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Racial and Religious Vilification

Victoria’s rich cultural diversity is one of our greatest strengths as a state. Everyone should feel safe and welcome. Unfortunately, some people think it's OK to treat others badly because of their race or religion. It's not. No one should be treated unfairly because of where they come from, how they look or the language they speak.

What is vilification?

Victoria has a law to protect you from vilification because of your race or your religion.

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

The law about vilification is the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.

Behaviour that is likely to be racial or religious vilification

Behaviour that could be vilification includes:

  • speaking about a person’s race or religion in a way that could make other people hate or ridicule them
  • publishing claims that a racial or religious group is involved in serious crimes without any proof
  • repeated and serious spoken or physical abuse about the race or religion of another person
  • encouraging violence against people who belong to a particular race or religion, or damaging their property
  • encouraging people to hate a racial or religious group using flyers, stickers, posters, a speech or publication, or websites, email or social media.

It is also against the law to give permission or help someone to vilify others.

For example, Michael is a Muslim and complains that a social networking site publishes offensive material that encourages people to hate Muslim people. This may be racial or religious vilification.

Behaviour that is not likely to be racial or religious vilification

Behaviour that is not likely to be vilification includes:

  • being critical of a religion, or debating racial or religious ideas, in a way that does not encourage others to hate racial or religious groups
  • actions that offend people of a particular race or religion, but do not encourage others to hate, disrespect or abuse racial or religious groups.

Comments, jokes or other acts related to the race or religion of a person may not be 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.

For example, Ranjit complains that a local bus driver asked him where he was from, told him to sit at the back of the bus and sniffed loudly as he walked past. This is not racial or religious vilification but Ranjit might be able to make a complaint about racial discrimination.

How does the law protect me?

The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act makes it against the law to vilify a person or group of people because of their race or religion.

The Commission can help resolve complaints of vilification.

Are there any exceptions to the law?

The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act does not apply to private behaviour.

Some public behaviour may not be seen as vilification if it is reasonable and done in good faith. This includes

  • art or a performance
  • a statement, published work, discussion or debate in the public interest
  • a fair and accurate report in the media.

What can I do if I’m vilified because of my race or religion?

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.

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

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