What is the Racial Discrimination Act?

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  • Written By: Matt Brady
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  • Last Modified Date: 28 May 2020
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The Racial Discrimination Act was enacted in Australia in 1975, and stipulates that it is illegal to discriminate against people based upon their race, color, ethnicity and immigration status. The law did not cover other kinds of discrimination, such as that based upon sexual orientation, which were later covered in subsequent legislation, such as the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984. Under the Racial Discrimination Act, a number of discriminatory acts were made unlawful. For example, it is against the law to refuse work, services, education, or access to premises based on race. Other areas covered under the legislation include living accommodations, participation in clubs, access to government programs and participation in sports.

The Racial Discrimination Act was passed by the Australian Parliament in 1975. It is part of a series of discrimination acts passed in Australia, including the Sex Discrimination Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Disability Discrimination Act and the Racial Hatred Act. After 1986, all discrimination acts came to be administered under the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). The AHRC takes and investigates complaints from individuals who feel they've witnessed or have been the victims of racial discrimination.

The act does have sanctioned exceptions to its own rules. Certain individuals and groups of people can be given special distinction and privileges apart from others if they need government assistance in order to thrive. Indigenous groups in Australia have long been impoverished and economically disadvantaged. The act provides a special distinction whereby they may receive economic assistance. Of course, such distinctions don't qualify as discrimination in any ugly sense of the word, and therefore don't violate the spirit of the act.

The Racial Discrimination Act doesn't only apply to discrimination, but also to racial vilification. This makes it illegal to even make racially offense comments in certain arenas, such as on Internet blogs and chat rooms, at sporting events and during public speeches. Technically, any racially offensive comment made in public could be considered a crime under the act's wording. The act also includes racially offensive artwork, graffiti and posters. This contrasts heavily with the United States' approach to racial discrimination, in which anti-discrimination laws are enforced, but racially offensive speech cannot be considered a crime due to the first amendment's right to freedom of speech.

The act is careful to list places and circumstances in which racially offensive speech would be permissible, such as by actors in a play, where the offense is fictional and not real. Other exceptions include academic publications and media reports. The Racial Discrimination Act also recognizes that there may be instances in which one says something that could be interpreted as racially offensive, but which was justifiable in context.

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Post 2

@WildHooper, I understand what your saying but your oversimplifying the problem. Issues of discrimination and racism are often rooted in history and created massive pockets of poverty and social problems among many ethnic groups ie, Australian Aboriginals. These problems are often so deeply rooted that they take generations to heal. The phrase "equality is not always justice" applies well here. Growing up in a culture which is deeply rooted in poverty and adverse social issues often leaves individuals at a disadvantage to the majority in the areas of education and employment. To fix this the government must be sensitive to these complex problems and enact laws to effectively combat them. Its not a perfect system but its the only solution we have at the moment.

Post 1

I understand why laws like this are in place but isn't this just discriminating the majority? I've heard a lot of complaints about non-minorities not being able to get things like scholarships or positions in government. Shouldn't there be laws protecting the majority from discrimination?

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