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Reducing racism during COVID-19

Reports of racism and xenophobia were a worrying trend throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Train passing an Asian women on platform.

Photo by Eutah Mizushima from Unsplash

This page was developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Information and advice may now be out of date. For the latest advice regarding COVID-19, visit the Coronavirus Victoria website.

If you have an enquiry or complaint about discrimination, contact us.

Emerging issues

Early in the year, reports emerged of patients declining treatment from particular doctors because of their racial background. There were also reports of offensive signage and event promotions that traded on stereotypes about China.

More recently, we have heard about instances of people being abused in public or while they work. One woman was abused while shopping at her local supermarket – as she picked up some hand sanitiser, a staff member remarked “All you Asians take everything”.

We also heard from a doctor at one of Melbourne’s busiest hospitals who was abused so aggressively while getting the train to work that he no longer feels safe taking public transport. He’s having to rely on friends and family to drive him to his allocated shifts.

In April, two international students were physically assaulted in Melbourne’s CBD and told to “go back to China”.

While racism is consistently amongst the most common issues we hear about from Victorians, we’ve seen an increase in enquiries about racism since the pandemic began, and the number of anonymous reports of racism we received via our Community Reporting Tool roughly doubled during the six-week period from mid-March to the start of May. Of those reports, 55 per cent related to racial discrimination and vilification. In the race-related enquiries we’ve received, there has been a subtle shift in their nature – the proportion related to vilification has roughly doubled, suggesting a shift away from racial discrimination at work or in employment towards racial abuse and other unfair treatment on the street, on public transport or online.

Victoria is not alone in experiencing incidents of racism. A national survey coordinated by community group Asian Australian Alliance received 400 reports of racism directed towards people from Asian backgrounds. In May, ABC News reported on the results a survey it had conducted on people’s experiences of racism – it heard from people who had been abused on the street, yelled at while shopping, bumped into and heckled while walking in a local park.

Political leaders at both state and federal level have spoken out in support of those experiencing racism. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews called out recent incidents and made clear that there is no place for racism in Victoria, while both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge encouraged people who experienced racism to report it.

What the law says

Racism is not just against the shared values that unite Victorians; it’s also against the law. Victoria’s anti-discrimination laws protect people from being treated unfairly or being subjected to hate because of their race or religion.

Under Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act, it’s against the law to discriminate against someone because of their race. This includes the colour of their skin, their descent or ancestry, their nationality or ethnic background, or any characteristics associated with a particular race. The rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are also protected under anti-discrimination laws.

Discrimination is prohibited by the Equal Opportunity Act in key places including employment, education, accommodation and the provision of goods and services.

Each year, race discrimination is one of the most common types of discrimination we hear about through our enquiries and complaints services.

Under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, it’s against the law to vilify a person or group of people because of their race or religion. Vilification is behaviour that incites people to feel hatred, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of a person or group of people because of their race or religion. It can include making public statements about a particular race or religion, encouraging violence against a particular group or spreading hate online.

How we’re addressing the issues

During this period, we’ve been closely monitoring the enquiries and complaints we are receiving, as well as anonymous reports via our Community Reporting Tool. We are analysing the data from these contacts and reporting trends to the government. We’ve also spoken to the media about calling out instances of racism and we’ve also been working with multicultural organisations and advocates working with Victoria’s Asian communities to help them understand their rights and how they can seek help if they experience discrimination or vilification. During 2020, we will also be embarking on a new collaboration with the Victorian Multicultural Commission to help members of Victoria’s diverse multicultural and multifaith communities understand and exercise their rights.

New project funding to support multicultural communities to combat racism
As part of a Victorian Government initiative, our new collaboration with the Victorian Multicultural Commission will support Victoria’s diverse multicultural and multifaith communities to navigate Victoria’s anti-discrimination laws and make a complaint if they experience racism.

‘All Victorians should live free from hate’ – our statement on reforming anti-vilification protections
As part of the parliamentary inquiry into reforming Victoria’s anti-vilification laws, on 27 May 2020 our Commissioner presented to the Legal and Social Issues Committee on our recommendations for stronger protections from hate for all Victorians.

There’s no place for racism in Victoria – resource centre
To support community organisations and others to help us tackle racism, we’ve prepared a stakeholder kit and some resources focused on helping multicultural and multifaith communities understand and exercise their rights.

How we can help

If you have a question about discrimination, sexual harassment or vilification or would like more information about how Victoria’s Charter protects your human rights, we’re here to help.

Our enquiries team can help you understand Victoria’s anti-discrimination laws and how you can make a complaint if you choose to. And if we can’t answer your question, we’ll try to help you find someone who can.

If you wish to make a complaint in relation to the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, find out more about your options.

Read more about our response to COVID-19

Embedding human rights during COVID-19

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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 acknowledges that 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.