Why Does Harmony Day Matter?

How does you feel when you are a seven- year-old Asian girl- the only Asian kid in the class ….and this situation goes on for 13 years? You wake up every morning facing the day – knowing you are different from the other kids and knowing you have to face this feeling of otherness today and every day ..

What do you do when your 10- year-old son when he comes home from school and says that there is a new little Aboriginal girl in class and she is being teased by the boys …

What’s going on when a famous Aboriginal actor wants to get to Belvoir St Theatre to perform on stage, he calls a taxi to his apartment, and the cab refuses to pick him up? and this happens to his co-workers as well .. and every day this happens to Aboriginal people including professionals of every kind..

Why is it that Screen Australia had to commit $5 Million to a gender equality program when analysis revealed women represented only 32 % of producers, 23 % of writers and only 16% of directors, and this happened in 2015!! Further research revealed that “the lack of equality for women in film is caused by identifiable networks of men” (ABC Women Aren’t the Problem Men are”.)

What is unconscious bias? How does it operate? Its an invisible mental and emotional activity that operates subconsciously every day and every moment of every day – resulting in on going discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexuality …

In 2018 we have are facing a situation that was never meant to happen — after the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, the euphoria of the women’s movement in the 70s — the rise of consciousness and freedom for women, the Pill, sexual liberation… we thought equality was a happening thing! We thought we had been released from the chains of oppression and we would never go back .. unfortunately the opposite is true…

What does it mean when the current federal government (Liberal Party of Australia) first under Abbott and then under Turnbull attempt to weaken the Anti-Discrimination Act 18C (OF 1977!) .. three times!! When the Attorney-General George Brandis makes national news when he tells parliament “People have the right to be bigots you know ” and this is 2014!!

Thankfully George Brandis was forced to back down as he came under fire from many sectors of the community including NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell who is quoted to say:

“Bigotry should never be sanctioned, whether intentionally or not,” said O’Farrell. “Vilification on the grounds of race or religion is always wrong. There is no place for inciting hatreds within our Australian society.” (The Guardian)

And then in 2017 Malcolm Turnbull has another go – in a classic moment of double speak claiming that changing the 18C laws will strengthen the law, however was voted down by Labor and the Greens in the Senate as:

“The Opposition says the Minister’s claims of strengthening the RAD is “nonsense”. “This is a weakening of the law,” Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus told reporters in Canberra.

“It is a weakening of protection against racist hate speech.”

“It is a moving of the line that we have drawn against racist hate speech for more than 20 years in the wrong direction and he’s done it on Harmony Day.” (Huffpost)

Now there’s the rub — not only did the PM try to weaken Anti-Discrimination Laws to make it easier for bigots to get away with hate speech – he did it on Harmony Day — just a coincidence do you think?

Harmony Day is a national day which was established in 1999 coinciding with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Each year, it is marked by people coming together and participating in local activities. The continuing message of Harmony Day is ‘Everyone Belongs’. It is about community participation, inclusiveness, celebrating diversity, respect and belonging.

Why is Harmony Day even more relevant today than in 1999? As an observer of racism, sexism and multiculturalism for over 30 years I would have to say the same thing as many of us who grew up in the 1970s and 80s would “We never thought equality would take this long !!”

With the rise of a myriad number of “Patriot ” groups and political parties such as One Nation, Reclaim Australia, United Patriots Front we are facing a very serious erosion of Australian values of equality, fairness and a “fair go “. Our true Australian values are being replaced with a ‘quasi Aussieness’ where young drunken thugs wander the streets draped in our flag looking for “foreigners” (Australians of colour) to harass and attack, when Australia Day has slowly slipped into a day of conflict and discomfort when even walking down the street in Byron Bay I felt slightly nervous – With the Southern Cross flag and Australian flag appearing on flag poles on the odd house or car .. when a very hippie local girl says to me “it might sound strange but I think Pauline might be alright!” we can see that racism has successfully become normalised in the minds of many Australians.

When a highly esteemed Aboriginal footballer is harassed and booed so much on the field that he actually retires from the game, and still the game goes on — we know that we are in serious trouble!

So what is the answer? …. change may start with a simple little thing like counting ..

When you are in a room of committee members – count the gender balance, count the number of people of colour as compared to white people .. when you are in a meeting of any kind –count the numbers and time taken up by male or female voices – are there any non-Anglo, Aboriginal or ethnic people involved in your meeting – it not – why not? When you are employing staff- what is the gender balance, what is the ethnic balance? Are there any people to represent disabled, are there any young people or seniors — whatever your dominant demographic is – challenge it and CHANGE IT! To be more inclusive … if you don’t actually count the numbers — you may never notice that there is a gross imbalance and unconscious bias happening every day and every moment of every day …

What about your friend circle – do you walk into the party and find yourself 100% surrounded by 50 something Anglo-Australian friends – how did that happen?

Count the voices, count the representation and you will suddenly find – all is revealed – yes inequality is stalking all around the halls of power right down to the local football club..

So that brings us back to Harmony Day — the one day of the year that you will find centre stage dominated by people of colour — that you will discover that our community is, always has been and always will be – MULTICULTURAL ! That the “patriots ” who talk about ‘real Australians’ and a return to ‘real Aussie values’ – are either living in a fantasy world that never existed or are outright lying about the reality of normal daily life in Australia today. We here in Australia have a lot to be proud of and one of the greatest achievements that we have – was the establishment of Multiculturalism as a strong Australian government policy in 1977 by the Whitlam government which led to our peaceful, harmonious Australian society today – the envy of the world.  This is what we are celebrating and promoting on Harmony Day – the Respect, Peace and Joyful Reality that is Multiculturalism!

Byron Harmony Day was celebrated in Mullumbimby for the first time on 28 April 2018 @ Mullum Civic Hall after 11 years in being held in Byron Bay ! For more info call Judy 0405463663

Judith Shelley, National Coordinator, Australia Indonesia Arts Alliance