Peter Wertheim, Executive Director at the ECAJ, appeared before the Select Committee on Strengthening Multiculturalism on 29th June, 2017. This committee is tasked with inquiring into and reporting on ways of protecting and strengthening Australia’s multiculturalism and social inclusion.
The ECAJ’s full written submission can be viewed here, and the transcript of Mr Wertheim’s appearance is below.
Select Committee on Strengthening Multiculturalism – 29/06/2017
Protecting and strengthening Australia’s multiculturalism and social inclusion
Members in attendance: Senators Di Natale (Chair), Dodson, Duniam, Kitching.
DOUKAS, Mr Peter George, Chair, Ethnic Communities Council of New South Wales
VELLIS, Mr George Alexander, Coordinator, Australian Hellenic Council of New South Wales
WERTHEIM, Mr Peter, Executive Director, Executive Council of Australian Jewry
CHAIR: I welcome representatives from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Australian Hellenic Council and the Ethnic Communities Council of New South Wales. Thanks so much for coming along today. I invite you to make a brief opening statement. We will start with Mr Wertheim and then move across. Try to keep it brief because then we will have an opportunity to ask questions of you. Fire away.
Mr Wertheim: I appreciate the opportunity. Hopefully, this will take no more than two or three minutes. Australia’s unique model of multiculturalism gives equal emphasis to rights and responsibilities. We respect the freedom of all Australians to express their individual cultural identity and to maintain and share their cultural heritage within an overriding commitment to Australia and the basic values of Australian democracy and the rule of law. This includes the responsibility to accept Australia’s Constitution, system of law, democratic decision-making, freedom of speech and religion, English as the national language, and gender equality. In any conflict between a sectional culture and religion and Australian values, Australian values prevail. Australian law trumps all other law. New arrivals have a readily attainable pathway to full partnership in Australian society on the basis of citizenship.
Successive Australian governments, rightly, in our view, have rejected the UK and European models of multiculturalism because these models insufficiently emphasise the responsibilities of new arrivals to their new country and a system of ethics and law as the essential prerequisite for their acceptance by and successful integration into the wider community. Governments in the UK and Europe have passively tolerated members of cultural and religious minority groups living separate lives from the rest of society and have failed to address groups who openly denigrate the values and laws of their host society. The anything-goes model of multiculturalism has been a demonstrable failure, as successive leaders of the UK and Europe have themselves openly acknowledged.
It is therefore appropriate for the government to place a high value on Australian citizenship and loyalty to Australia, and understanding of Australia’s language, culture and values which citizenship requires. But citizenship alone is too narrow a focus. The values we affirm as a society need to be followed through in many other facets of our public life, including government policies and programs, public and school education, federal and state legislation and in political discourse by political and community leaders.
Whilst my organisation’s written submission has covered each of these areas, I would particularly like to highlight the importance of school education in promoting enlightenment values and counteracting prejudice. Far from suggesting a social engineering model in which students are told what to think and what not to think, we are proposing forms of education that systematically instil habits of critical thinking. This means knowing how to research and adopting a sceptical and analytical approach to all information, especially from online sources. In all areas of the curriculum, questioning assumptions and seeking and weighing alternate views should become second nature. This would provide a framework for giving students an insight into the validity of enlightenment values and undermine the potential appeal of simplistic, extremist ideologies. It would also provide a much-needed inoculation against racism and ideas of racial or religious supremacism, and more generally would better equip today’s students and tomorrow’s leaders to intelligently handle life’s challenges and the country’s challenges.
Whilst our submission makes a series of other recommendations, I believe that this intersection between multicultural and education policy is especially deserving of close examination. Thank you
Mr Doukas: The Ethnic Communities Council of New South Wales, as many of you would know, is the peak body representing multicultural communities in New South Wales. We have over 300 members, and were established in 1975 in the wave of establishment of ethnic and multicultural community councils around Australia. One of our core roles is the preservation of our society as an open, free and multicultural one. Over recent years, our more than 300 members have become increasingly concerned with prominent movements aiming to countenance Australia’s longstanding pro immigration and pro multiculturalism policies. Indeed, in the time that I have been chair for four years or so, people went from asking me what the ECC does for me to ‘Why isn’t the ECC helping me enough?’
