ACT Government condemns rise in racist incidents in response to COVID 19

Released 23/04/2020 - Joint media release

The ACT Government is today dismayed and disappointed to learn of a number of reports of racist, discriminatory incidents that have taken place in Canberra during the COVID 19 pandemic.

The ACT Discrimination Commissioner Karen Toohey today noted that reports to the ACT Human Rights Commission of racist incidents have increased in recent weeks, including against health workers and retail staff.

In the ACT it is against the law for someone to discriminate against you because of a characteristic that you have, or that someone thinks you have, in an area of public life such as employment, education, provision of goods and services and accommodation.

It is also against the law for someone to sexually harass, vilify or victimise.

“Canberrans value our safe and inclusive community. Incidents of racism and discrimination make people feel afraid in a community which they have often belonged to for decades,” ACT Discrimination Commissioner Karen Toohey said today.

“These individual actions have a profound impact, especially on the most vulnerable in our community.”

Minister for Justice and Mental Health Shane Rattenbury condemned these incidents and called on Canberrans to support each other, and to speak up and intervene should they see any instances of racism or discrimination emerge, so long as it is safe to do so. If you don’t feel safe, just stand and bear witness - you may get a chance to show your support afterwards.

“Perhaps the thing that is most important in a time of crisis, like now, is that we look after each other and remain a kind and caring community. Racism, discrimination and vilification - in any form, are simply unacceptable,” Minister Rattenbury said.

“It’s incredibly disappointing and dismaying to learn that at a time when we’re all grappling with the impacts of a global health pandemic, some are resorting to appalling racist behaviour.

“For business owners and others offering services, please do what you can to ensure you offer a safe and supportive space. The Human Rights Commission can offer advice and materials if you need it.

“I’d also encourage all Canberrans - not to just stand by and let racism go on. If you happen to be nearby when someone is behaving in a racist or discriminatory way, speak up if it’s safe. Speak out. Speak on behalf of the overwhelming majority of the Canberra community, who know that racism is just not on,” Minister Rattenbury added.

Minister for Multicultural Affairs Chris Steel said that Canberra is a proud multicultural city and that efforts need to be made to maintain a cohesive community.

“One of the best things about Canberra is our proud multiculturalism and there must be zero tolerance for any form of racist behaviour,” Minister Steel said.

“We are going to get through this difficult time together, not by vilifying each other.”

Minister Steel said that a National Anti-Racism Strategy is needed, called for by participating Ministers at last month’s National Multicultural Ministers Forum (the first since 2010). The Australian Government did not attend.

“More than ever there is a need for national leadership and a national anti-racism strategy with an effective campaign to address racism,” said Minister Steel.

Reports of racism and discrimination in the ACT can be made directly to the ACT Human Rights Commission, by contacting 02 6205 2222 and/or

- Statement ends -

Section: Shane Rattenbury, MLA | Chris Steel, MLA | Media Releases

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