‘Race politics is back’: race commissioner exits with parting shots at conservatives

Tim Soutphommasane

Tim Soutphommasane will warn that “race politics is back” and criticise Turnbull government ministers for their rhetoric on African gangs and ethnic separatism in a fiery final speech as race discrimination commissioner.

The speech, to be delivered at the University of Western Sydney’s Whitlam Institute on Monday, is a blunt assessment of the “resurgence of far-right politics” in Australia which lays the blame on politicians and sections of the media for promoting division for personal gain.

In a copy of the speech, seen by Guardian Australia, Soutphommasane acknowledges that Australia has “good reason to boast that it is one of the most successful multicultural societies in the world”.

But – borrowing another favourite phrase of Malcolm Turnbull’s – he warns there has “never been a more exciting time to be a dog-whistling politician or race-baiting commentator in Australia”.

Soutphommasane argues there is a concerning “mixing of race and politics” with politicians “enthusiastically seeking debates about immigration, multiculturalism and crime”.

Southphommasane cites home affairs minister Peter Dutton’s calls for “special attention” for white South African farmers, citizenship minister Alan Tudge’s claim that Australia is veering towards a “European separatist multicultural model”, Dutton’s suggestion Melburnians are afraid to go out to dinner due to African youth crime, and Turnbull’s claim there is “real concern about Sudanese gangs” in Melbourne.

Soutphommasane says when he took the job five years ago he “wouldn’t have expected that the biggest threats to racial harmony would come from within our parliaments and from sections of our media. Yet here we are.

“This is dangerous territory,” he says. “When politicians resort to using race in advancing their agendas, they inevitably excite racial anxiety and stir up social division.

“They end up damaging our racial tolerance and multicultural harmony.”

Soutphommasane says there is “simply no compelling evidence that Australian multiculturalism is in danger of veering towards ethnic separatism”.

He argues people born in Australia and New Zealand are also “over-represented in Victorian crime statistics” and questions why the race of offenders…

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