Harmony Day – A time for reflection

As we approach Harmony Day this year, we join the rest of the world in condemning the far-right extremist terrorist attack against the people of New Zealand.

There is a critical dual purpose to 21 March. While schools, in the main, are encouraged to celebrate our backgrounds, cultures, practices, beliefs, identities and languages, the other function of equal significance is to reflect on what racism is and how we can educate to combat it.

It is not effective to celebrate one, without learning from the other.

While Australia celebrates Harmony Day, elsewhere around the world 21 March is the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; a day that marks its birth from the Sharpeville massacre that took place during apartheid South Africa in 1960.

Since the massacre during a civil rights movement event, that date has been acknowledged as the day that freedom from racial discrimination should be maintained as a human right.

Two years ago, on this day, as children in public schools across NSW celebrated Harmony Day, the federal Liberal-National Government decided to weaken the Racial Discrimination Act at Section 18C.

Section 18C of the Act makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their cultural background.

Thankfully, through public outcry and demonstrations, it was unsuccessful in legislating such a change but, in many ways, the damage was already done.

Apart from the huge impact on individuals, the signal to the broader community arguably sought to weaken social cohesion and inclusion in our society; values that public school teachers, students and their communities hold dear.
Federation members are reminded of their responsibility as educators to organise, act and educate against racism in all its forms.

Federation’s Anti-Racism Policy applies to all Federation members and employees.

Federation will, through its decisions and policies, heed the voices of its members and students who are subjected to racial abuse, discrimination or vilification.

For copies of Federation’s Anti-Racism Policy, charter, campaign resources (such as posters), information about racism, good practice case studies as well as professional readings, go to Federation’s Anti-Racism website page or contact Amber Flohm, Federation’s Multicultural Officer/Organiser on [email protected].

Federation members are urged to support the Palm Sunday Peace Rally for Refugees on Sunday, 14 April, at Belmore Park from 2pm. Federation, a proud sponsor of this annual event, hopes that members, their families and communities can stand up for refugees and reject racist government policies affecting so many.

Australia is obligated by the United Nations convention to protect those seeking asylum here and despite international condemnation, numerous reports and inquiries, the mistreatment of asylum seekers in Manus, Nauru and on the mainland continues.

Federation members are urged to access our resources, either through our website or library resources for professional learning for teachers, as well as resources for use in the classroom and wider community. Further resources from the Australian Human Rights Comission’s campaign Racism. It Stops with Me’, of which Federation is a long-term supporter, will also enable members to access information on racial discrimination.