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State of Hate Incidents in Australia

Hate incidents occur against many individuals and communities on the basis of race, ethnic/national origin, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, and other attributes. However, most of these incidents go unreported and undocumented. This is partly due to the fact that most targeted communities have no reporting mechanism within their community organisations to report the incident to. Some incidents are reported to human rights bodies, and others to the police, but these appear to be a small proportion of the total number of incidents occurring.

The situation in Australia is that there are only three communities – Jewish, Muslim and Asian – who have a reporting and documentation system, and which produce reports on hate incidents against their community.

The three reports used in this assessment 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’ (three reports produced, in 2017, 2019 and 2022); and the Asian Australian Alliance’s (AAA) ‘Covid-19 Coronavirus Racism Incident Report’ (two reports produced, in 2020 and in 2021).

The reports by each of these organisations vary in their characteristics 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 leads to the situation where making accurate comparisons between the incident data in the different reports is complicated.

Despite this, by looking at the various reports by each organisation, a clearer and more comprehensive picture of hate incidents in Australia emerges from the data and the description of incidents, at least within these three targeted communities. In addition, ten incidents, fairly representative of the incidents occurring across the categories of incidents, and directly quoted from the reports, are provided below for each of these three communities.

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 just under 100,000 Jews (0.4% of the population), 604,000 Muslims (2.6%), and 1.2 million people of Chinese ancestry (5.6%).

All the data and other information presented here are derived from the reports published by these three organisations – ECAJ, IRA, and AAA.

Summary of Incidents

In Australia, there were 3,522 reported hate incidents in the seven-year period between 17 September 2014 and 30 September 2021. That amounts to an average of over 9 incidents a week. This total can be divided into two periods in order to more fairly assess the incidents.

In the first period, in the five years between late 2014 and 2019, there were 2,203 reported hate incidents. These were composed of 1,364 anti-Jewish incidents (in the 60 months from 1 October 2014 to 30 September 2019) and 839 anti-Muslim incidents (in the 64 months from 17 September 2014 to 31 December 2019).

In the second period, in the two years of 2020 and 2021, there were 1,319 reported hate incidents. These were composed of 778 anti-Jewish incidents (in the 24 months from 1 October 2019 to 30 September 2021) and 541 anti-Asian incidents (in the 15 months from 2 April 2020 to 28 June 2021).

Anti-Jewish Incidents

Anti-Jewish incidents in Australia have been collected and documented by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) since 1990. The ECAJ is the peak representative body of the Australian Jewish community. An annual report, Report on Antisemitism in Australia, is published covering the 12-month period to 30 September each year. The documentation was spurred on by a spate of arson attacks on synagogues in Sydney in 1990 and 1991.

Data collected is restricted exclusively to incidents which were reported to, and authenticated and logged by, any one or more of the following: Jewish community roof bodies in each State; their respective Community Security Groups (if any); the ECAJ itself.

Criteria for Inclusion in the Incidents Tally, and for Exclusion from it, are reproduced in each report in the Incidents chapter. 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.

The number of reported antisemitic incidents each year from 2013 to 2021 were: 231 incidents in 2013; 312 in 2014; 190 in 2015; 210 in 2016; 230 in 2017; 366 in 2018; 368 in 2019; 331 in 2020; and 447 in 2021. This was a total of 2,685 anti-Jewish incidents reported for the 9 years from 1 October 2012 to 30 September 2021. Thus, the average number of reported antisemitic incidents annually during this 9-year period is 298.

ECAJ has eight categories of incidents. Between 2013 and 2021, the number of incidents each year, in each category, was in the range of: ● physical assault 3-15 incidents; ● verbal abuse, harassment, intimidation 75-147; ● vandalism 6-22; ● graffiti 21-106; ● email 10-109; ● postal mail 1-23; ● telephone 10-39; and, ● posters, stickers, placards, leaflets 2-137.

In 2021, anti-Jewish incidents, 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%; vandalism 2%.

Examples of anti-Jewish Incidents: 

As recorded in the ECAJ reports, covering 1 October 2013 to 30 September 2021.

