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Racial vilification and offensive acts

Vilifying is public speech that stirs up hatred. Public speech includes what is said in the media and in public places. It does not cover private conversations.

It’s against the law to vilify a person (or group) based on their race. A person's race includes their colour, country of birth, ancestry, ethnic origin or nationality.

Public acts that are likely to offend or intimidate someone are also against the law, if the act is about their race. That could include making a threat or damaging someone’s property.

Racial-vilification laws make an exception for:

  • artistic performances or artworks
  • scientific or academic research, discussion or debate
  • fair reports of, or comments on, matters of public interest.

Anyone who experiences racial vilification can complain to the Australian Human Rights Commission or, if it happens in South Australia, may be able to sue through the Courts.

Some vilification can also be a criminal offence, for instance, threatening to harm someone, damaging someone’s property or attacking someone. This can be reported to the police.


Offensive material in the media

Offensive advertising, for example, an ad that you find racist or sexist, is not discrimination, but you can complain to the Advertising Standards Bureau.

For information on complaining about offensive radio, television or internet content, visit the Australian Communications and Media Authority website.