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Anti-Racism strategy to be adopted in Inner West following sign removal stoush

A Racism Not Welcome sign at Addison Road Community Organisation. Last month, a motion to remove the signs in Woollahra was defeated. Photo: Addison Road Community Organisation.

By PATRICK MCKENZIE

Inner West Council will develop an anti-racism strategy in consultation with local community groups as part of a motion that was unanimously approved earlier this month. 

The motion, moved by councillor Mat Howard at a March council meeting acknowledges that “racism exists in all communities and that councils have a role and responsibility to confront and eliminate it”. 

It also agrees to develop an anti-racism strategy by engaging with a “reputable third party” and in consultation with the Inner West Council Multicultural Advisory Committee and Inner West Multicultural Network.

The move from Inner West Council comes after a push from three Woollahra councillors last month to remove the anti-racism ‘#RacismNotWelcome’ street signs in the eastern suburbs failed.

Following a heated council debate, the motion – put forward by Liberal councillors Toni Zeltzer, Peter Cavanagh and Mary-Lou Jarvis – was narrowly lost following a vote from councillors.

While speaking to the motion last month, Cr Jarvis called the signs “another example of wokeism”, with the motion saying that the signs gave a “false impression that Woollahra locals are racist, while there has been no evidence presented to that effect”.

The Racism Not Welcome street sign campaign was adopted in Woollahra last year and was launched by Inner West Council as part of a program with the Inner West Multicultural Network and Addison Road Community Organisation in 2020, following an increase in racist attacks throughout the community.

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 

Earlier this week, council marked the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by hosting and supporting an array of events, including a weeklong series of online interviews titled ‘The Power of Conversation: Stories of Racism from the Community’. 

Guests have included Gumbaynggirr, Bundjalung and Dunghutti woman Lizzie Jarret, a First Nations activist involved with casework for people who have suffered discrimination and violence at the hands of government agencies, as well as visual artist and musician Justo Díaz.

Osmond Chiu (right). Photo: Supplied.

Chairperson for Inner West Council’s Multicultural Advisory Committee and Research Fellow at the Per Capita think tank Osmond Chiu has spoken at length about the importance of recognising racism as it manifests in “systemic issues” nationwide.

“There’s also a more casual racism … that is so normalised in Australia people can’t even see it. There is this terrible mismatch in this country between the entire idea of Australia and the reality of what Australia actually looks like,” he said.

Chiu has played a major role in the spread of the Inner West Multicultural Network’s ‘#RacismNOTWelcome’ street sign campaign, which has gained traction in a number of Sydney councils, educational institutions and areas nationwide.

He says that the criticism of the anti-racism signs in Woollahra “almost justifies them”. 

“It shows how uncomfortable people are talking about it as a real issue. They want to pretend it doesn’t exist,” he said.

The anti-racism strategy moving forward

Cr Howard said that while the Inner West can celebrate the success of its “diverse, inclusive and harmonious community”, more can be done.

Inner West Labor councillor Mat Howard. Photo: Facebook.

“Racism exists in every community and continues to limit access to opportunity and full participation for people from First Nations and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds,” Cr Howard said.

“Through the power of storytelling and conversation, we can hopefully move towards an anti-racist and socially cohesive community.

“[The strategy] will provide us and our communities with further opportunities to raise awareness of racism and host programs that reduce racism and promote inclusion,” Cr Howard said.

Chiu said that while funding for multiculturalism and service delivery is important, it does little to “deal with the challenges that people from diverse cultural communities face”. 

While the United Nations deemed March 21 International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, it has officially been known as ‘Harmony Day’ in Australia for decades. 

Critics have said that the renaming sweeps discussions of racism under the rug, leaving little room for discussion of systemic issues such as representation in institutions.

The Racism at Work report, released by the Diversity Council Australia on Monday, says that “eradicating racism requires more than just passively claiming to be non-racist – it requires anti-racism. This means actively standing up to and challenging racism”. 

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