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Racial and Religious Tolerance Act

The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 aims to promote racial and religious tolerance in Victoria. Its preamble highlights the "importance of freedom of expression, the democratic value of the equal participation of all citizens in society, and the desire of Parliament to support racial and religious tolerance". The law provides avenues for people to resolve complaints, and outlines the Commission’s role in dispute resolution.

View and download a full copy of the Act

What is the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act?

The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act acknowledges that racial and religious vilification diminishes dignity and sense of self-worth and belonging to the community.

Vilification also reduces the ability for people to contribute to, or fully participate in, all social, political, economic and cultural aspects of society as equals. As such, the Act attempts to balance the right to freedom of expression with racial and religious tolerance by ensuring that freedom of speech does not vilify.

The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act prohibits vilification – behaviour that incites or encourages hatred, serious contempt, revulsion or severe ridicule against another person or group of people because of their race and/or religion.

Unlike anti-discrimination laws, the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act is not limited to conduct in specific areas of public life, such as at work, at school, or in the provision of goods and services. Rather, it applies to any vilifying conduct that happens in public. Vilifying conduct in the street, at a community event or in the media, for instance, is covered by the Act.

It is also against the law to victimise someone who has made a complaint of racial or religious vilification.

For more detailed information

Visit Victorian Discrimination Law, our digital resource for practice guidance, case law and analysis of anti-discrimination laws in Victoria.

Complaints under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act

The Commission provides a free dispute resolution service to help people resolve their complaints of vilification or victimisation.

People can also take a complaint directly to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for determination.

What is vilification?

Vilification is behaviour that incites hatred, serious contempt for, revulsion or severe ridicule of a person or group of people because of their race or religion.

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.

Are there any exceptions to the law?

The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act includes exceptions that are designed to strike a balance between freedom of speech and freedom from racial and religious vilification.

The exceptions apply to private conduct and to certain public conduct engaged in “reasonably and in good faith”, including art or a performance, a statement, published work, discussion or debate in the public interest, and a fair and accurate report in the media.

What is the Commission's role?

The Commission provides a free dispute resolution service to help people resolve their complaints of racial and religious vilification and victimisation.

We also have a range of functions to promote equality and eliminate discrimination, which include educating government, business and the public about Victoria’s human rights laws, undertaking research and reporting.

Under the Act the Commission may intervene in cases or appear as amicus curiae to assist a court or tribunal considering equal opportunity issues. See a list of our legal interventions.

Our policy submissions engage in government policy processes, inquiries and law reform activities to help ensure equality issues are considered. See a list of our policy submissions.

In addition, we hold several statutory functions to encourage and facilitate best practice and compliance, including reviews and investigations.

Related resources

Victorian Discrimination Law (2nd ed) – Sep 2019