Australia Day and racism

As Australia Day approaches issues of racism have been amplified in the lead up by world-renowned neurosurgeon and son to Chinese migrants, Dr Charlie Teo. Dr Teo has called Australia a racist country and Professor Sandy Gifford, Director of the La Trobe Refugee Research Centre agrees with him.

Australian FlagAccording to Professor Gifford it has become exceedingly important to not only identify racism but to also recognize that racism is universal in order to make social changes.

‘It’s one of those challenges that we have about being human, about recognizing difference, and ensuring that we don’t turn that difference into discrimination. Racism is in all of us, the challenge is to actually identify it so that we can do something about it,’ she says.

Professor Gifford, who works with many newly arrived communities from refugee backgrounds, has noticed a range of discriminations people are currently facing.

‘Many young people with refugee backgrounds say they get comments directed at them that range from “We grew here, you flew here. Go back home.”  to more violent verbal and sometimes physical abuse.’ 

‘Some forms of racism are more subtle, but equally damaging. The looks people get when they walk into “white” shops, being stopped by ticket inspectors every time they exit the station, being knocked back from job applications and real estate rental agencies,’ says Professor Gifford.  

‘We have to pause and take a look at who we are and how these things get passed down, covering them up and making excuses isn't going to push change forward.’

Professor Gifford says it is important for Australians to collectively look at how racist sentiments are passed down culturally within communities and families and be able to recognize them to make a change.

‘Some of the attitudes and behaviours that are racist are so embodied and taken for granted that we don’t even see what we think and do as racist. We are often too keen to just look the other way when racism happens in social situation.’

‘It’s vital for all of us to start having the courage to speak out and change and identify those little things in everyday life that make a lot of our fellow citizens really miserable,’ she says.

Mr Larry Marshall, Project Manager at La Trobe University’s Centre for Dialogue revealed that the Centre is initiating more discussions within the community to open up inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue in order to try and dispel the myths propounded by elements in political parties and the media and the fear of the 'other'.

‘Racism can be generated by a lack of opportunities for contact, The Centre works primarily to build bridges across these divides by approaching these issues collectively with candour through various community outreach programs,’ says Mr Marshall.

‘Doing away with racism begins at home, with every one of us and this includes those people who have experienced racism themselves. The potential for racism is in every one of us and the responsibility to recognize this and change ourselves is also shared by us all.  This is our collective challenge to make Australia a better country,’ says Professor Gifford.

For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:

Meghan Lodwick

La Trobe University Communications Officer
T:  03 9479 5353 M:  0418 495 941 E: