Michael Quall, who worked in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) under both the Keating and Howard Governments, said that before the 1996 election, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, part of PM&C, was developing a public awareness campaign about racism in Australia.
Mr Quall said after the Liberal/National coalition under Mr John Howard won the 1996 election, he downgraded the Division responsible for planning this campaign to a Branch and moved it to what was then the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. The then immigration minister, Mr Philip Ruddock, commissioned research which showed Australians would be uncomfortable being confronted with the truth about racism, and developed the Living in Harmony campaign (now the Diverse Australia Program, which runs Harmony Day).
Mr Quall said he strongly supported the idea of celebrating Australia’s diversity, but not in place of addressing systemic racism in Australia, and asked Australians to spend the day thinking about how they can change this racism.
The official Harmony Day website makes no mention of the fact that today is also the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the anniversary of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa, where 69 anti-apartheid protesters were killed.