BY JORDAN FERMANIS
On Thursday 8 September, Dr Tim Soutphommasane, the Race Discrimination Commissioner, gave the 24th Annual Kingsley Laffer Memorial lecture at the University of Sydney.
Dr Soutphommasane was appointed to the Australian Human Rights Commission role on the 20th of August 2013, with the appointment lasting for five years. The role has previously been held by the current President of the Australian Human Rights Commission Professor Gillian Triggs.
As the son of Asian migrants to Australia, Dr Soutphommasane has written extensively on cultural assimilation into Australia from migrant communities as well as on the nuances of Australia’s multiculturalism.
In a working group with the likes of the Australia Human Rights Commission, PwC, Westpac and the University of Sydney, Dr Soutphommasane commenced research into cultural diversity in Australian leadership.
The findings display gross inequalities. The results indicate that of ASX 200CEO’s more than 75 per cent were of Anglo-Celtic background, 20 per cent were of European background and less than one per cent were non-European or Indigenous Australians.
More than 80 per cent of the current Federal ministry was of Anglo-Celtic background, out of 42 ministers, not one has a of non-European background except for Assistant Minister of Health and Aged Care Ken Wyatt.
Of Vice Chancellors at Australian universities, 85 per cent were from a Anglo-Celtic background and the remaining 15 per cent were of European extraction.
The findings reveal that among top leadership roles in Australian politics, business and tertiary education, Anglo-Celtic and Australians with European ancestry are over-represented.
Dr Soutphommasane said that the results show that bias and discrimination exist in the upper echelons of organisations in Australia.
“We don’t see quite the level of cultural diversity or multiculturalism that you might of expected of a multicultural success story.”
“Australian society isn’t making the most of its cultural diversity. Bias and discrimination does play a part in this,” Dr Soutphommasane said.
In Australian politics, questions of discrimination have been highlighted through debate over repealing section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act. This section of the act makes it unlawful to: “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people” because of their race or ethnicity” with the repeal being driven by Liberal Senator Corey Bernardi.
The electoral success of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party again puts issues of racial discrimination back into focus with Ms Hanson’s call for a royal commission into Islam.
Dr Soutphommasane said that in the current climate “it is of paramount importance that we do justice to cultural diversity.”
The Commissioner said that although Australia has a rich mix of cultural diversity, more attention needs to be given on how to have a similar mix of cultural backgrounds in leadership roles.
“Australia is an emphatically multicultural society. We are triumphant about our cultural diversity and few can boast on having our success on it. It is striking that among our leaders today in various spheres, that we are yet to see a multicultural character being reflected. Why don’t we see more diversity among our leaders?” Dr Soutphommasane said.