Racial and religious vilification under the RRT Act

The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) (“RRT Act”) 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 RRT Act can occur in or outside Victoria and can be a single instance or a number of occasions over time.

Unlike discrimination laws, the RRT Act is not limited to conduct in specific areas of public life (e.g. work, school, or in the provision of goods and services). Rather, it applies to any vilifying conduct that happens in public. For example, vilifying conduct in the street, on social media, at a community event or in the media is covered by the RRT Act.

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

provides protection from victimisation for:

making complaints or allegations of racial or religious vilification,

bringing proceedings under the RRT Act,

giving evidence, information or a document in relation to proceedings under the RRT Act,

attending a compulsory conference or mediation at VCAT under the RRT Act, or

other actions done under the RRT Act (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 RRT Act 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). Serious racial and religious vilifications can be investigated by Victoria Police.

The dispute resolution procedures in the EO Act apply to complaints under the RRT Act. People wishing to enquire about or make a compaint under the RRT Act should contact VEOHRC (see “Contacts”).

Exceptions in the RRT Act

The RRT Act (ss 11–12) sets out a number of circumstances (i.e. exceptions) in which conduct does not amount to vilification. These exceptions are designed to strike a balance between freedom of expression and freedom from racial and religious vilification. The exceptions apply to private conduct and to certain public conduct.

The exceptions to public conduct 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 RRT Act. 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.

For further information about racial and religious vilification under the RRT Act, contact VEOHRC (seeContacts”).