Liberal Senator Claims Racism 'Very Rare' Because Johnathan Thurston Is A QLD Hero

"I might live in a bubble perhaps," Macdonald said, and yep its tough to disagree.

What you need to know
  • McDonald, a LNP senator from QLD, said he would "find it very difficult" to believe racism is widespread
  • He cited NRL star Johnathan Thurston's success as an argument that racism is rare
  • Thurston is a leading anti-racism voice in sport and wider society

Queensland LNP senator Ian Macdonald has used a Senate estimates committee to claim that racism in Australia is "very isolated", holding up rugby league star Johnathan Thurston's popularity in the state as his main example.

Macdonald, chair of the Senate's Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee, was using his time in Thursday's estimates hearing to ask the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Rosalind Croucher, about the search for a new race discrimination commissioner. At one point, he mused on whether Australia even needed such a position:

"I might live in a bubble perhaps," he said.

"But I find it very difficult to find any but very rare cases of racism in Australia."

"In this building we have two senior ministers that are clearly not white Australian male, sort of thing. In my own society, the greatest hero, in fact the king of north Queensland, is Johnathan Thurston. If only I could get him to run for a political party, he’d walk it in. He's the absolute hero. I just don’t know. There are obviously isolated aspects of racism in Australia but I would think across the board they’re very isolated."

There are currently 30 ministers in the federal government -- 24 men, six women. Pointing out two of them are not "white Australian male sort of thing" is not exactly proof that we've solved racism.

It should also be noted that Thurston -- the premiership-winning captain of the North Queensland Cowboys rugby league team, three-time Golden Boot winner as world's best player, four-time Dally M winner as the NRL's best player -- has previously backed campaigns to ban racist footy fans for life from attending games and spoken out prominently against racism in society.

North Queensland Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston lifts the NRL premiership trophy at Townsville airport in 2015. (AAP Image/Andrew Rankin)

"We don’t need that in society or the game so piss them off,” Thurston said in 2016 following the racial abuse of a fellow NRL player.

"Ban them for life. One hundred percent.

"We don’t need it in society and we don’t need it in our game."

In 2015, responding to controversy around the racial abuse of AFL player Adam Goodes, Thurston said, "it’s very appalling that in this day and age, racism is still a part of sport and society."

Later in the estimates hearing, Macdonald claimed an AHRC campaign titled 'Racism: It Stops With Me' was actually racist against white people.

Croucher responded to Macdonald's claims by noting that Thurston had last year received a human rights medal from the AHRC, and giving McDonald a bit of a history lesson.

Thurston with daughter Frankie after winning the 2015 NRL Grand Final (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

"What I find fascinating about the position of race discrimination commissioner is it was the first commissioner that was appointed to the embryonic idea of a Human Rights Commission, with the commissioner for community relations," said Croucher.

"It was the first of a suite of enactments that followed the international commitment. There was the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the racial discrimination act of '75 gave effect domestically to the commitment under the convention. The commissioner for community relations was the first of the commissioners. In that growing human rights agenda and the development of the Human Rights Commission, that was introduced under a coalition government in 1981, it was framed around what became the racial discrimination commissioner."

"Rather than the racial discrimination commissioner being an add-on at some point of time, in fact the Human Rights Commission grew up around that position, as the first of the benchmark positions in the scheme of establishing a national human rights institution."