Race Discrimination

Front cover of race discrimination brochure including picture of a number of men with different skin colours Download PDF

The Discrimination Act 1991 makes it unlawful to treat you unfavourably because of your race.

‘Race’ includes a person’s colour, descent, ethnic or national origin and nationality. Treating you unfairly because of your accent or language (attributes of race) is also unlawful. Asking for information about your ethnic or racial background may be unlawful if the purpose is to discriminate against you.

What does discrimination mean?

Under ACT law, discrimination means treating someone unfavourably because of a personal characteristic that is protected in the Discrimination Act. ‘Race’ is one of the personal characteristics protected in the Act. It is against the law to discriminate against a person because of their ‘race’ in many areas of public life, including:

  • Recruitment and employment (including ACT public and private sector, paid and unpaid work);
  • Access to premises (including public buildings, parks, buses, taxis and aircraft);
  • Accommodation (including public housing, and private, business or residential rental);
  • Education;
  • Provision of goods, services or facilities;
  • Unlawful advertising (advertising an intention to discriminate).

For example, race discrimination may involve not interviewing someone for a job, refusing a person service in a restaurant because of the way they look, or imposing special conditions that do not apply to others.

  • Example: An Indian Muslim who was employed as a process worker alleged harassment from her supervisor. She complained to management who allegedly blamed her race and religion for making her ‘over sensitive’. After going to her union, her employment was terminated due to ‘poor performance’. Following conciliation, the complaint was settled for a payment of $10,000 and a reference.

When is discrimination allowed?

It is not unlawful to take special measures to help groups or individuals who are disadvantaged or have been unfairly treated and need support to fully enjoy their human rights. For example, some disadvantaged groups suffer from greater social and economic disadvantage than other groups in society and may therefore require special assistance to enjoy their rights to the same level that other Australians enjoy those rights. A service created to provide assistance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would be an example of a special measure which is not unlawful discrimination. The law also contains specific exceptions making it lawful to discriminate in some circumstances. Examples where discrimination on the grounds of race is not unlawful in the ACT include:

  • Carrying out an act that is necessary to comply with a Territory law or court order;
  • The availability of membership or the services of a voluntary association; or
  • Hiring someone of a particular race for an artistic work or performance that requires a performer of that race.

What is vilification?

It is also against the law to vilify a person or group of people on the grounds of race. Vilification means to publicly incite hatred towards a person or group of people which is likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate that person or group of people.Some examples might include:

  • Distributing racist pamphlets to the public;
  • Displaying racially offensive flags in a public area; or
  • Inciting racial hatred by a speech at a public rally.