The National Tertiary Education Union (“NTEU”) has released the findings from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander member survey ‘I’m Not Racist But … Report on Cultural Respect, Racial Discrimination, Lateral Violence and related Policy at Australia’s Universities’. The survey findings indicate that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academic and general/professional staff continue to experience racial discrimination and a general lack of cultural respect in Australian universities.
Following the numerous anecdotal reports and informal discussions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members, the 2010 NTEU National Council determined that research be undertaken to ascertain the level of cultural respect, racial discrimination and lateral violence within Australia’s higher education sector, particularly how these issues impacts upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academic and professional/general staff members.
Racial discrimination is defined under Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, to which Australia is a party:
The term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclu-sion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.
In February 2011 in a separate, but perhaps more influential report, researchers from the University of Western Sydney (“UWS”) released the findings from a long-term survey on racism and discrimination in Australian society. The findings from the Anti-Racism Research Project showed an undercurrent of prejudice directed towards people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Although racist and prejudiced views were found through the UWS survey to be in the minority, racism and discrimination should be challenged in all manifestations and wherever it exists.
The UWS Anti-Racism Research project found:
*Most Australians recognise that racism is a problem in society.
*Too many Australians (41%) have a narrow view of who belongs in Australia.
*About one-in-ten Australians have very problematic views on diversity and on ethnic difference. They believe that some races are naturally inferior or superior, and they believe in the need to keep groups separated. These separatists and supremacists are a destructive minority.
The NTEU report
The NTEU report found that More than 70 per cent of those surveyed had experienced direct discrimination and racist attitudes in the workplace, and more than half had experienced “lateral violence” at the hands of indigenous colleagues, yet less than 20 per cent said their employer had taken positive action to address the issues.
Lateral violence has been defined in US research as “the harmful and undermining practices that members of oppressed groups can engaged in against each other as a result of marginalisation”.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald Jillian Miller, Chair of the National Tertiary Education Union Indigenous Policy Committee commented that:
The figures and accompanying comments make sobering reading… the issue [racism] could only be addressed when vice-chancellors are proactive to foster better workplace relations… The[y] need to show leadership by condemning and speaking out against racism and discrimination in their institutions…Their involvement with indigenous employees is really important. Where vice-chancellors meet with indigenous employees, and know about their issues and ask for feedback, it’s less likely to occur
Steve Larkin, chair of the Federal Government’s Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council (“HEAC”), and a professor at Charles Darwin University commenting on the NTEU report commented that:
Universities are a place where you have people with high intellects and you do make the assumption that people who possess those sort of intellectual qualities or capabilities would be anti-racist, that they would have a philosophical position that any form of discrimination is unnecessary and unwarranted. But it’s not surprising in that they’re a workforce like others and they’re drawn largely from the Australian population and there’s been a history of this.
Findings from the NTEU survey:
Racial Discrimination in Australian society
*98.2% of survey respondents agree that racial discrimination exists in Australian society.
*95.3% of survey respondents agree that racial discrimination is widespread in Australian society.
*93.1% of survey respondents and their families have experienced racial discrimination in their daily lives, and
*93.0% of survey respondents agree that racial discrimination is a problem that should be addressed by the Australian Government.
Cultural Respect in the Workplace
*79.5% of survey respondents stated they have been treated less respectfully in the workplace as a result of others perceptions of their culture and/or cultural obligations.
*67.9% of survey respondents have been treated less respectfully by their colleagues in the workplace as a result of perceptions of culture and/or cultural obligations.
*17.3% of survey respondents stated that action was taken by their employer to address issues of cultural respect in the workplace.
*Of this, 21.8% of respondents stated that their employer took positive action to address issues of cultural respect and cultural obligations, and
*25.4% of respondents stated that the actions of their employ¬ers were successful in addressing issues of cultural respect and cultural obligations.
Racial Discrimination in the Workplace
*71.5% of survey respondents have experienced direct racial dis¬crimination and racist attitudes in the workplace.
*55.3% of survey respondents have experienced racial discrimina¬tion and racist attitudes at the hands of their colleagues in the workplace.
*15.3% of survey respondents stated that attempts were made by their employer to address issues of racial discrimination and racist attitudes in the workplace.
What respondents to the NTEU survey reported
Each comment below is from a different respondent, as such, they do not form a continuous narrative.
Derogatory comments made by a non-Aboriginal staff member to me and about Aboriginal people. Was not supported for promotion because other non-Aboriginal people would find it difficult to deal with an Aboriginal person in a leadership position. Ignored and isolated by [name removed in report ]and other professional and academic staff because I spoke out against racism…
I working as [identifying detail removed], at a university and have done so for the past three months. I have three mainstream degrees [identifying detail removed] and the assumption it seems is that I cannot be an intelligent Aboriginal person and have these qualifications. In my short time here I have endured constant issues around the management of myself from my supervisor who has stated to other staff in my presence that I will have numerous managers by these staff who have little or no qualifications and who are not by the way employed at the university I work at. I have had to go the union to sort out what is clearly stated on my job description [identifying detail removed]. I feel that this is not only implied racial discrimination but vilification, harassment and bullying wrapped up and fed on ignorance and ethnocentric ideology…
I think for all groups who don’t fit the ‘norm’, we are always experiencing low-level racial discrimination. This extends to non-direct communications (e.g. reading comments to blogs dealing with ‘Indigenous issues’ – and sometimes even when they don’t; throw-away comments in social and professional contexts, which includes what is experienced in teaching non-Indigenous students; few sustainable policies in universities that contribute to changes in patterns of racial thinking etc). The extent of harmful ignorance is just mind-blowing. Of course there are specific, more tangible events that have occurred, too numerous to recount here. However daily, seemingly mundane situations, serve as a constant reminder of the effect of the lack of real education for non-Indigenous peoples to address their limited understandings – which in turn drive discriminatory actions. It’s insidious…
On the issue of anti-aboriginal bias by Australian Police respondents to the NTEU survey reported:
The police always watch my husband (even though his is a school teacher) when we are out…
My 16yr old son was given a $400 bike for Xmas. Two ladies made him go with them to the police station because they said he stole their bike. He didn’t, I had to take a phone call from the police to confirm details of the bike…
My sons are regularly stopped by police for no reason…
Having police follow my kids in the street
Targeted by police & security personnel when out socialising
Profiled by police…
It is worth remembering that each of the respondents to the NTEU survey is an employee of an Australian University. Many respondents are academic staff and hold higher degrees. If this type of racism is what even the brightest of our people (Indigenous Australians) are being subjected to by mainstream Australia, what chance do the rest of us have?
It really is time that Australia grew-up and stopped pretending that, as a nation, it is anything other than one built on land stolen from others. As such, Australia is an illegitimate nation, built on theft, corruption and a denial of history. Until Australia faces up to these realities and addresses the kind of racism that has been exposed in the NTEU survey it should not be rewarded by the world community by being given a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.