Posted on January 28, 2009

Anti-Racist Drive Aims at Hot Spots

Jewel Topsfield, The Age (Melbourne), January 28, 2009

AN ANTI-RACISM campaign allowing the Federal Government to respond more quickly to ugly flare-ups such as the Cronulla riots and racial abuse of Sudanese migrants in Melbourne will be announced today.

The Diverse Australia Program will provide grants up to $150,000 for projects in areas where racial intolerance is found.

It will replace grants handed out by the Howard government to promote “living in harmony” after a review found there needed to be a stronger focus on racial intolerance.

But Harmony Day, an annual event held on March 21, will be retained after the review found it had high levels of support.

The parliamentary secretary for multicultural affairs, Laurie Ferguson, told The Age the anti-racism campaign would target outer suburbs with high migration levels, such as Noble Park in Melbourne and Rosemeadow in Sydney, the scene of a recent violent brawl.

A Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission report last month said young Sudanese in Dandenong were victims of systemic racial discrimination and were often too scared to go out.

Mr Ferguson said the Immigration Department was already working on projects in Camden in Sydney, where racial tension flared over a proposal for an Islamic school, with opponents placing pigs’ heads on the site along with Australian flags.

The former Living in Harmony program, which has run for 10 years, gave money to organisations conducting projects related to cultural diversity.

Mr Ferguson said he was concerned the program was “too soft”, with many activities preaching to the converted.

“It’s not going to accomplish very much when people with good motivations sit around agreeing with each other,” he said.

He said areas with racial unrest were often in working-class outer suburbs that lacked institutions or community groups to apply for funding.

The Immigration Department review of the Living in Harmony program found there was strong support for its aims and efforts to bring people together, but for people who lived or worked in areas with high levels of cultural diversity, the perception of living in harmony was considered aspirational and unrealistic.

“Conversely, for those living in areas with low levels of diversity, the program name Living in Harmony suggested they were not living in harmony, which for these people was regarded as untrue,” the report said.

The review also found there was a perception that smaller ethnic groups were unlikely to be awarded grants, the application process was too difficult, projects that promoted integration over diversity were favoured and many schools were unaware of the program.

Under the community projects component of the Diverse Australia Program, smaller, inexperienced groups will be helped to apply for grants up to $5000, with a much simpler application process.

There will also be an increased focus on identifying areas where funding is required, including commissioning research into racial intolerance and analysing media reports.

The review said the new program name was also effective in conveying a move away from Living in Harmony, which was associated with “just tolerance”, to a more positive focus on respect and fair treatment.