Thursday, 21 March 2024


International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Samantha RATNAM

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Samantha RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan) (17:46): (807) My adjournment matter tonight is for the Minister for Multicultural Affairs. My ask is that she rename Harmony Week to Anti-Racism Week in Victoria and advocate to the federal minister for multicultural affairs to do the same at a national level. Today, 21 March, is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, yet in 1999 John Howard renamed this day to Harmony Day to minimise attention on the issue of racism in Australia. In 2019 Scott Morrison started Harmony Week to expand the charade that this country is free from racism. But this is far from the truth – every day far too many people in Australia are subjected to blatant and systemic racism. First Nations continue to face the impact of dispossession and colonisation, and over the past few years we have also seen a concerning rise of Islamophobia, antisemitism and far-right extremism.

Last year a group of young people from a diverse range of backgrounds organised a forum at Parliament House. They shared their heartbreaking experiences of racial discrimination and how they felt tokenised at school during Harmony Week while their experiences of racism every other day of the year were dismissed. Some of these young people are here with us in the Parliament today, and I thank them for their work on this matter. They have written a message in support of this adjournment, which I now wish to share:

“Harmony Week” is made-up, isolated from antiracism. We can’t ignore that Australia had racial segregation and racism still exists in Australian society today.

“Harmony Week” is an appropriated celebration invented by the Howard Government to avoid progress towards eliminating racial discrimination. How can we pretend we already achieved it? Sure, celebrate “everyone belongs”, but what about when my family members are called racial slurs by “true-blue Aussies”, the disproportionate incarceration of First Nations people and people of colour, or the fact the land we are sitting on was dispossessed from the sovereign Kulin nations?

Yes, we are a multicultural society, and yes this should be celebrated. Not just today, but every day. And as a multicultural society we must not shy away from confronting racism in pursuit of being palatable or superficially harmonious.

The crux of it all is that you don’t have the right to claim people like us for your idea of a multicultural Australia unless you strive to eliminate racism in our society.

Thank you to all those young people for this important contribution. It gives me hope to see young people fighting for what is right. Renaming Harmony Week as Anti-Racism Week might not end racism in this state, but it would send a powerful message that racism is not welcome here and that we have work left to do to ensure equality for all those who are marginalised on account of their background. You cannot solve an issue if you are not willing to name it. For those young people I heard from in December and thousands more across the state, it would signal that this government takes responsibility for creating a Victoria where they can live free from discrimination. So Minister, I ask again: will you restore Harmony Day to its original name in Victoria and lobby your federal counterparts to do the same?