This paper draws upon research relating to the development of ideologies and practices relating to anti-racism in Australia. Since the advent of multiculturalism in the 1970s, following the abolition of the White Australia policy, race has periodically appeared as a subject of intense political contest.
This paper examines one particular manifestation of such contests: parliamentary debates and racial discrimination in the Australian parliament during the 1975 to 2017. Over that period, there have been three major legislative contests involving racial discrimination, relating to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975: (i) the enactment of the Act as Australia’s first federal anti-discrimination legislation in 1975; (ii) the inclusion in the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 of provisions relating to the prohibition of racial hatred, in 1995; and (iii) the proposed amendment of the racial hatred provisions in the Racial Discrimination Act in 2017. While each set of parliamentary debates concerned specific legislative questions, they reveal numerous aspects of historical continuity and highlight the at times ambivalent progress of multiculturalism and racial equality in Australia.