How bad is prejudice and discrimination in Australia?

While many Australians might like to think that Australia is the land of the “fair go”, the statistics suggest this is no longer the case.

Indigenous women make up 2% of Australia’s population and yet are 34% of the women behind bars.

While 10% of AFL players are Aboriginal or Torres Strait islanders, only 3 out of 180 (1.7%) of coaches are Aboriginal.

There are more ‘Andrews’ leading ASX 200 organisations as CEOs, than there are women CEOs.

There are more CEOs called Peter in the ASX 200 companies than there are Asian Australian CEOs.

Only 17.1% of CEOs and 25.8% of board members are female and women take home $25,717 a year less than men on average.

Australians with an Asian heritage make up about 15 per cent of the population but account for just 3.1 per cent of partners in law firms, 1.6 per cent of barristers and 0.8 per cent of judges. Australia’s thirty-nine universities host more than a quarter of a million students from Asia, but there is only one vice-chancellor from a non-European background. All members of the ABC board are white, and the national broadcaster’s senior executives and content-makers don’t reflect the diversity of Australian society either. Asian Australians hold just five out of the 226 seats in the national parliament, and the top ranks of the public service are even less representative.

It would appear that the claim that contemporary Australia is “a multicultural society with monocultural institutions.” is still true. Nothing appears to be changing.

Despite Australia’s 28 years of continuous economic growth, almost three decades of uninterrupted national good fortune, we have achieved virtually no change in the 10% or so of Australians living below the poverty line. Nothing. The number of children living in poverty is by some measures actually rising.

A recent survey found 48 per cent of children with disability had been bullied in the past year and 30 per cent had been restrained or put in solitary confinement at school. It also found about 12 per cent of children surveyed had been refused enrolment and 40 per cent had been excluded from school events, such as camps, excursions or sports.

Almost a third of Australians perceived some form of age-related discrimination while employed or looking for work in the last 12 months — starting as early as 45 years of age!

Almost a third of young people experienced unfair treatment or discrimination based on their race in the last year, Mission Australia’s youth survey has revealed.

It appears that we are really good at discriminating against a huge proportion of our population!

For us to do anything about this issue, we firstly have to acknowledge today’s reality and not pretend that massive prejudice, racism and discrimination don’t exist. We have to examine the systemic and personal structures, behaviours and attitudes that perpetuate this shameful level of discrimination. We have to be brave enough to talk about power and call out power that is not being used to society’s benefit. Remaining silent about power only let’s those with the power keep it, and this works to their advantage and not ours.

Working together, we need to map out what sort of society we want to live in and what changes we need to make to get there. For example, do we want to consider Noel Pearson’s vision of weaving together the disparate strands of Indigenous heritage, British institutions and multicultural migration into a strong cord of shared identity? Only by asking the hard questions and developing an action plan, can we make Australia a more inclusive, richer society that will be stronger, more resilient, more equitable and a much better place for everyone to live!


share on