Racial discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably, or not given the same opportunities, as others in a similar situation, because of their race, the country where they were born, their ethnic origin or their skin colour.

Example: An employer refused to hire a suitably qualified Aboriginal person as a shop assistant and instead hired a less qualified person of a different race because they felt they could lose customers if they had an Aboriginal person working in the shop. This could be racial discrimination.

The Racial Discrimination Act protects people against discrimination in all areas of public life including, among others, employment; education; getting or using services; renting or buying a house or unit; and accessing public places. There are some very limited exceptions.

The Act also makes racial hatred unlawful.

In addition, the Act allows for ‘special measures’. This is a form of positive discrimination that aims to foster greater racial equality by supporting groups of people who face, or have faced, entrenched discrimination so they can have similar access to opportunities as others in the community.

Example: Rental assistance given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students is a special measure. The purpose of the assistance is to increase participation rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in tertiary education to a level equivalent to the non-Indigenous community.