Racial and religious vilification under the RRTA

 

The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) (“RRTA”) makes it unlawful to vilify a person on the basis of their race or religion, subject to the exceptions outlined below.

Disputes in relation to racial or religious vilification are handled under the provisions of the EO Act.

Racial vilification (s 7) is conduct that incites hatred against, or serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, an individual or class of people because of their race, colour, descent, ancestry, nationality or national origin, ethnicity or ethnic origin.

Religious vilification (s 8) is conduct that incites hatred against, or serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, an individual or class of people because of their religious beliefs or activities, or because they hold or do not hold a religious belief or view, or engage in or do not engage in (or refuse to engage in) a lawful religious activity.

Conduct that is covered by the RRTA can occur in or outside Victoria, and can be a single instance or a number of occasions over time.

Exceptions in the RRTA

The RRTA (ss 11–12) sets out a number of circumstances (exceptions) in which conduct does not amount to vilification. These include conduct engaged in reasonably and in good faith in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work, in making or publishing a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest, or in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate about any genuine academic, artistic, religious or scientific purpose, or an issue in the public interest. The meaning of “religious purpose” includes “conveying or teaching religion or proselytising”.

Certain private conduct is also exempted from the RRTA. Racial and religious vilification is not established if it occurred in such a way that it would be reasonable to expect that the parties’ conduct was private (that is, it could not be heard or seen by anyone else). If the parties ought to have expected that their conduct may have been seen or heard by anyone else, the private conduct exception does not apply.

A person’s motive for engaging in vilifying conduct is irrelevant under the RRTA. It is irrelevant whether there are multiple reasons for the conduct, provided the race or religious belief or activity is a substantial ground for the conduct (s 9). The RRTA also:

provides protection from victimisation for making complaints or allegations of racial or religious vilification, bringing proceedings under the RRTA, giving evidence or information or producing a document in relation to proceedings under the RRTA, attending a compulsory conference or mediation at VCAT under the RRTA, or any other actions done under the RRTA (ss 13–14);

prohibits a person authorising or assisting racial or religious vilification (s 15);

attributes vicarious liability to employers and principals for conduct in breach of the RRTA unless they can show they took reasonable precautions to prevent it (ss 17–18);

provides criminal sanctions for serious racial and religious vilification offences involving intentional conduct (ss 24–25).

For further information about racial and religious vilification under the RRTA, contact the VEOHRC (seeContacts for information and complaints”).