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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 11 Hansard (Thursday, 11 November 2021) . . Page.. 3409 ..


to assist the inquiry in this regard. But I would also like to hear from people experiencing such attacks, and hear whether or not they have reported them when they occur. Without data we just cannot know how much of a problem this is and how much work we have to do.

Secondly, I want to know the context in which such attacks occur. Canberra is famously the public service town. The public services, both ACT and commonwealth, have strong workplace frameworks which discourage such behaviour and, when it does occur, allow opportunities for complaints. Do people get called names on the street, in car parks or at the petrol station? Some of the worst verbal attacks I have come under, especially when I had a sign on the car, have been at the petrol station where everybody meets. Do people say things at community events and sporting events that they would not say at work? Do our high-density housing complexes pose a particular problem? Do life pressures—financial, relationships, the COVID crisis—mean that some people seek out a scapegoat? Do people think that this actually is not a problem and is not occurring?

Thirdly, I would like the inquiry to provide a forum for people to share their experiences. This will be assisted by encouraging the inquiry to hold some hearings in camera—that is, in private, for people not so familiar with the language of this place—and encourage people to make confidential submissions. People fear rejection or they fear further targeting. I would also encourage submissions from people who are not themselves victims but who have observed it occurring to others, bystanders. Maybe we can find out what the appropriate response is for a bystander.

During last year’s election campaign somebody told me that the Canberra Liberals will never get elected while we have a towelhead on our team. Seriously. Honestly, I was so shocked by the statement that I had no idea what to say; it was so far removed from my experience of the person they were referring to. I did not even know it was a term that existed, which is a good thing in a way. But how do you respond appropriately to something like that? “He is a good bloke. You really should get to know him”? I do not think there was any interest from that person in getting to know him.

Fourthly, I want, effectively, a stocktake of the existing laws that prevent such behaviour. You will note that this motion refers to racism based on people’s race, linguistic diversity, ethnic origin, religion or status as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person. What might be captured under the catch-all of racism can be vilification and discrimination based on how people identify, their religion, whether or not they speak English, and their racial or ethnic background. I am concerned that potentially people who are abused need to, before working out which legal framework applies to them, decide the basis upon which they were abused, which can be difficult.

Finally, I would like the inquiry to look at the current reporting mechanisms. Let me be clear: the Human Rights Commission and ACT Policing do take complaints and try to do good work in this area. But if we do not examine our systems, we will not know what is working well and what is not.


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