The reappearance of racism and the reappearance of bigotry as a legitimate discourse within the Australian political sphere has been something of particular concern. We believe it is incumbent on the Australian government to take measures to ensure that the commitment to multiculturalism by Australia as a nation continues to strengthen and that that commitment is reflected within our society as well, particularly given the integration of new and emerging communities—those from refugee backgrounds—along with challenges faced by established communities and, of course, our Indigenous communities. Part and parcel with this, we seek a commitment to enshrining the principles of bolstering inclusivity within legislation and ensuring that existing legislative protections against discrimination, vilification and other forms of exclusivity are maintained.
Senators, you will see that our submission has being primarily focused on the protection that is granted by section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and the maintenance of this provision that has proven effective in combating racial hatred as well as the consistent review of relevant legislation with the aim of strengthening, not degrading, existing protections, which are essential to promoting community harmony.
I agree with my colleague that education is an important aspect of this, but what is important to my members is that this review looks at Australian multiculturalism almost in isolation. We are not another Canada. Our model does not reflect something that could be done in Europe or North America. Australian multiculturalism is unique to this continent and is an example to other countries. It is an example of integration of immigrant communities in a framework of a blank canvas—noting the original sin of settlement and noting our respect of Indigenous communities, but understanding that the future involves multiple communities coexisting and building an open and free society. Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. Mr Vellis.
Mr Vellis: Thank you, Chair. Just quickly, in regard to the Australian Hellenic Council: it obviously represents the Greek community, which represents approximately three per cent of the population. My interest here today is more to discuss opportunities and to focus on success stories, between, for example, the Italians, the Greeks, the Chinese and, of course, the Jewish community and what they have contributed over time to multiculturalism. Obviously there was a bit of scepticism in the very beginning, regarding multiculturalism as assimilation by stealth, which has been discussed by various authors over the years. But, in essence, for me, it is more a comfort zone that needs to be created within emerging communities that come to seek the so-called promised land or a better life. It is those communities that require the most assistance, naturally, and hopefully they will not encounter the barriers that we had when we first arrived. It is for this reason that I am more interested in terms of the questioning that will come out of this committee on how we can make multiculturalism stronger and better for the foreseeable future.
CHAIR: That was short, sharp and sweet. Thank you very much. Can I kick things off. One of the things you said, Mr Doukas, was on the reappearance of racism within the national discourse. Do you want to elaborate on that? Can you point to examples? Can you point to examples within the political sphere—things that you think have been damaging? Secondly, has that, do you think, in some part had an impact on the people you represent?
Mr Doukas: The question of racism is one which is multifaceted. The political discourse—particularly of the last election—does have racial connotations. It cannot be hidden that the spectre of racism has reappeared with the appearance of One Nation. Whether or not those people that elected Ms Hanson are racists is a different question. However, it manifests itself in society in different ways. We have members in the ECC from the Muslim community who have reported back to us that, as a result of statements made by Ms Hanson, there have been children coming home crying from school and, as a result of statements made, there have been things happening in the workplace which were not happening in the past. I think the discourse—even though it is done within a political setting and is done, often, to attract attention—may be null and void. The outcome, from a community perspective, is damaging. Our members have also reported to us that the outcome of this is a more polarised society in terms of the communities. There is mistrust between different communities, and an appearance of intercommunity racism which I find quite concerning—so, established communities against newer ones; newer ones against older ones.
Senator KITCHING: In America, for example, there is some tension between the African American community and the Hispanic community over welfare payments or the amount of welfare dollars and the programs that are accessible. A competition has arisen. Would you say it is economically based?
Mr Doukas: I would say that it is fair to say it is economically based, but not circulating around welfare. In our experience—
Senator KITCHING: I used that as an example because that is one of the instances in the literature coming out of the States—the competition—and more and more people need help because they do not have the same safety nets that we do.
