Introduction legislative. Commonwealth Discrimination Act (1975) The obligations


Equality is one of the issues that people in various societies have continued to fight for since time immemorial. Nobody would like to treated in a lesser manner than other people when in a similar situation. It is for this reason that there have been campaigns for gender equality and other forms of standardization eliminate the element of discrimination. The most common form of discrimination is racial discrimination.

Australia is one of the many regions in the world that has encountered racism fast hand and this has prompted the government to come up with legislations and policies to curb this menace. This discussion looks at what racism is and how racism has impacted on government policies towards indigenous Australians from the late nineteenth century up until the present.

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Background Information

Surveys and researches conducted show that out of four people in Australia three of them suffer discrimination on a daily basis. Racism is not permitted in Australia and in fact, Australia is a signatory International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which defines what racism entails and also makes racism illegal and unwanted.

Racism in Australia has become common and the people who are mostly affected are the indigenous Asians (Griffiths 1996). Common types of racism include stereotypes and labeling them as dark skinned, alcoholics, lazy and criminals.

One of the main reasons why racism is rife in Australia is that there are many different races that have settled in this country and this has brought about cultural diversity (Griffiths 1996).

The issue of racism in Australia is therefore one that cannot be ignored. When the Europeans first settled in Australia, there was a high number of indigenous Australian. However, as a result of the conflict between the European settlers and the indigenous Australians, the latter were forced to move to the neighboring regions thereby reducing their population drastically.

Laws Relating to Racism in Australia

In an attempt to deal with the grappling issue that is racism, the Australian government has come up with various policies and legislations which have had various impacts especially on the indigenous Australians. The first legislation to be put in place by the Australian government was the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 which basically gave out the provisions of the people who would be allowed into Australia from other regions of the world.

It stated that only immigrants from certain regions would be allowed and this policy was developed at a time when there was apparent resentment of immigrants from China who wanted to settle in the gold fields in Australia. By the year 1901, the government of Australia stopped all immigrants who were non-Europeans from entering the region.

Some of the laws and policies discussed herein are international which Australia has become party to. Normally, when a country becomes a signatory or member to a certain international treaty or convention they are bound by the provisions of the convention. Being bound to the obligations provided by an international treaty or convention is however not automatic and the government of a country will require to operationalize it and thereby giving it effect by policy, symbol or legislative.

Commonwealth Discrimination Act (1975)

The obligations bestowed on Australia by the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination are given effect by the Racial Discrimination Act. Under this Act, all citizens of Australia have been guaranteed the freedom to enjoy their naturally granted human rights equally without any form of discrimination based on differences like ethnic background, language, color, descent or status in the society.

This legislation applies unilaterally to all institutions in Australia like government institutions, hospitals and schools. If there is any other provisions that goes against the provisions of this Act, it is held to be irregular and thus due to its inconsistency with this Act, null and void.

Under this Act, discriminating someone based on their racial affiliation is illegal and a person found to have flouted any one of the provisions of this Act is guilty of an offense. Under this Act, any form of discrimination even that which is remote or indirect is illegal. A person shall not be discriminated in any sense be it in an employment situation or even a in a restaurant.

There are certain circumstances under which the Racial Discrimination Act may allow for people of a certain race to be given more favorable treatment than other people. This is mainly done in line with affirmative action when one racial group has over time been denies their basic human rights.

This move is therefore taken as form of redress or sort of compensation for the time that this group has been denied of what they ought to enjoy like the rest of the society. This is also known as positive discrimination or affirmative action whereby discrimination is justifiable. Positive discrimination is not illegal and when equality has been achieved across the board, the special treatment on the groups is withdrawn.

The Racial Hatred Act

This is yet another legislation that the government of Australia has adopted and it further cements the provisions of the Commonwealth Discrimination Act. Under this legislation, the citizens of Australia have the right to bring any complaint in regard to racial discrimination that they may have been subjected to (Havemann 1999). This Act is therefore an amendment of the Racial Discrimination Act and it has added more laws on the existing Act which specifically addresses vilification.

The main aim of this act is to ensure that there is balance between tow different rights are valued. The first one is the right to be able to freely express oneself without any limitations and the second is the right from vilification. This Act is also sensitive in protecting the freedom of speech and therefore provided that when the following acts are done in good faith and reasonably so, they shall not be unlawful as they shall not go against the provisions of this Act:

A performance or works of art
A publication, debate or discussion which is academic or scientific in nature
An issue of public interest which is reported accurately and fairly
Fair comments on matters of personal beliefs or opinion which must however be genuine.

This Act which applies to all citizens of Australia requires that any person who lodges a complaint regarding discrimination has the burden to prove that indeed the action of discrimination alleged act of discrimination actually took place and that it was because of the complainant’s ethnic or racial background that the lesser treatment was accorded.

Proof is further required by this Act that as a result of the alleged discriminatory act, the complainant suffered humiliation or felt insulted and that any other person of the same race or ethnic background would equally feel humiliated or insulted if the same was done to him.

Stolen Generation

One of the policies that has greatly impacted on the indigenous communities in Australia as far as racism is concerned is what came to be known as stolen generations (Barett & Hymann 2005). This was a policy that involved taking away the children of indigenous people who were considered to be living in conditions that were not ‘ideal’.

This would see these children separated from their families. According to the whites, this was more of humanitarian than discrimination (Havemann 1999). This policy was however applied to indigenous communities in Australia and not the immigrant communities and this is what made it discriminatory. Some of the policies such as this have continued to impact.

Another policy that the government of Australia came up with which greatly affected and continues to affect the indigenous communities is the seclusion or isolation of these people from the rest of the population. In 1860, the then government set up a board which would oversee, the settlement of the indigenous people in certain reserves away from the rest of the society. During this period, the indigenous people became very accomplished as they grew crops but they were not receiving much support from the government.

Institutionalized Racism

The indigenous communities in Australia have also suffered from institutionalized racism. This kind of racism is more subtle than the ordinary kind of racism but is nevertheless a form of discrimination. It simply involves ignoring totally problems that arise as a result of racial disintegrations or divisions.

For instance, when media fails to highlight such problems, the n this is discrimination. What is most worrying about this kind of racism is that laws can be formulated which are actually discriminatory or racist yet no one can question such laws.


Racism is an issue that has remained quite rampant in Australia and its existence even in this modern century is an issue that cannot be ignored. It is disturbing to note that some of the policies which the government put in place many years ago still have great impacts on the indigenous communities even today. With this kind of institutionalized racism that is seen as being subtle, it is becoming apparent that the future is not becoming brighter for the indigenous communities in Australia.

It is important for the government to reconsider and rethink some of the policies that it has put in place before and especially if they occasion injustice, unfairness and inequality to any race and especially the indigenous communities who have suffered a great of racism for a long time. It is also important for the Australian government to ensure that the international conventions adopted are applied unilaterally thereby protecting the rights of each an every person regardless of their race.

Sometimes it is ironical that the government of this great country comes out with polices that do not favor the indigenous communities and seems to favour the immigrant communities yet the indigenous are the ones who are originally from this county. It is time that the indigenous communities in the society are accorded the kind of treatment they deserve being the pioneers of this great country.


Barett, C., & Hymann, D (2005) CUB pamphlet, The Australian Aborigine Carlton:

Carlton and united breweries

Griffiths, T. (1996) White sacred places, Hunters and collectors: the antiquarium imagination in Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Havemann, P. (1999) Comparing Indigenous people’s rights in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. New Zealand: Signposts Press