Samantha Cooper, an indigenous Australian woman from Queensland, alleged that she was fired from her job as an advocate against domestic violence after she filed a complaint about racism. Cooper had only worked for the Centre Against Domestic Abuse (CADA) for around eight months and alleged multiple occurrences of racist comments directed at her. These comments included statements that she was “quite pretty for an Aboriginal” and questions about what percentage Aboriginal she was. CADA explained in Cooper’s termination letter that she was being let go due to cuts in funding. A spokesman, however, for the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women denied that funding for Cooper’s program was cut. Cooper is taking the case to Australia’s Fair Work Commission.
Australia has a history of abusing its Aboriginal population. When Europeans first came to the continent, their settlement conflicted directly with Aboriginal traditions of land ownership and led to the desecration of sacred sites. Although Aboriginal people had been the undisputed possessors of the continent, Europeans viewed them as parasites, defining their culture in wholly negative terms. The Aboriginal people were subjected to terrible abuse without any recognition of their suffering by the Australian government until 2008, when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued a formal apology for past mistreatment. In spite of this, the biases that led to this abuse are still implicit in Australian society. Indigenous Australian adults of Aboriginal descent are thirteen times more likely to be imprisoned than non-indigenous Australian adults. Aboriginals are also disproportionately detained or imprisoned for minor offenses or poverty-related offenses. In October 2017, the government instructed the Australian Law Reform Commission to investigate and report on this disproportionate representation of incarcerated indigenous Australians. George Brandis, the Federal Attorney-General, has called the phenomenon a “national tragedy.”
Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) of 1975 makes it unlawful to discriminate based on race in specific areas of public life, including employment. The RDA also prohibits racial hatred, which is defined as public acts likely to “offend, insult, humiliate, or intimidate on the basis of race.” The RDA operates at a federal level and creates statutory responsibilities for the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). The AHRC was established in 1986 to investigate and remedy human rights violations in Australia. Part of this responsibility includes enforcement of previous legislation regarding discrimination, such as the RDA. The government of Australia has a statutory duty to protect all of the country’s inhabitants, including Aboriginals, from discrimination based on race. Based on the statutory prohibitions on the type of discrimination alleged by Cooper, the Australian government has breached this duty if the allegations are proven.
Racial discrimination is also prohibited on the state and territorial level. Queensland, where Samantha Cooper worked, enacted the Anti-Discrimination Act (ADA) in 1991. The ADA prohibits discrimination in employment based on race. The ADA also expressly prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination and has the stated purpose of promoting “equality of opportunity for everyone by protecting them from unfair discrimination in certain areas of activity.” This creates a statutory duty on the local government of Queensland to combat the type of discrimination alleged by Cooper. Samantha Cooper should have been safeguarded from the discriminatory treatment she has alleged on the federal and local levels. Australia’s failure to protect one of its own citizens is further evidence of the country’s disregard and disrespect for its indigenous population.