New Race Discrimination Commissioner

October 8, 2018 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Victorian commercial property lawyer Chin Leong Tan has been appointed as the new Race Discrimination Commissioner. 

Chin Leong Tan

Tan, whose appointment started from today,  was recently Director of Multicultural Engagement at Swinburne University of Technology, where he led the development of a Charter of Cultural Diversity.  Tan studied in Australia and practised here as a lawyer for more than 20 years.  In 2011-15, he was chairperson and commissioner of the Victorian Multicultural Commission, having been appointed by the then Victorian Liberal premier Ted Baillieu.

Peter Wertheim, the co-CEO of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, told J-Wire:

“Chin Leong Tan is well qualified to be the new Race Discrimination Commissioner. He has a distinguished track record as a champion of a tolerant and multicultural Australia, and as an opponent of racism. We look forward to working with him and wish him well in his new role.

The integrity of the role Race Discrimination Commissioner needs to be maintained.  Proposals to rename and redefine the position of Race Discrimination Commissioner to focus broadly on ‘community relations’ are misconceived.

Whilst Australia is among the world’s most tolerant and inclusive countries, there is no evidence that the problems of antisemitism and other forms of racism from far-Right, Islamist and far-Left sources has diminished.  Quite the contrary.  Diluting the focus on racism in the title and functions of the Commissioner would thus be counterproductive.

The title and the functions of the Race Discrimination Commissioner are prescribed by the Racial Discrimination Act, so any change would require amendments to the Act. This legislation was enacted under the foreign affairs power in the Australian Constitution in order to give effect to Australia’s international obligations as a party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Indeed, the Convention in its entirety is reproduced as part of the Racial Discrimination Act, namely in the Schedule to that Act.  Any dilution of the anti-racist focus of the Act, or change in the name of the office of Commissioner would thus depart from its essential purpose, which is to give effect to the Convention.”

In 1999 Tan unsuccessfully sought Liberal party preselection for a state seat. Tan has been a member of the Victorian Police Commissioner’s Human Rights Strategic Advisory Group; Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet’s Multicultural Services Delivery Inter-Departmental Group, and the Victorian Government’s Ministerial Council for a Multilingual and Multicultural Victoria. He also served on the Australian Football League’s Multicultural Focus Group.   He won an award at the 2017 Victorian Multicultural Excellence Awards.  Speaking in 2013, Tan said that while racism could never be eliminated, it could be minimised. “We can put in place in society a sense of who we are … a sense of goodwill and commitment to become a better society where we understand each other”.


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