In the ACT it is against the law for someone to discriminate against you because of a characteristic that you have, or that someone thinks you have, in an area of public life such as employment, education, accommodation, provision of goods and services, clubs.

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 is also unlawful.

Asking for information about your ethnic or racial background may be unlawful if the purpose is to use the information to discriminate against you. Not interviewing someone for a job because of their name or national origin, refusing a person service in a restaurant because of the way they look, or refusing to provide a service such as a taxi or Uber service because of race or colour are covered by the Discrimination Act.

Examples of race discrimination

An Aboriginal man claims he was treated less favourably when accessing health services – he says he was asked for payment for the service up front and the doctor asked a nurse to stay in the room while he saw the man who was new to the practice.

An aboriginal woman says that security staff followed her while she was shopping in a department store and asked to inspect her bag when she was leaving the shop. She says no one else was asked to show their bag and she was humiliated by the way she was treated.

An Indian Muslim woman 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’.

Are there any exceptions?

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.

Race vilification

It is against the law to vilify a person or group of people on the grounds of race. Vilification means to incite hatred towards a person or group of people (other than in private) which is likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate that person or group of people.

Examples of race vilification

  • Distributing racist pamphlets
  • Displaying racially offensive signs in a public area
  • Inciting racial hatred by a speech at a public rally
  • Posting racist messages on a website or blog

Complaint outcomes

The complainant said her employment contract was terminated because of an allegation that she entered false information into her timesheet. She alleged that she was discriminated against on the ground of race in this process. The matter was resolved through conciliation with the respondent company agreeing to pay the complainant $3000 in lost wages, update its forms and induction materials to make its procedures clearer to employees and provide cultural awareness training to all of its ACT supervisors.

To find out more or make a complaint.

For more information you can contact us.
To make a complaint please complete our complaint form.