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Racism in the COVID-19 recovery

The fear and anxiety provoked by the virus has manifested in an increase in vilification and discrimination towards people because of their race, appearance or background. Stronger legal protections from hate, drawing on the experience of affected communities, should be key elements in the recovery.

Woman wearing a face mask

Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in enquiries, reports and complaints of racial discrimination and vilification. From the beginning of March to the end of July 2020, we received 104 enquiries about racial vilification – up from 33 in the same period in 2019.

Through our Community Reporting Tool – a streamlined reporting form hosted on third-party websites – we saw a significant increase in race-themed reports too. Monthly reports increased from 12 in March 2020 to 40 in June 2020, and most of these related to race discrimination and racial vilification.

People who had experienced racism made use of our complaints service, too. From March to July 2020, we received 74 race discrimination complaints, slightly above the same period in 2019. We also received 6 racial vilification complaints, compared to zero for this period in the previous year.

People from Chinese and East Asian backgrounds, in particular, have been targeted with racist abuse and threats of physical violence. People have reported being abused online, in supermarkets, on public transport, in workplaces, at school, in shops, in their local neighbourhoods, and in interactions with their neighbours.

What’s important to note is that the enquiries, reports and complaints we receive only reflect the experience of those who know about our services and feel comfortable coming forward. Raising awareness about people’s rights and how they can exercise them is an ongoing piece of work for the Commission.

Through the racism information sessions we hosted during September in partnership with the Victorian Multicultural Commission, we have heard from many people that, although racism has spiked during the pandemic, it is an extension of the daily racial vilification and discrimination they experience every day.

The instances of racism that have come to light during the pandemic have reiterated the need for stronger anti-vilification laws in Victoria. A parliamentary inquiry is underway currently, examining the adequacy of our current anti-hate law, the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Though the law has been in operation for 18 years, it is narrow and ill-suited to the world we find ourselves in today. Expanding the groups protected from hate, adding a harm-based test to determine when vilification has occurred, and strengthening the Commission’s enforcement powers are important ways the law can be improved.

Foundations for recovery

  • Empower communities who are experiencing racism and other forms of hate with knowledge about their rights, options for reporting their experiences, and how they can support their communities.
  • Significantly increase the availability and promotion of accessible and translated information about government services, support, COVID-19 restrictions, and people’s rights under the law.
  • Reform Victoria’s anti-vilification law to provide stronger protections and better recognise the harm caused by hate.

Centring human rights in the COVID-19 recovery


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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 acknowledge we work on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We also work remotely and serve communities on the lands of other Traditional Custodians.

We pay our respects to their Elders past and present.