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  • 22 Rights in Society – from discrimination to intellectual property
  • Indigenous Law
  • Discrimination
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In this chapter Expand current chapter list below


Racial discrimination is:

  • any act involving a distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference
  • based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin
  • which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing,
  • of any human right or fundamental freedom in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life

Racial discrimination is unlawful under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

A number of provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act are of particular importance to Indigenous Australians. The Act specifically protects ‘special measures’ by governments designed to enable victims of discrimination to overcome its effects. Laws which are discriminatory, either on their face or in effect, are also unlawful if they impact on equality before the law.

The meaning of ‘special measures’ was debated in the context of the Howard Government’s Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 (Cth) which specifically exempted the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act in order to implement overtly racist control measures under the guise of protecting children from sexual abuse.

Page last updated 28/02/2022

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