Mr Doukas: Indeed. We are privileged with a better welfare system than the US. I do not think that is a subject for political debate. The reason I believe that it is economic is that there is always a question of who is taking whose jobs and who is entitled to a job and who is rorting the system in terms of how Centrelink is being manipulated in different ways. That has been raised in debates that I have had against the idea of welfare for newly arrived people. The challenge, I believe—and this has been reflected by our national federation, by the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils—is how to educate the wider community that it is not the case that newly arrived migrants are sapping the welfare system or it is not the case that one particular community has more access to the welfare system than others.
Senator KITCHING: Why do people reach for it?
Mr Doukas: It is an easy target. In my experience, it is simple, it is an easy way to reflect on it and it is easy to sell. For those reasons, those stories are better reading. It is as simple as that.
Senator KITCHING: And it has been used historically, of course.
Mr Doukas: Indeed.
Senator KITCHING: For a millennium probably.
Mr Doukas: Indeed. The real economics are that newly arrived people work harder and are happier to sacrifice their own lives in favour of their children and are happier to work harder and for longer hours than established people, and that has been the tradition of Australian immigration from the beginning. I challenge the notion that newly arrived people are in some way sapping the system. Studies have been done about the success of each wave of migration, the different things that have been brought and the economic success that has followed as result.
Mr Wertheim: That also affirms a lot of the studies that have been done that show that racism does not necessarily, or even in most cases, have a rational basis. The fact that people are concerned about their job security is a perfectly legitimate concern, but they conclude from that that newly arrived migrants are the ones threatening their jobs. It does not have a rational basis at all. Nobody who has actually looked into it would come to that conclusion, and yet people grasp onto it because they need something simple and urgent to address what is a very real problem. They are just misdiagnosing it. They are misdiagnosing the causes of the problem and they are arriving at policy positions that will not address the problem. The problem itself is real. That part is understandable. It is the connections made to it and the reasons ascribed to it that are not rational.
Senator KITCHING: Thank you. Sorry, I interrupted you, Chair.
CHAIR: That is okay. One of the reasons we are having this inquiry is that, over a number of years, we have heard—and we have certainly heard evidence through this process—that people are concerned about the political discourse, the discourse in the media and the conflation of issues like refugees, terrorism and immigration, and we have had debates around weakening protections, against the Racial Discrimination Act, for example.
We would like to be talking about what it is that we do to build a stronger multicultural Australia. Obviously, there are things we can do for the culture within our society, but as legislators here we have the opportunity through acts of parliament and through the establishment of independent statutory authorities et cetera to be able to foster a notion of a stronger and what some people might call a ‘new’ multiculturalism. We have had some evidence, for example, that Canada references multiculturalism in its constitution, for a charter of rights and we have heard about a multicultural act and a multicultural commission. We have heard evidence that we need a strong research focus. For example, a centre for inter-cultural diversity has been proposed. I put all of that to you, because I would like to know whether you have done any thinking around what some of that architecture might look like and whether you could reflect on whether any of those things might be possible and might support multiculturalism.
Mr Vellis: I would like to pick up on one point, a compulsory foreign language, a policy that previous governments tried to bring across. I lobbied for approximately a year and a half to get the Greek language into the curriculum, which originally was to be eight languages. Four of them were to be Asian and the other four were to be your traditional languages—Italian, Spanish, German, French. We lobbied hard for a year and a half to get modern Greek onto the curriculum which was already established but it was classified as a community language because it related basically to a economic return, and that was the way they classified languages.
However, regardless of whether it is modern Greek or any other language, the importance of learning a second language is phenomenal. Obviously, it encourages the student to travel, to learn another culture and to open their mind, and that then comes into multiculturalism because there is a better understanding of what is happening around them. That would be one option.
