How councils can do their bit to prevent racism in the community

Two Melbourne councils have funded research into racism in the community and come up with a roadmap to improve support and services for those who have experienced it.

City of Casey’s Noelene Duff

The City of Casey and City of Greater Dandenong, neighbouring municipalities in Melbourne’s southeast,  partnered with Victoria University in 2021 to undertake a series of community surveys, focus groups and forums.

Greater Dandenong is one of Australia’s most diverse LGAs in Australia, with residents from 157 birthplaces and 64 per cent of its population born overseas, representing all faiths and religions practiced in Australia.

There are over 200 languages and dialects spoken within the municipality. Most of overseas- born residents  have migrated from Asian countries, especially Vietnam, India, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, China and Afghanistan.

City of Casey, meanwhile, is Victoria’s most populous LGA with 365,239 residents representing over 150 different cultures, more than 140 languages spoken and over 120 different faiths.

Almost half of all resident were born outside  Australia, with the most common countries being India, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, followed by England and New Zealand.

Racism widespread

The research found more than three-out-of-five participants or their families had experienced racism in the previous 12 months, mainly at work, when shopping, or at school.

The most common forms of racism were were micro-aggressions, insults, unfair treatment, or physical threats.

However, four out of five respondents didn’t report racism because they didn’t know where to go, didn’t think it would change anything, didn’t trust existing services, were worried about a backlash or faced language barriers.

Most who reported racist incidents were unhappy with the outcome, and respondents said they’d be more likely to report racism if services were offered in a culturally sensitive way that offered advocacy and empathy instead of “bureaucratic reporting”.

Effects of under reporting

Greater Dandenong City makes considerable efforts to celebrate its diversity, Mayor Eden Foster said.

Dandenong Mayor Eden Foster

“However, it is also sadly aware that racism percolates through to members of our community on a daily basis, often left unreported and dismissed,” she added.

City of Casey Chair of Administrators Noelene Duff acknowledged the research had identified gaps in existing support services and barriers to reporting.

“Underreporting makes it impossible for Councils and community groups to understand the actual scope and specific nature of racist incidents in the community – which makes the development of effective measures and initiatives to counter these forms of exclusion and discrimination difficult,” she said.

“This report provides a roadmap towards improving reporting and response systems to racism across Melbourne’s Southeast, so we can better support those who experience it.” 

Role for local government

Report author Dr Mario Peucker from VU’s institute of Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities says the research highlights the need for a locally based, community-led network of organisations with the capacity to respond to racism, and when needed, refer people on to specialist services.

That’s where local government comes in.

Dr Peucker says Victoria’s new Local Government Act makes it clear that community cohesion and community safety are core tasks of local government.

Dr Mario Peucker

Councils can act in collaboration with local community organisations to fund anti-racism support networks, provide facilities, raise community awareness and even run their own programs.

“If we establish community led anti-racism support networks in a local government area they could also be tasked with recording complaints about racism in a systemat way, which means we will also have an empirical data source of what racism looks like in a a particular area,” he told Government News.

The report found 61 per cent of respondents had experienced racism in the last 12 months. Racism was experienced at work (58 per cent), shopping centres (47 per cent) education and school (41 per cent) public transport and social media (both 38 per cent).

Sixty per cent of respondents had experienced micro-aggressions, 54 per cent verbal insults and abuse, and 51 per cent discrimination. Eighty-six per cent said racism isn’t often reported and only 18 per cent said they had reported an incident formally.

Racism support roadmap

As a result of the research VU has developed a racism support roadmap to help the councils set up accessible community-led networks to provide better support and referral services.

The roadmap, officially launched last month, is based around a set of key recommendations:

  1. More diverse representation across all levels of organisations
  2. More awareness of what constitutes racism and rights to equal treatment, such as workshops and information sessions
  3. Variety of reporting options
  4. Establish a local community-lead anti-racism support network
  5. Promoting existing pathways for reporting via anti-racism support logos
  6. Greater collaboration between all levels of government, employers, schools, police and human rights agencies

This is the third place-based anti-racism roadmap the VU researchers have developed for specific municipalities, with a report launched for the City of Wyndam in 2021 and the City of Whittlesea in 2022.

In 2022, the researchers also collaborated with Welcoming Cities – a national network of towns and cities committed to creating communities of belonging – to launch a step-by-step guide for racism reporting and support services that can be used by all local governments across Australia.

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