  • Assault: “In Bondi, just after midnight on Saturday 26 October 2013, five Jews walking home from a Shabbat dinner with friends were verbally abused and called “Fucking Jews… Dirty Jews… dirty Jew cunts” in a street in Bondi, Sydney, by eight men and youths. They were then physically assaulted by some of the abusers, including with smashed glass bottles. … Injuries sustained included a fractured cheekbone, broken nose, broken jaw, concussion, lacerations and bruising, bleeding on the brain, glass fragments in an eye.”
  • Abuse: “Around 30 Jewish students, aged from 5-12 years old, on a school bus, which picks up students from a Jewish school, in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, were subjected to physical and verbal threats, when the bus was boarded by 5-8 teenagers who yelled antisemitic abuse, including “all Jews must die”, “kill the Jews”, “Heil Hitler”, and “we’re going to slit your throats” at the students (6 Aug 2014).”
  • Abuse: “A male and a young boy walked up to two identifiable Jews and said “Sharmouta! You should know what that means, Jew boy”, then he said “You fucking disgusting Jews. Go back to the gas chambers”, Elsternwick, Melbourne (16 Dec. 2020). [Note: ‘Sharmouta’ is Arabic for ‘prostitute’, a dire insult in Arabic culture].”
  • Abuse: “Two teenage boys harassed a female Jewish teenager on a bus, saying things like “It’s a shame that Hitler didn’t kill all the Jews. … We would go back and make sure he wipes them all out.” The boys exited the bus at the same time as the Jewish student and followed her for two blocks, eastern Sydney (30 Oct. 2018).”
  • Vandalism: “Arson attack by pouring accelerant and lighting it, on the “Beit Tephilla” [sign] which has a Star of David, outside the Jewish building at Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney (23 March 2019).”
  • Graffiti: “Graffiti of “Gas Kikes”, “Reject Jewish Poison”, “Zionist Occupied Government”, “Smash Zog”, “Hitler Was Right”, “Hitler Did Nothing Wrong”, “Sieg Heil”, “Hitler Youth”, “Rape Jews”, “Jews Hate Us Revolt”, “Jews Out” on a building, Prahran, Melbourne (22 July 2019).”
  • Phone: “A synagogue received a threatening phone call from a person who stated “I am gonna burn down all your synagogues by tomorrow”, Sydney (15 Jan. 2019).”
  • Postal: “Letter sent to a synagogue containing text of: “Jews are murderers”, “the Jews invented terrorism” and “Adolph Hitler was 100% right and correct to put that evil race in the oven”, Sydney (2 June 2021).”
  • Email: “… to [a Jewish community organisation]: “Last email. This is why Jews are hated. Filthy Jewish sacks of shit; I am past being polite you scatological Jewish sack of shit. Just another yid wasting my time you kike cunt” (16 May 2019).”
  • Posters: “During the period in review [2018], there were 125 incidents of Antipodean Resistance banners, posters and stickers,” including posters by Antipodean Resistance with the text calling to “Legalise the Execution of Jews” [showing the shooting of a Jew by a Nazi in 1941] and “Reject Jewish Poison” posted across Australia throughout 2017 and 2018.

Anti-Muslim Incidents

Anti-Muslim incidents in Australia are collected and documented by the Islamophobia Register Australia (IRA), which was instituted by Mariam Veiszadeh in 2014; the reports are edited by Dr Derya Iner, with the support of Charles Sturt University. As explained on page 56 (2014-2015), “The Islamophobia Register Australia was established by Mariam Veiszadeh in response to increasing harassment and attacks against Australian Muslims one day after the police raids” which “occurred in Sydney and Brisbane on 18 September 2014.”

The first report covered the 16-month period from 17 September 2014 to 31 December 2015 (published in 2017), the second and third reports each covered a 24-month period, namely, 2016-2017 (published in 2019) and 2018-2019 (published in 2022). Data is collected through incidents which are reported to the IRA via its website and Facebook page.

In summary, the number of incidents for each report is:

  • 2014-2015 (16-month period): 243 incidents (composed of 111 physical and 132 online, ie 55% online), comprising 102 incidents in 2014, and 141 incidents in 2015;
  • 2016-2017 (24-month period): 349 incidents (composed of 202 physical and 147 online, ie 42% online), amounting to a 43% increase in incidents from the previous report, and comprising an average of 174.5 incidents per year;
  • 2018-2019 (24-month period): 247 incidents (composed of 138 physical and 109 online, ie 44% online), amounting to a 29% decrease in incidents from the previous report, and comprising an average of 123.5 incidents per year.

There was a total of 839 anti-Muslim incidents between 17 September 2014 and 31 December 2019, a 64-month period, of which 388 (47%) were online posts/comments. The average number of reported anti-Muslim incidents annually between 2015 and 2019 (a five-year period) is 147.

The first Report of anti-Muslim incidents, covering 2014 and 2015, has nine categories of incidents (both offline and online), as outlined on pages 60-62: Physical assault; Verbal abuse/threats; Non-verbal abuse; Written abuse; Damage/graffiti; Offensive media content; Hate mail posted to the Register; Social exclusion and discrimination; and Discrimination/harassment by authorities (and government agencies).