Mr Doukas: I was discussing with my colleagues earlier that the Canadian model exists in the framework of keeping Canada together when faced with the threat of secession from the French-speaking provinces. So the Canadian model differs at its inception from ours, and for that reason it should serve as a guide but not as a framework. Our model is independent and individual; it should be looked at as something that is leading the world and as something that really that has not been done before. For that reason, a leap forward from a legislative perspective would be to view multiculturalism as an investment, not as social welfare—to view the idea of integration as a way to invest economically into a society, rather than as an extension of the welfare state. As Mr Wertheim said, the statistics about how newly arrived people work and how they integrate in the workplace speak for themselves.
That is one, moving it away into an investment area. Another option is a national multicultural act, for which the Ethnic Communities Council and FECCA have been lobbying for quite some time, but one done with care and not just for the sake of it. It has to have a tangible impact on how communities interact. Through my own experience in the Ethnic Communities Council, we have seen that ethnic people—and even that term is difficult to define—no longer form part of ethnic communities. As they become more and more integrated, they drift away. They maintain identity but are no longer organised in ethnic organisations. We see that in the census and it is maintained through religious institutions—churches, mosques synagogues et cetera—but the organisational aspect of multicultural Australia has changed. New communities that arrive often gravitate towards organised community centres and then, as they get settled, drift away from them. So I believe any kind if legislative review would have to be conscious of that—that multicultural Australia and the idea of broad identities would be conscious of the separation of the individual from an organisation while still maintaining their identity. That was the second point and the third point would obviously be a strengthening of laws against racism. There cannot be, in our view, a multicultural act or any kind of legislative framework advancing multiculturalism if racism can be protected as freedom of speech.
Mr Wertheim: I think in strengthening legislation, we need an empirical basis to begin with. We do not even have a uniform national system for recording, prosecuting, measuring and addressing racially motivated crime. This is something we dealt with in our written submission at some length. It is significant that the United Kingdom, United States and Canada all have uniform national systems for identifying, recording and addressing racially motivated crime. Racially motivated crime is probably the most extreme end of the racism spectrum. There are many lesser gradations of racism than that—from a casual remark in a conversation to public racial vilification to actual violent action—but it seems to me that Australia is at least 20 years behind comparable countries in not having a uniform national system just to measure that most extreme form of racism, at least as some guide to the level of racism and action on racism in our society over time. That is one area that desperately needs to be addressed. For the criteria for identifying racially motivated crime, we can pick and choose from those other jurisdictions and perhaps adapt a definition that is unique to Australia, but, certainly, we do not have to reinvent the wheel in that regard.
As regards an Australian multicultural council or commission, I was a member of the current Australian Multicultural Council under a previous government and it did quite a lot of good work. It initiated the Racism: It Stops With Me campaign, which had a series of multicultural and Indigenous ambassadors go out into the wider community, speak to community groups and broaden the understanding of the basis of tolerance and mutual understanding that holds our society together. So it has done some work in that regard. Its basic idea was to act as a community base to give some bottom-up feedback to government about where multicultural policy was working and where it was not. But to be perfectly honest, it was not given sufficient sources. I do not think it has got sufficient resources now. To some extent, it was window dressing and it is certainly that now, in my view. If it is going to be effective, if we are going to have a body like that, that serves that purpose, it has got to be adequately resourced; it has not only got to have input into and access to the results of research into the design in order to measure the effectiveness of multicultural policies and integration policies and as a means of transmitting that information to the broader communities but also to transmit the perspective of multicultural communities back to government in a considered way, not just in the anecdotal way but in a way that is based systematically on research.
Senator DODSON: Just a couple of questions, Chair. I have heard the point on legislation, and we have heard submissions today about Australian Constitution sections 25 and 51(xxvi) basically underpinning racism in the Constitution. As you would be aware, the expert panel proposed a new section, 116A, which would entrench the notion of nondiscrimination in the Constitution, rather than in legislation. I do not know what prospects it has of getting up. But that is a good example, I think, of where the social ethos or the social fabric of our nation is vis-a-vis the legal fabric. My question is: what else is there in the institutional structure—in the Constitution or the law, these sorts of structures that we butt up against—that really militates against the integration, if I can use that word, of multicultural societies into some sort of Australian polyglot community?
