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Harmony Day: the long road to ending racial discrimination


Celebrate diversity and come together to eliminate racism in Sydney with Harmony Day.

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, celebrated on March 21, reflects the same day in 1960 when police opened fire and killed 69 people during a peaceful demonstration against the apartheid “pass laws” in Sharpeville, South Africa. In 1966 it was proclaimed by the General Assembly that March 21 would become the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Since its inception, the apartheid system in South Africa has been dismantled, racist laws and practices have been removed in many countries, and an international framework for fighting racism has been built.

In Australia, we acknowledge the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by celebrating Harmony Day, a day with a simple message: Everyone Belongs.

Australia is one of the most diverse countries in the world, with over 200 countries making up the Australian community. According to 2011 Census data, more than 300 languages are spoken in Australian homes, which includes more than 60 Indigenous languages.

Harmony Day in Sydney is part of the Living in Harmony Festival, which is a month-long festival running throughout March. There are a range of forums, exhibitions, festivals, performances, films and more to indulge in over the month – check out the full list of events here.

Racial Vilification and the Law Today

In its current form, the Racial Discrimination Act "aims to ensure that Australians of all backgrounds are treated equally and have the same opportunities."

In 2011 it was found that controversial journalist Andrew Bolt was in breach of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act for publishing newspaper articles that "questioned the motivations of fair-skinned people who identified as Aboriginal".

Following this, the Abbott government have promised to amend the Act in the interests of upholding free speech, a move that has been called "morally repugnant" by community groups.

In its current form, 18C states that it is unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person or group because of their “race, colour or national or ethnic origin”. However, the Abbott government is pushing to remove the words "offend, insult, humiliate" from the section.

Senior Labor MP Mark Dreyfus, who is against the proposed amendments, told The Australian that he 'found it offensive the section might be repealed because of the impact it had on Mr Bolt'.

“The idea that just because one right wing commentator should have been found to have contravened the provision, that we should chuck out something that’s served Australia very well over nearly 20 years, I find very offensive,” he said.