The second Report of anti-Muslim incidents, covering 2016 and 2017, for the 202 “offline cases”, notes (on page 62) in a chart the types of incidents and percentages of the total number, in descending order as: ● Hate speech 50%; ● Graffiti/vandalism 12%; ● Physical assault 12%; ● Written materials 11%; ● Non-verbal intimidation 5%; ● Verbal threats 3%; ● Workplace discrimination 2%; ● Discrimination by authorities 2%; ● Bullying school 2%; ● Other 1%.

For the 147 online cases, the report notes (on pages 109-110) the percentage of cases from online platforms: Facebook (63%); news channels, blogs and websites (24%); other (included TV and radio episodes aired and stored Online) 10%. Instagram, Twitter, website/email were each 1%. It also notes that “Of the 147 incidents, 63% targeted the Muslim religion and 33% were xenophobic targeting ethnicity. … This included language that attacked Muslims with regards to the Qur’an, halal, Islamic dress, Islamic teachings and principles.”

The third Report of anti-Muslim incidents, covering 2018 and 2019, notes (on page 4) the categories and percentages of incidents as: “Of the 138 offline cases … The majority of the incidents were hate speech (46%) followed by discrimination (14%) and multiple types of incidents at the same time (14%), then graffiti/vandalism (13%). Discrimination by authorities (including at workplaces and schools) increased from 6% to 14%, while physical assault slightly dropped from 12% to 8% since the previous report. The severest cases consisted of 2% for property damage (e.g. burning a mosque) and 3% for damage to individuals (e.g. hospitalisation).” The report also notes (on page 90) that of the 109 online cases, “Islamophobic incidents occurred mostly on Facebook (86%), followed by email (6%), online media (6%) and Twitter (2%).”

Examples of anti-Muslim Incidents

As recorded in the three IRA reports, covering 17 September 2014 to 31 December 2019.

  • Assault: “A pregnant Muslim sitting with her friends in a café was bashed by a 44-year-old stranger on 20 November 2019. Security camera footage shows the perpetrator walking into the cafe and speaking to Rana Elasmar briefly then starting to leap across the table and punch Ms Elasmar several times in the head and body with both fists and knocking her to the ground.” [2018-2019]
  • Abuse: “…I was walking with my head down and a group of young males yelled out ‘ISIS B****’ ‘go back to where you came from’ and snickered and said ‘shh or she’ll behead you.’ And followed me down the street” [2014-15]
  • Abuse: “Today I witnessed two males around late 40s or so verbally abusing a group of around six ladies wearing headscarves, with their children… one of the men was yelling at them ‘it’s your own f***ing fault, you’re not wanted here’ … (Case 64)” [2014-15]
  • Abuse: “I had just finished eating at X Kababs and as I was leaving a group of young Australian men called me a “rag head” and a “sand nigger” and told me to “go back to where you came from” … (Case 126-17)” [2016-17]
  • Discrimination: “a Muslim family faced discrimination by a flight attendant who persistently ignored the family and boarded everyone except the family regardless of the long wait. “We stood there waiting patiently as she boarded one after another and ignored us as we stood directly in front of her…” (Case 200, 4 Jan 19).”
  • Vandalism: “a car was loaded with a petrol bomb and left in front of an Islamic school (Case 53-16).” [2016-17]
  • Graffiti: “Early hours of 11 Sept, this [‘Remove Kebab’, ‘St Tarrant’] was graffitied on front of Holland Park mosque. Swastika also painted over their sign….” (Case 196, 11 Sep 19).”
  • Stickers: “Stop the Islamic Invasion” [2016-17]; “No Islamic Takeover” “(Case 138-17)” [2016-17]; “No room for Islamic fascism” (Case 67, 21 Mar 18)”.
  • Online: “posted on 25 March 2016” [screenshot of comment “Islamic people have declared war on the West, so a dead moslem is a good moslem…” [2016-17]
  • Online: [meme/image with text of: “Some cancers must be treated with radiation. Islam is one of them”] “Case 59, 15 Jul 19”.

Anti-Asian Incidents

The first Report on anti-Asian racism – COVID-19 Coronavirus Racism Incident Report/ – was produced by the Asian Australian Alliance (AAA) and Osmond Chiu, Research Fellow at the Per Capita Thinktank, and published in July 2020, as a preliminary report. The report was motivated by the racism against Asians in Australia arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The incidents in this report were acquired through an “online survey” which “consisted of a combination of 13 multiple-choice questions and 7 qualitative questions … hosted on SurveyMonkey” which was “promoted via social media, emails, links in online newspaper articles and through partner organisations.”

The first Report covered the 2-month period from 2 April 2020 to 2 June 2020 and recorded 377 incidents. According to this report, (on page 8-9) the “most common type of racism experienced (35%) was in the form of racial slurs/name calling” and “Almost 60% of incidents involved physical or verbal harassment (racial slurs/name calling, physical intimidation, verbal threats, getting spat at)”. “Almost 10% of incidents occurred online, with 43% of these happening on Facebook.” The report has 13 categories of incidents, and provided 15 examples of incidents.