Mr Wertheim: I will have a go at answering that.
Senator DODSON: It is a pretty longwinded question, I grant you.
Mr Wertheim: No, no, I get the general drift. First of all, my community supported all the recommendations of the expert panel. I accept what you say—that, in terms of a referendum, the proposed 116A would have very limited prospects of passing, especially if it was not supported on a cross-partisan basis. You are asking about other areas in legislation, as I understand it—
Senator DODSON: In the institutional framework or the society. I can see how you can be a migrant and you can be very successful if you concentrate on the economics and prosperity. But it is the social discourse that arises when someone starts getting called a name or being discriminated against. What are the institutional things that militate against the stupidity and ignorance that come out of someone’s mouth?
Mr Wertheim: I think, in the long run, the only remedy for stupidity and ignorance is education, which is why I led off with that in my opening statement. I do think that it is about the intersection between education policy and a whole range of other policies. Multicultural, constitutional reform and Indigenous recognition policies are all bound up together and, critically, come together in the field of education. There has been some limited thought given to how we enshrine those values in the national education curriculum, but, when you look at it, it is sort of hived off into a separate subject, like civics and citizenship; it is not integrated more broadly into mainstream areas of education like English, history, science, the natural sciences. I think, if some real thought were given to how we can integrate those values into the national education curriculum more broadly and not just as a standalone subject that does not even count for your HSC, we might actually be able to make some progress in the long term in these areas of prejudice, and, in the process, encourage habits of critical thinking which are going to be of more general benefit to the community in terms of the capacity of young people to deal with life’s problems generally and society’s problems when they inherit positions of leadership down the track. So I think education is a very important area.
In the area of legislation, the one glaring gap that I still see is in the Criminal Code, which has provisions relating to urging-to-violence offences—that is, people urging violence on the basis of race, religion or a number of other factors—and it is significant in my view that, since those provisions were introduced, there has not even been a prosecution, let alone a conviction, under any of those sections. We are talking about sections 80.2A and 80.2B of the current Criminal Code. The real problem with the way those sections are drawn at the moment is that a prosecutor needs to prove a double mens rea, a double mental element—in other words, not only an intention to urge violence on the basis of one of these specified grounds but a further intention that violence will occur. That is nearly impossible to prove in the vast majority of cases, because it cannot merely be inferred from the words themselves. There actually has to be some other nexus that a prosecutor can use to prove that that element is satisfied to the criminal standard—that is, beyond reasonable doubt, which is a very high standard.
So in the legislative area it seems to me that that is an area that is crying out for reform, because, whatever view you might take about freedom of speech or whether religion should be protected in racial vilification laws, that is a completely different question to the question of promoting or advocating violence on one of these grounds. Nobody could justify promoting or advocating violence on an arbitrary ground like race, religion, political belief or what have you. So it seems to me that this committee would be serving a very positive purpose if it made recommendations for reform of those particular provisions. They are crying out for reform.
The other area, as I mentioned earlier, is to properly record racially motivated crime on a national basis and to have a uniform system rather than the piecemeal system we have at the moment, where some states do and some states do not and there is no uniformity between them.
Mr Doukas: If I can provide an anecdotal answer, as part of the New South Wales government’s proposed changes to section 20D of the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act we held open forums at the Ethnic Communities Council, and the biggest problem that we discovered was a general misunderstanding of how the state act works and how the national Racial Discrimination Act works—a lack of understanding of where one stops and the other begins and of what reforms were being proposed. We found that quite concerning in that people with genuine problems felt that they were protected by a system that they themselves did not understand.
So it is a question of education in every sense. I think organisational education is also important. From a legislative perspective, there is a general misunderstanding of how the existing protections against racial vilification operate. Obviously, as my colleague said, the lack of prosecution is something that breeds cynicism in those communities that are most in need of protection.
CHAIR: Senator Kitching, I understand you are leaving shortly, so fire away.
