Race Discrimination Information for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

Photo of front of race discrimination brochure featuring Aboriginal artwork of a snake Download PDF

Race discrimination means that someone treats you unfairly or unfavourably, or harasses you, because of your:

  • Race
  • Colour
  • Descent
  • Ethnic and national origin
  • Nationality.

The ACT Discrimination Act 1991 makes race discrimination unlawful in many areas of public life. Public life includes work, education, the provision of goods, services, facilities, housing, access to buildings, shops, parks and transport.

“I had worked for my employer for several years, but was never promoted, or even sent on training courses. I think I was overlooked because the selecti criteria were discriminatory against Indigenous people.”

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.

You might experience unlawful race discrimination, for example, when you want to rent a house, apply for a job or for a bank loan, or when you want to use a bus or a taxi.


“It’s  really  difficult   for   me   to   get   a   taxi. Often the drivers just don’t stop for someone if they think he or she looks Aboriginal.”

Direct Discrimination

Direct discrimination  means  that  someone treats you unfairly or unequally because of your race. For example, if a real estate agent will not rent you a house, or if you are refused service in a bar because you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, it would be direct race discrimination.

Race harassment is a form of direct discrimination and can include circulating e-mails at work, making racist comments, telling racist jokes, or mocking your Indigenous culture or the way you speak.

“I was working in the public sector, and one of my co-workers would often make snide remarks about Aboriginal people in front of me and other colleagues. I felt so humiliated, it made me want to quit my job.”


Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination means a requirement or rule that seems to be the same for everyone, but in fact disadvantages people because of their race. For  example,  if  an  employer  has a ‘last in, first out’ rule for redundancies and Indigenous people have only recently been able to get jobs there, this rule could amount to indirect race discrimination. However, if a requirement or rule is reasonable, it may be lawful.


It is unlawful for anyone to victimise  you for making or supporting a discrimination complaint.

The Act protects your right to make a complaint, or to provide information to the Commission. It also protects other people involved in the matter on your behalf, for example as witnesses or advocates.


Racial Vilification

Racial vilification means to say or do anything publicly that could incite others to hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule against you because of your race. Examples could include:


  • Making racist gestures or abuse.
  • Making abusive remarks about Indigenous people on a radio or television show, or in a public forum.
  • Leaving racist graffiti in a public place.
  • Wearing  racist  badges  or  an  offensive T-shirt.

What can I do if I think I have been discriminated against?

You can make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. You need to do this in writing. Complaint forms are available from the Commission and we can help you to complete them if you need assistance. You can have friends or support people help you make your complaint and come to any meetings.

We try to help you resolve your complaints of discrimination or vilification. We  are  impartial in this process. This means we cannot take sides. Where possible, we help you and the person or organisation you have made the complaint against to conciliate. This means trying to reach written agreements to resolve the complaint.


“I applied for a flat advertised in the paper. They told me I was the only applicant but my application was unsuccessful. The following week I saw the same flat re-advertised. I applied a second time but again was unsuccessful. I think it was because they realised I am Aboriginal.”


Examples of how we have helped to resolve race discrimination complaints:

  • Company apologised in writing and agreed to pay compensation for hurt, humiliation  and distress.
  • A service provider agreed to review its policy and procedures and ensure that services will be  provided  with  greater  cultural  sensitivity by requiring all staff to attend cross-cultural awareness training.


Human Rights

The ACT Human Rights Act 2004 recognises the special significance of human rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and recognises the right to equality and non- discrimination.


The Human Rights Commission informs and educates the ACT community about their rights and responsibilities under discrimination law and human rights law. Factsheets, pamphlets and  other  information  are  available  on  our website.

Reconciliation Action Plan

On 1 July 2011 the Commission launched its Reconciliation Action Plan. The Plan commits the Commission to working with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community to improve access to and quality of services, as well as protecting the promoting the human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.