Racial vilification and acts of racial hatred

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Racial vilification and acts of racial hatred

There are two main laws that prohibit racial abuse in Australia.

Under Victorian law, it is unlawful to vilify a person or group of people on the basis of their race or religion. The law deals with public behaviour, not personal beliefs.

Vilification is behaviour that incites or encourages hatred, serious contempt, revulsion or severe ridicule against another person or group of people because of their race and/or religion.

Under federal law, it is unlawful to publicly behave in a way that is racially offensive or abusive to a person or group of people based on their race, colour, nationality or ethnic origin.

Racial and religious vilification – the law in Victoria

Racial and religious vilification is unlawful under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001. This Act is a state law that applies to conduct in Victoria.

Racial and religious vilification includes such things as:

  • making racist comments in print, via email or online, including on Facebook, Twitter or other social media
  • making public statements at a meeting or at a public rally that incite hatred of people of a particular race or religion
  • writing racist graffiti, or displaying racist posters or stickers.

Under the Act, vilification does not include:

  • an act done in private (for example, a private discussion that you would not expect other people to overhear)
  • an artistic work or performance
  • a statement, publication, discussion or debate in the public interest
  • a fair and accurate report in the media when it is done in good faith.

Acts of ‘racial hatred’ – the law in Australia

Under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, it is unlawful to do an act in public that is:

  • based on the race, colour, national or ethnic origin of a person; and
  • likely to offend, insult or humiliate that person or group of people.

This Act is a Commonwealth law that applies everywhere in Australia.

Unlawful acts can include:

  • abuse or harassment on the basis of race
  • racially biased reporting
  • the use of offensive racial stereotypes or racial comments in the media
  • writing racist graffiti in a public place
  • making racist speeches at a public rally to an audience
  • placing racist posters or stickers in a public place.

Racial abuse can be written or verbal.

When an act is in a public place

Under the Act a public place is as any place where the public are invited or have access, including:

  • shops
  • streets
  • workplaces
  • public transport
  • sporting arenas.

It also includes public communication, such as newspapers, pamphlets or brochures, TV and radio programs, or the internet.


Under the Act there are exemptions under that allow some actions if they are done ‘reasonably and in good faith’. These exemptions are designed to protect freedom of speech and expression.

The exemptions cover:

  • an artistic work or performance
  • a publication, discussion or debate on a matter of public interest
  • a fair and accurate report on a matter of public interest
  • a fair comment on any event or matter of public interest if the comment is an expression of a person’s genuine belief.

Complaints about racial abuse

You can make a complaint to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission or the Australian Human Rights Commission.

However, discrimination law is complex and it can be confusing knowing which option is the best one for you. If you complain to one place, sometimes you cannot later change your mind and complain elsewhere. So it is best to call us to get legal advice before lodging a complaint.

Get help

Find out how you can get help with discrimination, harassment and bullying.

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