Senator KITCHING: Mr Wertheim, I was going to ask you about Jobbik. What I am really asking is not how it is going in Hungary or how the political situation is in Hungary. Do you see any parallels here? Why do you think there is a movement that is sweeping across that would advocate—
Mr Wertheim: You are asking me about the upsurge in anti-Semitism in Europe?
Senator KITCHING: Yes.
Senator DUNIAM: I was going to ask you to explain what it is you mean, but thank you—you have.
Mr Wertheim: Have I got that correct?
Senator KITCHING: Yes, that is right.
Mr Wertheim: You are absolutely right, but you have to understand that, as I mentioned earlier, racism does not necessarily have a rational basis, and anti-Semitism in Europe has very, very deep roots, going back to early Christian times and the medieval period, when it was religiously based. Then it mutated in the 19th and early 20th centuries into a racial basis. As a result of the scientific revolution, ironically people were looking for a scientific basis for their prejudices rather than a religious basis.
Senator KITCHING: Perhaps, for example, eugenics.
Mr Wertheim: Exactly, and that was the whole basis of the so-called racially based movement of anti-Semitism. In fact, the word ‘anti-Semitism’ was coined in the late 19th century by a German writer to distinguish this new racially based form of hatred of Jews from the earlier word, which was ‘Judenhass’, or hatred of Jews, which was religiously based. The word ‘anti-Semitism’ is specifically directed against Jews and specifically on the basis of race. It was a word that was coined for that very purpose. Then nowadays, of course, anti-Semitism, due to its protean nature, has mutated yet again. I am not suggesting that every attack on Israel is necessarily based on anti-Semitism, but you do see a lot of morphing of anti-Israel discourse into traditional anti-Jewish tropes. So there is some overlap. So it has changed again. What I am saying is that prejudice is there because people are insecure and have low self-esteem, and there might be a whole lot of other psychological bases for it. The reasons they give, whether it is economic—’My job is under threat,’ or, ‘I’m afraid of terrorism,’ or whatever the reasons may be—are rationalisations. They are not reasons. The real reasons lay within the racist himself or herself, not necessarily in reality. If there was an intelligent grasp of reality, people would come to different conclusions.
In Australia, thankfully, we have not seen anything like that resurgence of anti-Semitism. My organisation each year records and puts out a report on the level of anti-Semitism in Australia. We have a very clear set of criteria that are based on the 1991 national inquiry into racial violence in Australia. We have been doing it since then, so we have some longitudinal statistics as well. These show that, essentially, the level of anti-Semitism fluctuates in Australia. The general trend is up. But, then, the general trend in the population numbers is also up. So it is probably in line with that rise in the general population in Australia.
Although anti-Semitism is not as a severe problem in Australia as it is in Europe, my community has long taken the view that if racism starts with other groups, whether it is with Aboriginal groups, Asian group or anyone else, it does not end there. It never ends there. Just as racism did not end with the Jews in Europe—it started translating into other areas as well—in Australia racism may start with other groups, but, ultimately, it does not end there. A systematic attack by any section of society on another is bound to undermine the social fabric in a way that will lead to further racist attacks—a signal of permission, if you like, for racist attacks against other groups. People sometimes wonder why the Jewish community always has to come out against racism against Aboriginal people or Asian groups, or whatever, the reason is we know that racism does not end just with the immediate target. It might start there but it does not end there. Once one group is vulnerable, all groups are vulnerable. That is also the reason that we took the line that we took on 18C. As difficult as it was with parts of the community with whom we normally have good political relations, we just had to do it.
Senator KITCHING: I have a far more prosaic question. To which minister did the Australian Multicultural Council report? Was it the minister for immigration?
Mr Wertheim: Yes, it was. The department of immigration provided some resources in terms of the presence of public servants and doing some of the work. But it tended to be very much driven at the top. Although the council—as it was constituted when I was on it, there were 10 people; they came from a very wide variety of backgrounds—did do some good work, we always felt that it did not have anything like the resources that it needed or the access to information that it needed to do the job optimally.
