From Geocities 1: Revision or Ideological Makeover? HREOC’s "Face the Facts" Rejigged.

Revision or Ideological Makeover? HREOC’s "Face the Facts" Rejigged.


Face the Facts 1997 and 2003: analysis by Neil Whitfield


Face the Facts is a publication of the Australian Government’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission. It was first published in 1997 when it still to an extent reflected the consensus arrived at during the Fraser-Hawke-Keating Prime Ministerships, even though even at that time a comparison with the draft policy issued under Keating showed a shift away from diversity to “harmony” under Howard.


My contention is that the 2003 revision represents an even greater shift along a particular ideological path. There was another revision in 2005. While some of this may be explained by changes in the state of the world since 1997, much cannot be.


Here are a few comparisons.


Each document is in three sections:









Section 1: Migrants, Immigration and Multiculturalism (13 pages)


Section 2: Asylum Seekers and Refugees (5 pages)


Section 3: Aboriginal People and Torres Straight Islanders (14 pages)



Section 1: Refugees and Asylum Seekers (8 pages)


Section 2: Migrants and Multiculturalism ((8 pages)


Section 3: Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander People (11 pages)



Let’s look more closely, starting with Section 3.







What is reconciliation?


Reconciliation aims to encourage co-operation and improve harmony between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. There is a particular emphasis on improving relations by understanding how history has shaped our relationship with each other and the importance of respecting each other’s culture.


The Australian Parliament has unanimously supported reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians as a key national objective leading to the centenary of Australian Federation in 2001.


The process of reconciliation formally began as a result of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The Federal Parliament unanimously supported the establishment of an independent body called the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. The Council’s role includes consulting the community on ways to improve relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, education and developing of strategies to encourage co-operation.


What is Aboriginal reconciliation?


The movement for Aboriginal reconciliation aims to promote understanding of the history of contact between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and develop better relations in the future.


The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was established by legislation in 1991 with 25 Indigenous and non-Indigenous members appointed by the federal government. Its main task was to promote reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider Australian community.


The Council was given a 10 year lifespan which ended in December 2000. The Council’s final report, Reconciliation: Australia’s Challenge, recommended comprehensive action to address the ‘unfinished business’ of reconciliation. This included calls for a formal agreement or treaty as well as the establishment of a foundation to continue the Council’s work. This foundation, Reconciliation Australia, was established in December 2000.









Were Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their families?


Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families over a long period and in various circumstances. From the very early days of British occupation Aboriginal children represented a potential source of labour to squatters and pastoralists and a target for the evangelising efforts of the churches. Government policy this century focused primarily on children of mixed race – those with lighter skins. They were liable to be removed for training in institutions as domestics or farm labourers, for rearing as if they were white in orphanages and children’s homes or to be fostered or adopted by non-Aboriginal families.


Children removed from their families, whether indigenous or not, are disadvantaged in many ways. It is known they are more likely to come to the attention of police as they grow into adolescence. They are more likely to suffer low self-esteem and even mental illness, particularly depression. They are vulnerable to physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Aboriginal children who were removed suffered a number of additional effects. They were almost always taught to reject their Aboriginal culture. At the same time the non-Aboriginal community rejected and discriminated against them. Hence they found themselves between two worlds. They were not permitted to speak their languages. They were unable to retain their links with their land and could not take a role in the cultural and spiritual life of their former communities. They are unlikely to be able to establish their right to native title.


Removals on the basis of race continued into the 1970’s. The legacy of forcible separation remains active in the lives of Aboriginal individuals and communities today.



‘Stolen children’ or ‘stolen generations’


The history of the stolen children varies depending on time and place. Table 1.7 (not reproduced here) shows where and when Indigenous children could lawfully be taken away without their parents’ consent and without a court order. Non-Indigenous children could also be removed without their parents’ consent, but only by a court finding that the child was uncontrollable or abused.


[TABLE 1.7]


How many children were removed?


