Australian laws not equipped to deal with race issues

17 May 2017

It's time to lay bare the truth of what we live with, which is a race-based legal system in a multicultural society.

One of Australia's leading anti-discrimination law experts believes it's time for Australia to open up a potentially confronting discussion on race issues within the Australian legal system.

Professor Simon Rice, of the Australian National University (ANU) College of Law, believes Australia's multicultural policy is increasingly at odds with a mono-cultural legal system based on English law.

"It's time to lay bare the truth of what we live with, which is a race-based legal system in a multicultural society," Professor Rice said.

"Our laws are embedded with really important cultural assumptions that are race connected.

"One of the obstacles to social integration is that we celebrate almost every facet of multiculturalism except for that part of culture which is law."

Professor Rice said that while it is necessary to work within a single large legal framework, there is room within our English-based system for recognition of localised laws. He said traditional Australian Indigenous laws is a good example.

"When our sentencing law comes up against Indigenous sentencing law it can be fairly confronting, but it's a conversation that we need to have," he said.

"If an Indigenous person harms someone, there is no question they will be dealt with in our criminal justice system, but what regard we have for their own law as well, is very fluid.

"Police, welfare workers and magistrates are making really tough decisions every day about whether and how to take account of other cultures, and our current laws don't make this clear."

Professor Rice will be giving a talk about race issues in Australia as part of ANU Law Explains - a series of events for journalists and policymaker to explain legal issues surrounding some of Australia's most prominent public policy issues.

The ANU Law Explains event will take place on Wednesday 17 May and focus on legal issues impacting counter-terrorism, citizenship, race relations, climbing imprisonment rates and the South China Sea.

The full event program can be found here -