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Race discrimination and vilification

Victoria is a diverse and multicultural state, with people from many different backgrounds making up our communities. The law protects your right to be treated equally, no matter where you are from or the colour of your skin. It’s against the law to discriminate against you or vilify you because of your race, ethnicity, skin colour, or any characteristics associated with a particular race. The law deals with public behaviour, not personal beliefs.

Photo by Prince Akachi on Unsplash

What is race discrimination?

Race discrimination is when someone treats you unfairly or bullies you because of your race, skin colour, ancestry, nationality or ethnic background.

Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, race means a person’s:

  • colour
  • descent or ancestry
  • nationality
  • ethnic background
  • any characteristics associated with a particular race.

Examples of race discrimination

  • Insisting that all employees speak English at all times, even during their breaks.
  • A property manager not renting a house to someone from a particular racial group because they think ‘those people are not reliable’.
  • Not allowing someone from a particular racial group to join a club because they ‘wouldn’t fit in’.
  • Insisting an Aboriginal client must pay for services upfront.

How does the law protect me?

Discrimination is against the law if it happens in an area of public life such as:

People who work in these areas have a positive duty to make sure you don’t face discrimination.

It is also against the law to victimise a person, which means treat them badly, because they have made complaint about discrimination or helped someone else make a complaint.

You can make a complaint

Get help from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

You can make a complaint to us if you think you have experienced:

If you wish, someone else can make a complaint for you.

Find out how the Commission helps people resolve complaints.

We can also give you information about your rights.

Race discrimination at work

More than half of the race discrimination complaints that come to us are work related (51.1 per cent in 2018-19).

While a person is responsible for their own unlawful behaviour, employers can also be held responsible.

Under the Equal Opportunity Act, employers have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible.

Victoria is unique in having a positive duty, which creates an opportunity to prevent unlawful behaviour. It helps organisations put a healthy workplace culture in place, just as occupational health and safety laws require employers to take appropriate steps to ensure injuries don’t occur.

Organisations must also put measures in place to ensure that complaints are responded to swiftly and appropriately when they do arise.

The positive duty applies to employers of all sizes, regardless of whether they are a major company or a small cafe, and covers all types of workers:

  • full-time, part-time and casual employees
  • agents and contract workers
  • trainees and apprentices.

It applies to all stages of employment, including:

Examples of race discrimination in the workplace

  • Not employing someone for a reception job because they have a foreign accent.
  • Staff calling a co-worker racist names.
  • Refusing to consider people with non-Western names for jobs.
  • Racial ‘jokes’ and ‘banter’, including offensive tweets, text messages and social media posts
  • Only promoting staff of the same racial or cultural background as existing senior staff.

What about vilification?

Racial and religious vilification is also against the law.

The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act protects you from vilification, which means

  • something done in public, which is
  • based on the race or religion of a person or group of people, and is
  • encouraging other people to hate or ridicule them.

The legal definition of vilification is “behaviour that incites hatred, serious contempt, revulsion or severe ridicule for a person or group of people, because of their race or religion”.

Comments, jokes or other acts related to the race or religion of a person may not be seen as vilification, but they could still be the basis for a complaint of discrimination if they take place in one of the areas of public life covered by the Equal Opportunity Act.

Are there any exceptions to the law?

There are some exceptions in the Equal Opportunity Act that mean it’s not against the law to discriminate in particular circumstances. For example, discrimination is not against the law if there is a real risk to someone’s health, safety or property.

Find out more about exceptions.

My human rights under the Charter

Every Victorian has the right to equal and effective protection against discrimination, and to enjoy their human rights without discrimination.

Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities contains 20 basic rights that promote and protect the values of freedom, respect, equality, and dignity.

The Victorian Government, local councils and other public authorities must always consider these rights when they create laws, develop policies and deliver their services.

Find out more about your human rights under the Charter and what to do if you think they have been breached.

Related resources

Aboriginal Cultural Rights – Jun 2018


Level 3, 204 Lygon Street Carlton Victoria 3053

General enquiries

1300 891 848

Enquiry line
1300 292 153 or (03) 9032 3583

1300 152 494

NRS Voice Relay
1300 555 727 then use 1300 292 153

Media enquiries
0447 526 642

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as First Australians and recognises their culture, history, diversity and deep connection to the land.

We acknowledge that the Commission is on the land of the Kulin Nation and pay our respects to Elders past and present.