The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act

What is the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001?

The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 took effect on 1 January 2002 and prohibits 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.

The Act deals with public behaviour not personal beliefs and makes it against the law to make racist comments in a publication, including the Internet and email, statements at a meeting or at a public rally. It also against the law to write racist graffiti, display racist posters or stickers and engage in racist or vilifying abuse in a public place.

For example, Michael is a Muslim and makes a complaint about a social networking site that publishes offensive material encouraging people to hate Muslims.

Why do we need it?

The aim of the Act is to promote full and equal participation of every person in a society that values freedom of expression and is an open and multicultural democracy.

Vilifying conduct is contrary to democratic values because of its effect on people who, as a result of being vilified, feel isolated from the community and are less likely to participate in community activities.

What is vilification and how does it affect us?

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

Vilification is about what we say or do. It’s about the words we choose when we speak to others and it’s about our behaviour. Hateful words and behaviour can hurt, isolate and disconnect people from each other. They can diminish our dignity, sense of self, create fear and lead to anxiety and depression.

Behaviour that is likely to be seen as racial or religious vilification includes:

  • speaking about a person’s race or religion in a way that could make other people hate or ridicule that person
  • publishing claims that a racial or religious group is involved in serious crimes without any proof
  • repeated and serious spoken or physical abuse because of 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 using websites or email.

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

Behaviour that is not likely to be seen as racial or religious 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
  • behaviour that offends people of a particular race or religion, but does 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 constitute vilification, but they could still be the basis for a complaint of discrimination if they happen in one of the eight areas of public life covered by the law.

Some 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, and a fair and accurate report in the media.