By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
In February 2020, Sydney resident, Angela Prendergast, found herself on a suburban train when a middle-aged Caucasian female boarded and began yelling at a young Asian-Australian mother who was quietly travelling with her baby.
Unbeknownst to Ms Prendergast at the time, that Saturday afternoon, a racial attack would unravel before her very eyes, made worse in its occurrence at a time when, amid the fear of coronavirus, compassion, inclusivity and community spirit were evermore needed to support each other and those affected by the outbreak.
Ms Prendergast both witnessed the incident and intervened it, before which the middle-aged woman had yelled at the mother, demanding her to stand in the corner of the train because she was “spreading viruses”.
As a series of racially discriminating insults were hurled at the mother, Ms Prendergast was forced to intercept, making sure the mother and her child were ok.
The Racist Comments That Were Thrown at the Asian-Australian Mother
Ms Prendergast spoke to Guardian Australia having witnessed the incident, telling the news outlet of the racial slurs coming from the middle-aged woman.
“I heard her yelling, saying, ‘You need to cough over there. You need to stop coughing. That’s how viruses get spread.’ She was a young woman [being yelled at] and she had a baby in a pram,” Ms Prendergast said.
To make matters more despairing, she noted that the mother was even standing up with her pram, despite there being seats available.
Ms Prendergast said the mother bellowed back at the woman, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m not coughing, I’m not doing anything”.
She then asked the mother if she was ok, following which the attacker decided to leave her alone.
According to Ms Prendergast, the mother commented that she had never even been to China before, saying the slurs were “just ridiculous”.
Fears Coronavirus Causing Increased Racism and Xenophobia Against People of Asian Background
Indeed, as fears mount over the fatal coronavirus, so too it seems are the racist and xenophobic incidents against Asian communities in Australia and in many countries across the world.
Business Insider Australia reports that people of Asian descent are increasingly being discriminated against in workplaces, supermarkets and university campuses.
On a larger scale, customers from mainland China were also entirely barred from businesses across Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam, while in Singapore, 126,000 people called for Chinese nationals to be forbidden from the country.
Professor of sociomedical sciences, Robert Fullilove, expressed to the media outlet his concern over the tendency for people from similar backgrounds and philosophies to become suspicious of those we don’t have a connection with or understand.
“We tend to exist in social silos where we’re surrounded by people who look like us, think like us, and act like us, and we are innately suspicious of folk that we don’t have contact with and we don’t understand,” Professor Fullilove said.
At a time when upheaval and uncertainty are high, racist events have a tendency to promote division and xenophobia – a complete contrast to the multicultural, inclusive and diverse community support needed to support all members of the public.
What Does Australian Legislation say about Racial Discrimination?
In Australia, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person based on their race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, or immigrant status, and this is reflected in the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).
The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) came into place to protect people from such discrimination across various spheres of public life – including employment, access to services, education, renting or buying a house or unit, and access to public places.
Under the legislation, a person is not permitted to do or say something in public that is reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a person or group because of their race, colour, or national or ethnic origin.
Such conduct is known as racial hatred, and can include behaviour such as posting material on social media that is racially offensive, using racist slurs when talking to people, and exhibiting racist posters.
When it comes to racially offensive conduct, a person who subjects another person to this is responsible for their behaviour.
For more information, call us to 24/7 for a free appointment with our criminal lawyers based in Sydney today.
Racial Discrimination Laws
In Australia, it is generally unlawful to do or say something that is reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people based on their race, colour, national or ethnic origin.
This is reflected in section 18C Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).
The Act prohibits this behaviour if its communicated in public, occurs in public or even if it happens in sight or hearing of a public place.
If this occurs, you can complain to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) who, upon receiving the complaint will investigate and try to resolve it by way of conciliation.
Results from conciliation include compensation and/or providing the other person with training in anti-discrimination.
Such complaints will proceed to investigation and conciliation if it isn’t vexatious, trivial or lacks substance.
An unsuccessful conciliation can result in the matter being referred to the Federal Court. If the Federal Court makes a finding of unlawful discrimination, it can make a variety of orders, including a compensation order.
If a person who attempts to exercise these powers to make a complaint to the AHRC is obstructed, hindered, molested or interfered with by a person, that person can face a $2,100 fine under section 27(1) Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).
Other than this, such behaviour can also amount to offensive conduct, offensive language, and/or using a carriage service to harass, offend of menace charges in NSW.