Mr Vellis: Other than enriching national bodies, or funding them a little bit better, education, as discussed, either through foreign languages or putting in history, for example, about national recognition more so, or putting in the achievements of ethnic groups, such as what they managed to do with the Snowy Mountain river scheme and so forth, I think this committee can also look at another aspect. This would be with regard to tourism and promoting and assisting in the promotion of multicultural events. This would enhance the experience of people in domestic tourism and inbound tourism attending these events and give them a strong eye-opener and so forth. There are many other aspects that can be looked at other than the core aspects, which are obviously education, legislation and national bodies.
Senator DUNIAM: Mr Wertheim, following Senator Kitching’s questions on anti-Semitism, it strikes me as shocking that anti-Semitism is trending upwards.
Mr Wertheim: In Europe, yes.
Senator DUNIAM: Not in Australia?
Mr Wertheim: Long term in Australia too but probably in line with the growth in the population.
Senator DUNIAM: What drives that in a country like this? It is a genuine question. I do not understand.
Mr Wertheim: I cannot give you a simple, definitive answer, but I can tell you that the fluctuations that occur often coincide with upsurges of violence in the Middle East. For example, the major war in Gaza in 2014 tended to result in an outpouring of anti-Semitism online and then that translates into an increase at a lower level in violent acts against Jewish institutions and against Jewish people.
Senator DUNIAM: That makes sense.
Mr Wertheim: That is one example I can give you to account for those fluctuations. On the other hand, I do not believe it has a rational basis. Generally, the more secure people feel, the less racism there is and the less anti-Semitism there is. The less secure they feel, the more racism there is.
Senator DUNIAM: Speaking bluntly here, discrimination often comes out not only for the points you have made but for new groups coming into a community—people who look different and sound different. The Jewish community has been part of Australia for a very long time and—
Mr Wertheim: Since 26 January 1788.
Senator DUNIAM: Exactly right.
Mr Wertheim: There were 20 of us on the First Fleet.
Senator DUNIAM: So I had to ask the question: why is this still prevalent today?
Mr Wertheim: You would not get an older, more established or well-integrated community, but that does not mean that racism does not occur. But it illustrates the point that there is often an irrational basis that has to be addressed. I do not know of any other way of doing it other than through education.
Senator DUNIAM: Yes, which is really what I want to focus on. I think that is a very constructive way of dealing with this. Getting in early is really one of the only answers to dealing with the longer term issue.
Mr Wertheim: It is partly in content in terms of educating people against prejudice; it is also getting young minds trained in the skill of critical thinking.
Senator DUNIAM: Yes, I would like you to flesh out how that can be done. You talked about doing it across a number of subjects and in every discipline that is taught at school. Obviously, getting in earlier is better when young minds are really forming in, say, primary school, when you start to normalise things a bit more. Can you explain how it would actually work in the Australian education system.
Mr Wertheim: You would need to get some expert educators—of whom my wife is one, and this is where some of these ideas come from—who have systematically integrated courses to cultivate skills in critical thinking at university level. There is no reason at all that that cannot be done at secondary level and at primary level. So I would start by getting together the range of experts who are available in Australia who have actually constructed programs to cultivate these skills among students and ask them how it can be integrated into, say, the English curriculum, the history curriculum, physics, chemistry or geography, because I am sure it can be done.
Senator DUNIAM: I was going to ask: are there any other jurisdictions overseas—
Mr Wertheim: That do it?
Senator DUNIAM: Yes.
Mr Wertheim: There are. My understanding is that in South Korea these sorts of skills are looked at, but generally—and this applies, unfortunately, to Australia—the trend in education has been very heavily focused on rote learning, memorisation and parroting required knowledge, and the countries that have been most successful in their educational attainments and more generally are those that have moved away from that model.
CHAIR: Mr Wertheim, Mr Doukas and Mr Vellis, thank you so much for giving us your time today.
Source: Parliament of Australia