really taken that very, very seriously and I’ll never forget that image of Nicky Winmar lifting his Guernsey and proudly pointing at his chest, that said so much, didn’t it?

Anne Gale: And I think that’s a really good example and the AFL and football clubs are working very hard to be inclusive and we’re working with the Department of Rec and Sport and giving them, sporting clubs and there’s many small sporting clubs in South Australia and we’re working with them to give them tools and to help them understand what it is to be inclusive, how does their sporting club membership
represent their local community and if not [sic], how they might go about doing that. And we’re also working with the University of … South Australia in a football initiative, through soccer, the Football United program, to work with those young kids, they’re often from overseas but they do identify with soccer and talk to those kids about their rights in the community so both working with the kids who are new to our country but also with the sporting clubs to become more inclusive and sport’s a great way to reach many people in the community and challenge those views about are we really being fair and do we have some unconscious racist biases in our minds.

Annette Marner: One of our listeners … says why aren’t there more programs where city kids for example could travel to the lands to learn about those areas and learn respect for Aboriginal people?

Anne Gale: The lands is a long way but there are lots of good things that happen in our schools and recently I attended a breakfast for the Apology, five years after the Apology, and there was a really great example of an Adelaide school working with a regional community and learning about kids on the lands and travelling up there so there are instances of it and that’s just one example but often we don’t hear about the good things, we tend to sometimes hear about the bad ones.

Annette Marner: That’s true. And the power isn’t it – what I’m hearing you say, the power of hearing someone else’s story rather than kind of being taught a way to behave, you hear someone else’s story and that can permanently shift your deepest attitudes, can’t it?

Anne Gale: Definitely. We do a lot of conciliation here so when we have a person who’s felt unfairly treated or discriminated against and the other party thought it was a joke for example, when we get people together, that’s when people learn and go “Oh I didn’t realise” and “Oh, I am sorry” and they’re powerful things and I think when people take that back to their workplaces, that’s where we see some of the learning.

Annette Marner: …thank you very much.

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