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Tuesday, 26 August 2014 11:17

Launch of Report Racism - Wayne Muir, CEO, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

Thank you for having me. I'm Wayne Muir, the CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. Before I begin, I'd like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the members of the Kulin Nation. I'd like to also pay my respects to Elders past and present.

I'm honoured to be here with our partners, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and Victoria Police to launch the Reporting Racism pilot in this region. It's also good to see colleagues from the Northern Metro RAJAC and from VACSAL who have been so giving of their time in getting this pilot up and running.

Racism is not acceptable. It's sad to say that some of us experience so much racism we get tired of trying to deal with it. We get weary in our spirit and our minds and we let it become a part of our everyday experience. We know the impact it has on our self-esteem and our physical health. Just recently, Beyond Blue has launched a national television campaign to show exactly how racism impacts on the mental health of our people.

How do we deal with racism? One part of it is understanding exactly how much racism is happening in the community. And, we can only understand if people speak up.

"I cannot do anything. If I complained, I would have been beaten up."

"I spoke up as a child to the regular racism and bullying I experienced at school but as an adult I tend to walk away with a heavy well as a deep sense of anger."

These are just two responses to the Commission's 'Reporting Racism' survey last year. It shows just how hard it is to speak out about racism. People fear retribution and retaliation. People believe nothing will come of it. People don't know where to go or who to talk to.

VALS has always worked to represent the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In Victoria, we have legislation that clearly states racism is not acceptable in public – when you go shopping, when you're at school or work, when you're playing sport, when you go out for a drink and a bite to eat, when you are renting accommodation or staying at a hotel, all sorts of aspects of your public life. Racism is not acceptable when you're accessing government services, interacting with the police, or dealing with other aspects of the justice system. In this pilot, we're encouraging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to exercise their rights – the right to live without racism, and the right report it when it happens.

VALS has taken on the role as a lead reporting place. This means people can come to us and make a complaint about racism and that information will be given to the Commission to investigate. It's as simple as that. Talk to us about your experiences. You can give your details, or you don't have to. You can talk about your experiences, or something you witnessed. We'll make sure the Commission hears about it. Then, the Commission takes over.

Stoping racism requires a commitment to act when someone tells their story. This is why this pilot sees the Commission give a commitment to act on reports of racism. Once a report is made, the Commission will follow up with the person who made the complaint. People want different things when they report racism. Some want an acknowledgment that the actions or words were racist. Some want to talk about what happened to their friends or family. Some people just want to say it happened and leave it at that. This pilot allows for all these things to happen.

This pilot allows us to collect information about racism itself. We will start to see how and where racism is occurring, and then we can all participate in developing the solutions that will put an end to this scourge. Using this information organisations like VALS, the Commission and Victoria Police can act in more systemic ways against racism.

As part of this pilot, VACSAL and the Neighbourhood Justice Centre are also being reporting places. We hope in time, more organisations will want to participate, and eventually, reporting places will be available for all people, not just Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to report racism. But we also hope that one day, there won't be a need for reporting places because there'll be less and less to report.

We are happy to work with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and Victoria Police. It's by working together and making sure people who inflict their racism on others are held accountable that we will stop it, hopefully altogether and forever.
Thank you for being here today.

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