In its 1997 report Bringing them home, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission estimated that between one-third and one-tenth of all Aboriginal children growing up during the years in which forcible removal laws operated were removed. The full scale of removals is not known as many records have been lost.




Now some comparisons on refugees and asylum seekers:








What are refugees? How do they differ from migrants?


The international definition of a refugee is someone who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group, and has fled from his or her country of origin.


‘Asylum seekers’ is a term used to describe those people who have applied for protection and are awaiting determination of their status. ‘Refugee’ is the term used to describe those people who have been granted protection.


Refugees and asylum seekers are not the same as migrants. Refugees raise human rights issues not migration issues. Accepting that there may be limited choice, migrants choose to leave their country and can return whenever they like. Refugees are forced to leave their country and cannot return unless the situation which forced them to leave improves. Most people who seek asylum in Australia arrive on a valid visa. Others may not obtain visas or forms required for departure or arrival in Australia precisely because they fear human rights violations and they have been forbidden to leave their own country.



Who is a refugee?


According to the United Nations Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (also called the Refugee Convention), a refugee is someone who is outside their own country and cannot return due to a well-founded fear of persecution because of their:


·         race

·         religion

·         nationality

·         membership of a particular social group or

·         political opinion.


How do refugees differ from migrants?


Refugees are not in the same situation as migrants, although the two groups are often confused. Migrants choose when to leave their country, where they go and when they return. Refugees flee their country for their own safety and cannot return unless the situation that forced them to leave improves.


Who is an asylum seeker?


An asylum seeker is someone who has fled their own country and applies to the government of another country for protection as a refugee. People experiencing persecution have a fundamental right to seek and enjoy protection in other countries.


But see below…







The 2003 version of Face the Facts then goes into much detail about authorised and unauthorised arrivals, the Pacific Solution and the Tampa Crisis, and the ins and outs of Detention. But you can read that for yourself online.


Finally, on multiculturalism:









Multiculturalism is a policy based on rights and responsibilities which has been endorsed by Australian governments for managing a unified nation which is culturally diverse. The policy of multiculturalism replaced the previous policy of assimilation.

There are important overriding principles of multiculturalism which can be summarised in the following way:


·         LOYALTY TO AUSTRALIA: all Australians should have an overriding and unifying commitment to Australia’s interests and future first and foremost;


·         ACCEPTANCE OF THE AUSTRALIAN SYSTEM: all Australians are required to accept the basic structures and principles of Australian society—the Constitution, Australian laws, tolerance, equality, democracy, freedom of speech and religion, English as the national language and equality of the sexes; and


·         MUTUAL RESPECT: all Australians have the right to express their culture and beliefs and this involves a reciprocal responsibility to accept the right of others to express their beliefs and values.


Multiculturalism is about inclusion and recognition within the principles enshrined above. It recognises the right of all Australians to enjoy their cultural heritage (including language and religion), and the right to equal treatment and opportunities for everyone regardless of their backgrounds. Multiculturalism also aims to ensure maximum use of the skills and talents of all Australians to assist economic efficiency.



What is multiculturalism?


Australia is made up of people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Multiculturalism celebrates this diversity and recognises the challenges and opportunities that come with it. The main principles of Australia’s policy of multiculturalism are:


  • Responsibilities of all – all Australians have a civic duty to support those basic structures and principles of Australian society which guarantee us our freedom and equality and enable diversity in our society to flourish.
  • Respect for each person – subject to the law, all Australians have the right to express their own culture and beliefs and have a reciprocal obligation to respect the right of others to do the same.
  • Fairness for each person – all Australians are entitled to equality of treatment and opportunity. Social equity allows us all to contribute to the social, political and economic life of Australia, free from discrimination, including on the grounds of race, culture, religion, language, location, gender or place of birth*.
  • Benefits for all – all Australians benefit from productive diversity, that is, the significant cultural, social and economic dividends arising from the diversity of our population. Diversity works for all Australians.


* But not sexuality, notice.


Creative Commons Licence


3 responses to “From Geocities 1: Revision or Ideological Makeover? HREOC’s "Face the Facts" Rejigged.

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