Race discrimination 

What does the law say about race discrimination?

It is generally against the law in NSW to treat you unfairly or harass you because of:
  • your race, colour, nationality, descent, ethnic or ethno-religious background

  • the race, colour, nationality, descent, ethnic or ethno-religious background of any of your relatives, friends, associates or work colleagues.

The law is not entirely clear on the definition of ethno-religious background. It would cover a situation where one ethnic group has a particular religion that is exclusive to that group, such as Sikhs. It would be unlikely to cover a situation where people from many different ethnic groups have the same religion, such as Catholics. However there are situations in between these two examples where the coverage is not certain.

Indirect discrimination

Indirect race discrimination is also against the law. This occurs when there is a rule or requirement that disadvantages people of a particular race more than people of other races - unless it can be shown that the rule or requirement is 'reasonable in all the circumstances'.

Following are some examples of requirements that could be against the law:

  • it would be against the law for an employer to make you wear a uniform that does not meet your ethno-religious dress needs - unless doing so is reasonable for the particular job

  • it would be against the law to stop you speaking in your own language at work or when you are studying at college, university and so on - unless speaking in your language stops the work or study being done properly

  • it would be against the law for an employer to insist that you speak English fluently or without an accent - unless this is reasonable for the particular job.

When does this law apply?

Race discrimination is generally against the law in the following areas:

  • in employment - when you apply for a job or for a licence or registration to perform a job, when you are at work, or when you leave a job

  • when you get, or try to get, most types of goods or services - for example, from shops, banks, lawyers, government departments, the police, public transport, local councils, doctors, hospitals and other medical services, hotels, sporting venues and entertainment venues

  • when you apply to get into or study in any educational institution, which includes any government school, non-government school, college or university

  • when you rent or buy accommodation such as houses, units, flats, hotel or motel rooms and commercial premises

  • when you try to enter or join a registered club, or when you get services from one. A registered club is any club that sells alcohol or has gambling machines.

Racial vilification is also against the law

Racial vilification is also against the anti-discrimination law. Vilification is defined as any public act that could encourage hatred, serious contempt, or severe ridicule towards people of a particular race.

Public acts could include remarks in a newspaper or journal, in other publications, on radio or television or on the internet, including social networking sites. They could also include graffiti, posters, verbal abuse, speeches or statements, gestures and badges or clothing with slogans on them, as long as these are displayed, made or worn in public. The vilification law does not cover acts that are not public, for example abuse over a back fence that no-one else can hear.

Complaints about public threats of violence or incitement to violence should be directed to NSW Police.


  • Police Assistance Line: 131 444
  • NSW Police - Contact Us

The new offence of publicly threatening or inciting violence section 93Z, Crimes Act 1900 replaced the “serious vilification” offences in NSW anti-discrimination law on 13 August 2018.”

You generally have 12 months after the events occurred to lodge a discrimination complaint.

More information on vilification