SURESH RAJAN was the first president of the Ethnic Communities Council of WA. In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED, he reveals the forgotten history of Harmony Day and its roots as a solemn commemoration of the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa.
OVER the last day or so and today I have seen a number of posts about Harmony Day and related matters.
Let me give people some perspective.
When originally conceived, Harmony Day was a day in September.
It was an idea here in WA that was stolen by Philip Ruddock when he was Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Minister and taken federally.
Soon after it was changed to March 21, the United Nations Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and remained on that day for a number of years.
In 2004 and 2005, when I was first President of the Ethnic Communities Council of WA (ECCWA), I had many discussions and arguments and conversations with the then Premier of WA, Dr Geoff Gallop.
Gallop was also the Minister for Multicultural Interests (and his Parliamentary Secretary was Mark McGowan).
The view that we (ECCWA) put to the Premier was that the reason for the UN choosing that date (March 21) was that it was a commemoration of the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa, when people were killed fighting against the “Pass” laws.
We put the view that it was inappropriate to “celebrate” that day as a “harmony” day when in fact it was a commemoration of something other than harmony.
After some discussion, Gallop (one of the most visionary and forward thinking Multicultural Interests Ministers we have ever had) agreed with us and changed WA’s event to Harmony week on March 14-20 .
During that week we would showcase cultural activities that highlighted the cultural plurality of this state.
On March 21st however we would reflect on the Sharpeville massacre and conduct events that raised and discussed issues related to racism and racial vilification, and discrimination.
One such event was the Vice Chancellors Oration on Racism.
Speakers have been Malcolm Fraser and others (including myself at one!)
So, in WA, we have not “celebrated” Harmony Day for a number of years.
Unfortunately, the previous Liberal government was less than diligent in ensuring this was the case.
The Office of Multicultural Interests have also let their guard down in making sure this was the case.
My approach, when I am confronted by these events touted as being “Harmony Day”, is to ring the organisers and let them know my point of view.
Hope this explains the approach we take in WA to this week.
A few other states have also gone the same way.