Reports of racism and xenophobia have been a worrying trend throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The seriousness of the racist incidents being reported is real cause for concern – through enquiries, complaints and anonymous reports via our Community Reporting Tool, we’ve heard about a wide range of incidents, from offensive comments and verbal abuse through to threats of physical violence. Racism is damaging to individuals and communities. It can cause serious distress and compound existing social isolation. No Victorian should have to endure racism because of who they are or where they come from.
Early in the year, reports emerged of patients declining treatment from particular doctors because of their racial background. There were also reports of offensive signage and event promotions that traded on stereotypes about China.
More recently, we have heard about instances of people being abused in public or while they work. One woman was abused while shopping at her local supermarket – as she picked up some hand sanitiser, a staff member remarked “All you Asians take everything”.
We also heard from a doctor at one of Melbourne’s busiest hospitals who was abused so aggressively while getting the train to work that he no longer feels safe taking public transport. He’s having to rely on friends and family to drive him to his allocated shifts.
In April, two international students were physically assaulted in Melbourne’s CBD and told to “go back to China”.
While racism is consistently amongst the most common issues we hear about from Victorians, we’ve seen an increase in enquiries about racism since the pandemic began, and the number of anonymous reports of racism we received via our Community Reporting Tool roughly doubled during the six-week period from mid-March to the start of May. In the race-related enquiries we’ve received, there has been a subtle shift in their nature – the proportion related to vilification has roughly doubled, suggesting a shift away from racial discrimination at work or in employment towards racial abuse and other unfair treatment on the street, on public transport or online.
Victoria is not alone in experiencing incidents of racism. A national survey coordinated by community group Asian Australian Alliance received 178 reports of racism directed towards people from Asian backgrounds during the first two weeks of April – roughly 12 reports every day. In the first week of May, ABC News also launched a survey to better understand experiences of racism.
Political leaders at both state and federal level have spoken out in support of those experiencing racism. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews called out recent incidents and made clear that there is no place for racism in Victoria, while both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge encouraged people who experienced racism to report it.
What the law says
Racism is not just against the shared values that unite Victorians; it’s also against the law. Victoria’s anti-discrimination laws protect people from being treated unfairly or being subjected to hate because of their race or religion.
Under Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act, it’s against the law to discriminate against someone because of their race. This includes the colour of their skin, their descent or ancestry, their nationality or ethnic background, or any characteristics associated with a particular race. The rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are also protected under anti-discrimination laws.
Discrimination is prohibited by the Equal Opportunity Act in key places including employment, education, accommodation and the provision of goods and services.
Each year, race discrimination is one of the most common types of discrimination we hear about through our enquiries and complaints services.
Under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, it’s against the law to vilify a person or group of people because of their race or religion. Vilification is behaviour that incites people to feel hatred, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of a person or group of people because of their race or religion. It can include making public statements about a particular race or religion, encouraging violence against a particular group or spreading hate online.
How we’re addressing the issues
During this period, we’ve been closely monitoring the enquiries and complaints we are receiving, as well as anonymous reports via our Community Reporting Tool. We are analysing the data from these contacts and reporting trends to the government. We’ve used our media profile to call out instances of racism and we’ve also been working with multicultural organisations and advocates working with Victoria’s Asian communities to help them understand their rights and how they can seek help if they experience discrimination or vilification. During 2020, we will also be embarking on a new collaboration with the Victorian Multicultural Commission to help members of Victoria’s diverse multicultural and multifaith communities understand and exercise their rights.
New project funding to support multicultural communities to combat racism
As part of a Victorian Government initiative, our new collaboration with the Victorian Multicultural Commission will support Victoria’s diverse multicultural and multifaith communities to navigate Victoria’s anti-discrimination laws and make a complaint if they experience racism.
- 'All Victorians should live free from hate' – our statement on reforming anti-vilification protections
As part of the parliamentary inquiry into reforming Victoria's anti-vilification laws, on 27 May 2020 our Commissioner presented to the Legal and Social Issues Committee on our recommendations for stronger protections from hate for all Victorians.
How we can help
If you have a question about discrimination, sexual harassment or vilification or would like more information about how Victoria’s Charter protects your human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re here to help.
Our enquiries team can help you understand Victoria’s anti-discrimination laws and how you can make a complaint if you choose to. And if we can’t answer your question, we’ll try to help you find someone who can.
Contact us via live chat – you can request a call-back if you’d like to speak to someone directly
Make an anonymous report using our Community Reporting Tool
If you wish to make a complaint in relation to the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, find out more about your options.