The Racial Hatred Act, introduced in October
1995, is an amendment to the Racial Discrimination Act (1975). It allows
people to complain about offensive or abusive behaviour in public based
on racial hatred.
Racial vilification undermines the basis for a tolerant and functional
society and its effects should not be underestimated. It can be damaging
not only to individuals, but can cause whole communities to live in fear.
The Racial Hatred Act is a means of redress for those people who are subject
to racist abuse. It imposes rights and obligations on all Australians,
including the media.
In the years immediately before the passage of the Act, the reports
of three separate national inquiries into race related issues called for
the introduction of legislation as an appropriate remedy to combat racial
hatred: the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody; Multiculturalism
and the Law produced by the Australian Law Reform Commission; and the National
Inquiry into Racist Violence (NIRV) released by the Human Rights and Equal
Opportunity Commission in 1991. NIRV found that racist attacks, both physical
and verbal, were on the increase. The report emphasised that intimidation
and harassment were endemic problems for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
peoples and some people from non-English speaking background, particularly
those who are visibly different.