Racial Discrimination Act 1975
The RDA makes racial discrimination unlawful in Australia and overrides inconsistent States and Territory legislation, making the State or Territory law ineffective to the extent of the inconsistency. The power of the national Parliament to pass this over-riding law arises under the "external affairs" power contained in section 51(xxix) of the Australian Constitution. The power arose from the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination to which Australia is a signatory. This use of the power in this manner was confirmed in the landmark High Court decision in Koowarta v. Bjelke-Petersen in 1982.
Definition of racial discrimination under the Act
Racial discrimination occurs under the RDA when someone is treated less fairly than someone else in a similar situation because of their race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin. Racial discrimination can also occur when a policy or rule appears to treat everyone in the same way but actually has an unfair effect on more people of a particular race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin than others.
It is against the law to discriminate in areas such as:
- Employment (section 15) - e.g. when seeking employment, training, promotion, equal pay or conditions of employment;
- Land, housing or accommodation (section 12) - e.g. when buying a house or when renting;
- Provision of goods and services (section 13) - e.g. when buying something, applying for credit, using banks, seeking assistance from government departments, lawyers, doctors and hospitals, or attending restaurants, pubs, entertainment venues;
- Access to places and facilities for use by the public (section 11) - e.g. when trying to use parks, libraries, government offices, hotels, places of worship, entertainment centres, hire cars;
- Advertising (section 16) - e.g. advertising for a job stating that people from a certain ethnic group cannot apply;
- Joining a trade union (section 14).
Australian Human Rights Commission
The Racial Discrimination Act is administered by the Australian Human Rights Commission ("AHRC"), the Australian human rights and equal opportunities watchdog, with an Australian Human Rights Commissioner responsible for investigating complaints.
The Commission also attempts to raise awareness about the obligations that individuals and organisations have under the Act.
Northern Territory National Emergency Response in relation to the RDA
The Australian Human Rights Commission is opposed to the exemption of the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 from the RDA.
From June to August 2009, the Government held consultations with Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. In June 2010, as a result of these consultations, the Australian Parliament passed legislation to reinstate the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act in relation to the NT intervention.
- Australian Human Rights Commission
- Northern Territory National Emergency Response
- Racism in Australia
- Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Submission of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee on the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Legislation, 10 August 2007.