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‘A wake-up call and opportunity’: Call for a national anti-racism strategy as complaints spike

“We need to come up with a strategy both broad and specific to combat racism wherever it is manifest, whether in policing, health care, housing, education or employment,” the letter, also signed by the Australian Council of Social Service, Amnesty International, and Reconciliation Australia, says.

“We are ready and willing to assist in building this strategy. With your bipartisan leadership, we are confident in our collective ability to create a blueprint for change,” it adds.

FECCA chief executive Mohammad Al-Khafaji said a coalition of ethnic groups, Indigenous Australian organisations and Asian-Australian organisations were calling for the strategy in the context of coronavirus tensions and a rising Black Lives Matter movement.

“We’ve seen people affected by racism during COVID-19 and have also seen the effects of racism now with the Black Lives Matter movement,” Mr Al-Khafaji said. “We’ve acknowledged that racism exists, now let’s come together and figure out what this strategy would look like.”

Osmond Chiu, a fellow at progressive thinktank Per Capita, who is co-authoring the leading survey on racist incidents against Asian-Australians in collaboration with Asian Australian Alliance and Being Asian Australian, said a strategy was needed to pre-empt new events from feeding off underlying racism.

“It’s clear that despite how we might like to think, racism still is an issue in Austalia and we actually need to counter it – otherwise we will just be constantly reactive, which isn’t good,” he said.

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Mr Chiu’s survey has so far found roughly 90 per cent of the 386 racist incidents included were not reported to the police. Common incidents include abuse, physical intimidation and spitting.

Senior lecturer at Macquarie University and associate director at the university’s Multilingualism Research Centre, Alice Chik, said the centre’s work with City of Ryde council on the experiences of international students during coronavirus had shown racist incidents rising.

“Students have reported being shouted at in supermarkets,” Ms Chik said. “They’re often becoming very fearful of going out, and they report going out in pairs.”

“People will give you a look and walk away from you,” she added. “We’re finding people telling stories about casual racism more.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has condemned racist attacks, praising Chinese-Australians for being “one of the greatest defences” against coronavirus at the beginning of the pandemic.

Labor shadow minister for multicultural affairs Andrew Giles has urged a national strategy against racism previously, and on Monday called for federal government to play a more active role in tracking racism.

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