About your rights
Australia likes to see itself as a fair country. Unfortunately, sometimes people are treated unfairly because of what they look like, where they come from or what they believe. In Victoria there are laws to protect people from unfair behaviour and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission helps people who have been treated unfairly. Find out about your rights and how we can help you.
What is discrimination?
The law about discrimination is Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act 2010.
Discrimination is when you are treated unfairly or differently because of a personal characteristic – such as your age, sex, race or disability.
The law calls unfair treatment “unfavourable”.
In Victoria it is against the law to treat you unfavourably because of:
When discrimination is against the law
When discrimination is against the law
Discrimination is against the law when it happens in public life. The law does not apply to private behaviour, such as something that happens at home.
Public life includes:
- at work
- in shops or restaurants
- when using a service, such as banking or insurance
- at school, TAFE or university
- in your rental home or accommodation
- in a hotel or camping site
- in hospital or healthcare, such as your local doctor
- in sports
- in clubs
- when you deal with the police, the courts or government departments
- when you use public transport, taxis or rideshare.
What you can do if you experience discrimination
What is sexual harassment?
The law about sexual harassment is Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act 2010.
Sexual harassment means sexual behaviour that is not wanted.
It can include:
- touching or staring
- asking for sex or dates
- sexual comments or behaviour
- offensive sexual jokes
- emails, texts or social media posts
- videos or pictures.
Sexual harassment is when behaviour makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated, and the person doing the behaviour should have been able to tell that would happen.
For example: Sara volunteers with a community organisation. She enjoys the work but does not like the way the manager always hugs the female volunteers at the end of their shifts. She has asked the manager to stop but he still does it. Sara could make a complaint of sexual harassment because volunteers are protected by the law.
When sexual harassment is against the law
Sexual harassment is against the law in some areas of public life, including:
- at work, even if you are a volunteer or unpaid intern
- at school
- getting or using services
- renting a house or other accommodation
- in shops.
Some types of sexual harassment may also be offences under criminal law, such as:
- indecent exposure
- stalking and sexual assault
- obscene or threatening communications, such as phone calls, letters, emails, text messages and posts on social media.
What you can do if you experience sexual harassment
If the behaviour is serious and you feel in danger you can contact the police on 000.
1800 Respect can also offer support and counselling. Phone on 1800 737 732 or speak to an interpreter by calling 13 14 50.
What is racial and religious vilification?
The law about racial and religious vilification is Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.
Racial and religious vilification is behaviour that encourages hate towards a person or group of people because of their race or religion.
Behaviour that could 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 video, 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 racial or religious vilification
Some behaviour may not be vilification, for instance:
- 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
- a media report about racist acts
- actions that offend people of a particular race or religion, but do not encourage others to hate, disrespect or abuse them.
While the behaviour may not be vilification, it could be discrimination if it happens 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.
What you can do if you experience racial or religious vilification
If the behaviour is serious and you feel you are in danger, you can contact the police on 000.
What is victimisation?
Victimisation is against the law. It means someone is treated badly because they:
- made a complaint or someone thinks they might make a complaint
- helped someone else make a complaint
- stood up for their rights under the Equal Opportunity Act or the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act
- wouldn’t do something that was discrimination, sexual harassment or racial and religious vilification.
For example: Mikala’s boss gives her a warning because she was a witness to a complaint of race discrimination made by a co-worker.
How are my human rights protected?
The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities is a Victorian law that sets out the basic rights, freedoms and responsibilities of all people in Victoria. It is about the relationship between government and the people it serves.
Under the Charter, you have a right to enjoy your culture, practise your religion and use your language. This right applies to all sorts of cultural, religious, racial or linguistic backgrounds.
We can give you information about the Charter but we do not handle complaints related to it.
If you think your human rights have been breached by a public authority – such as a government department or local council – you should contact the Victorian Ombudsman on (03) 9613 6222 or 1800 806 314 (regional Victoria only).
If you want to make a complaint about police conduct, contact the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission on 1300 735 135.