The second Report on anti-Asian racism – COVID-19 Racism Incident Report Survey Comprehensive Report 2021 – by the AAA and Osmond Chiu, published in September 2021, covered the 13-month period from 3 June 2020 to 28 June 2021, recording 164 incidents. This report, being the comprehensive report, also included the 377 incidents covered in the first report – totalling 541 incidents recorded in the 15-month period from 2 April 2020 to 28 June 2021.

Categories of incidents: The second report (on page 7) notes the types of incidents and percentages of the total number (with respondents being able to select more than one category), in descending order as:

“● Direct racial slur/name calling (“Go back to China”, “Stop eating bats/dogs”, “Ching Chong” etc) (35.7%); ● Online harassment (25.7%); ● Making it out as a joke (13.1%) – i.e., making a racist targeted comment/statement and then laughing it off and/or dismissing it as not being racist but just joking around; ● Verbal threats (8.9%) – i.e. making a targeted racist comment/statement with verbal intent to cause harm; ● Getting spat/sneezed/coughed on (7.78%); ● Physical intimidation/harassment (7.03%); ● Shunning (6.5%) – i.e. deliberate avoidance/exclusion of Asians/Asian Australians; ● Workplace discrimination (2.2%).”

Categories with incidents under 2% included: “● Barred from establishment (Restaurants, shops, bars etc); ● Barred from transportation (Trams, buses, taxis, Uber etc); ● Graffiti-ed comments on shop fronts, car windows or the home; ● Denied access to essential services (Medical … childcare etc); and ● Denied access to any rentals by owners/landlords.”

Examples of anti-Asian Incidents:

As recorded in the two AAA reports, covering 2 April 2020 to 28 June 2021.

  • Assault: “Attempted to kick me. Called me an Asian slut and an Asian dog. Told me to go eat a bat. Threatened me with a knife. Spat in my face, getting spit in my left eye.”
  • Abuse: “called me “you’re fucking Asian, go eat bats and die alone. Don’t come to Australia.”” (Perth)
  • Abuse: “lady … started calling us “ching chong” and harassing us. She told us we will probably eat our dogs and told us to “go back to China”.”
  • Abuse: “Old woman with face mask approached me and stared at me for 5 seconds while I was waiting for the store to open. Her demeanour was aggressive and hate filled.” (Melbourne)
  • Graffiti: “Graffiti blaming Asians for COVID-19 was spray painted on the walls of a domestic residence…” (Sydney)
  • Discrimination: “Customer refused to be served by myself or other staff of south East Asian appearance stating we were “sick” even though none of us had any signs of sickness.” (Melbourne)
  • Barred: “The security guard proceeded to say … “I can’t understand you, I speak the language of this place straya not Chinese or whatever you’re speaking. He proceeded to shoo them away.” (Brisbane)
  • Shunning: “When our Uber arrived, the driver who was of European background … refused us and said he didn’t want to catch COVID-19 because we were all Asian” (Sydney)
  • Online: “I was commenting on a Facebook post on a news site about the racism coming out of the baby milk formula reporting, and someone replied under my comment: “Stupid Chinese, deport them, no more Chinese welcome in Australia”.”
  • Online: “A friend shared a post highlighting the recent concerns over COVID-19. On commenting, a friend of theirs started to abuse me and all Chinese, stating that we should all die and go to hell.”

Conclusion

It is to be noted that these 3,522 incidents are only those that were reported to the three community reporting organisations. There are many other anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and anti-Asian incidents that were unreported. Under-reporting of incidents is a major problem all targeted communities face, both here and overseas. All those targeted by hate incidents need to report such incidents to the appropriate body.

In addition, incidents against other targeted communities – ethnic, religious, gender, sexuality, disability and others – go unreported due to the lack of an organisation which takes reports for these communities, and as a result, there is no data on hate incidents against these other communities. It is to be hoped that other targeted communities also establish their own national database systems for reporting and documenting hate incidents.

At this stage, the only hard data on the number of hate incidents occurring in Australia is through community reports such as those by the ECAJ, IRA, and AAA. The hate incident data by these targeted communities can be used by human rights bodies, police, legislators and others to formulate policies and practices towards countering hate incidents.

As more people report hate incidents to existing reporting bodies, and as other targeted communities develop a reporting mechanism for hate incidents, then the more accurate and clearer the picture becomes of the state of hate incidents in Australia.

Disclaimer: the author of this article is also the author of the ECAJ Report on Antisemitism, since 2013

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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