Comprehensive study of hate incidents in Australia – updated

Source of image: Julie Nathan

A comprehensive study conducted in 2022 revealed a clear picture of the state of reported hate incidents in Australia from 2014 to 2021. This article updates the 2022 study so as to incorporate data from a recent report of hate incidents which was released in 2023.

The 2022 study was based on the reports of three targeted communities – Jewish, Muslim and Asian – the only communities who have a reporting and documentation system, and which produce reports on hate incidents against their community.

The three sets of publications used in the 2022 study and in the updated assessment in this article are: the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s  (ECAJ) ‘Report on Antisemitism in Australia’ (produced annually since 1990); the Islamophobia Register Australia’s (IRA) ‘Islamophobia in Australia’ (four reports produced, in 2017, 2019, 2022, and 2023); and the Asian Australian Alliance’s (AAA) ‘COVID-19 Coronavirus Racism Incident Report’ (two reports produced, in 2020 and in 2021).

Two new reports have been produced since the 2022 study: the ECAJ report for 2022 with 478 anti-Jewish incidents; and the IRA report for 2020-2021, with 90 anti-Muslim incidents. There has been no subsequent report from the AAA. However, the updated study in this article includes only data for incidents up to the end of 2021. This includes the IRA data for 2020-2021, which was previously unavailable and was only released in 2023. It is now possible to analyse the data for all three communities for the period of 2020-2021.

It is important to note that the reports by each of these organisations vary in four distinct ways: 1. different or unknown criteria for inclusion/exclusion as a hate incident, 2. different data categories of hate incidents (notably, two reports include online discourse as incidents while one report excludes online), 3. different transparency levels of incidents (eg one report lists all incidents, two reports provide some examples of incidents), and 4. different time frames of reporting periods. This means that making accurate comparisons between the incident data in the different reports is complicated, yet attainable.

Despite these differences, by looking at the reports produced by each organisation a clearer and more comprehensive picture of hate incidents in Australia emerges from the data, at least within these three targeted communities.

Summary of incidents

An updated analysis shows that there were 3,612 reported hate incidents in the seven-year four-month (88 month) period between 17 September 2014 and 31 December 2021. That amounts to an average of 492 incidents per year, and over nine incidents per week.

These incidents were composed of: 2,142 anti-Jewish incidents (in the 84 months from 1 October 2014 to 30 September 2021); 929 anti-Muslim incidents (in the 88 months from 17 September 2014 to 31 December 2021); and 541 anti-Asian incidents (in the 15 months from 2 April 2020 to 28 June 2021).

The frequency of hate incidents experienced by each community varies significantly. To provide some context, the Australian population is composed of 25 million people. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2016, in Australia there were 100,000 Jews, 604,000 Muslims, and 2.4 million people of east and southeast Asian ancestry. This means that proportionally, for every 100,000 people in each community, there were 306 anti-Jewish incidents, 20 anti-Muslim incidents, and 18 anti-east/southeast Asian incidents, on average annually.

The three communities face similar types of hate incidents, but in strikingly varying proportions. Using data from the reports by ECAJ (in 2021), IRA (2018-2019) and AAA (2021-2021), the top two categories with the highest percentage of incidents for each community are: verbal abuse (33%) and graffiti (24%) against the Jewish community; online content (44%) and hate speech (25%) against the Muslim community; and, direct racial slur/name calling (35%) and online harassment (25%) against the Asian community.

Anti-Jewish incidents

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) was formed in 1944 and is the peak national body representing the Australian Jewish community. It has produced an annual Report on Antisemitism each year since 1990. These reports were inaugurated after a spate of arson attacks on synagogues and a kindergarten in 1990 and 1991. Each Antisemitism Report covers the 12-month period to 30 September each year.

There was a total of 2,142 anti-Jewish incidents reported for the seven years from 1 October 2014 to 30 September 2021; averaging 306 incidents annually. The annual number of anti-Jewish incidents ranged from 190 incidents in 2015 to 447 incidents in 2021.

Anti-Jewish incidents, documented in the 2021 ECAJ report, as a percentage of the total number of incidents, in descending order, comprised: verbal abuse (33%); graffiti (24%); email, postal, phone (23%); placards, posters, stickers (16%); physical assault (2%); and vandalism (2%).

Of note, the ECAJ, unlike other organisations, does not include in its tally of incidents general expressions of hate against Jews that appear online, as these are too numerous and ubiquitous to measure from year to year in any meaningful way. However, general expressions of hate against Jews that appear online are recorded in the discourse section of each report.

Anti-Muslim incidents

The Islamophobia Register Australia (IRA) was established “in response to increasing harassment and attacks” against Muslims after police raids in Sydney and Brisbane in September 2014.

There was a total of 929 anti-Muslim incidents reported between 17 September 2014 and 31 December 2021, an 88-month period, of which 417 (45%) were online posts/comments. (Some adjustments in offline/online figures, in this study, have been made in accordance with the IRA report of 2023.) The average number of anti-Muslim incidents annually for the seven years between 2015 and 2021 was 118.

The four reports by IRA documented 243 incidents in 2014 and 2015 (16 months), 349 in  2016 and 2017 (24 months), 247 in 2018 and 2019 (24 months), and 90 in 2020 and 2021 (24 months). Of these incidents, 45%, 42%, 44%, and 55% respectively, were online content. Of note, these reports are released up to two years after the period they cover.

IRA’s 2020-2021 report, which focused on and analysed “930 verified incidents (515 offline and 415 online)” from 2014 to 2021, noted that of the 515 “offline incidents” which account for 55% of all incidents, in descending order, comprised: verbal intimidation (45%); graffiti and vandalism (12%); discrimination by authorities in official buildings, workplaces, schools (10%); written material (9%); physical assault (8%); multiple incident types (8%), non-verbal intimidation (6%); and other (2%). Of the 415 incidents online, which account for 45% of incidents, during 2014-2021, 75% occurred on Facebook.

Anti-Asian incidents

The Asian Australian Alliance (AAA) report was motivated by the racism against Asians in Australia arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. The first report covered the 2-month period from 2 April 2020 to 2 June 2020 and recorded 377 incidents. The second report covered the 13-month period from 3 June 2020 to 28 June 2021, and recorded 164 incidents. This is a total of 541 anti-Asian incidents over a 15-month period, and an average of 432 incidents for a 12-month period. No further reports have been issued covering the period from June 2021.

In the second AAA report, incidents, in descending order, comprised: direct racial slur/name calling (35%); online harassment (25%); making it out as a joke (13%); verbal threats (8%); getting spat/sneezed/coughed on (7%); physical intimidation/harassment (7%); shunning (6%); workplace discrimination (2%); and other categories of discrimination under 2%.

Countering hate incidents

These 3,612 hate incidents comprise only a proportion of hate incidents occurring in Australia. Many other anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and anti-Asian incidents are unreported. In addition, incidents against other targeted communities – on the basis of race, ethnic/national origin, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, and other attributes – go unreported due to the lack of an organisation which logs reports for these communities.

Hate incidents detrimentally affect individuals, communities and the society as a whole. It is therefore crucial to counter and reduce the number of hate incidents, and the prevailing prejudices that drive them. This requires information and resolve.

The hate incident data by these three targeted communities can be used by governments, human rights bodies, police, and others, to formulate policies and practices towards countering hate incidents. This data is an invaluable resource providing evidence for the state of hate incidents in Australia within these three communities.

About the Author
Julie Nathan is the Research Director at the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the peak representative body of the Australian Jewish community, and is the author of the annual ECAJ Report on Antisemitism in Australia.
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