CAIRO - The Australian government has introduced a new policy that focuses on educating citizens on existing laws to encourage multiculturalism and to send a message that racial injustice and racism is not tolerated.
"It's about calling it as a government and saying 'yes, there is a problem and we need to address it using the full force of the law that we already have in place'," Kate Lundy, Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, told The Australian on Tuesday, December 6.
The new initiative to use the "full force of the law" came as part of the Julia Gillard government's renewed policy on multiculturalism.
Encouraging people to act, Senator Lundy said the government was open to creating even tougher laws to stop racism.
She believed current provisions in federal law should be used more and the government should play a stronger role in encouraging action to stamp it out.
The new policy followed calls by Race Discrimination Commissioner Helen Szoke who called for a broadening of the Racial Discrimination Act to enhance multiculturalism.
Szoke added that a specific act might be needed if any gabs were found in protecting ethnic minorities from racial vilification.
Senator Lundy will also use a recent review by federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland of anti-discrimination laws covering race, gender, age and sexuality to call for reforms to give ethnic minorities more rights to fight racism.
"I think it's a case about awareness," Senator Lundy said.
"I'm really keen to see how the human rights commission will take that campaign. We've provided resources.
"I think our laws are strong, I think there needs to be an awareness and education about those laws and people having a good understanding of their rights and being able to pursue complaints and challenge behavior, she added.
That will be a terrific step for all of us."
Australia has absorbed generational waves of immigrants, from Chinese during the 1800s Gold Rush to Vietnamese, Italians, Greeks, Eastern Europeans and finally large numbers of Indian students in the past few years.
But immigration remains a political flashpoint with intense debate over the steady arrival of rickety boats carrying asylum-seekers from poor countries.
The new laws would also target stamping out racism in the workplace as a "top priority".
"We need to remind everybody that is in a position of power and employs people that they have obligations under Australian law not to discriminate, Senator Lundy told the Australian.
"We need to be educating and supporting employers to make good decisions that are not discriminatory ... and supporting the people who are applying for the jobs so they know their rights and we have a good system of handling complaints."
Senator Lundy ruled out a broader constitutional recognition of racial diversity.
"I think that our very character as a nation is one built on migration and there's a lot inherent in who we already are," she said.
"I think it is a fact rather than some stated policy that we are multicultural, so that is not something I'm considering.
"We can't tell people what they can and can't do, there's no magic clicking of fingers."
Commenting on the recent rejection of applying Shari`ah laws among Victoria Muslims, Senator Lundy said the multicultural policy would never allow groups to have a different set of rules.
"People come to Australia because they admire our values, so it's not about changing Australian law; it's about asking people to subscribe to those values,"
Australian Muslim have been urging recognition of the Shari`ah Islamic law to boost integration and assimilation.
The latest proposal was forwarded by the Somali Community of Victoria president Abdurahman Osman.
A spokesman for Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark rejected the proposal without giving reasons for the move.
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.
Islam is the country's second largest religion after Christianity.