Racist Behaviour in Public and Online

image of people of all colours walking

It is unlawful to do a public act that is likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or group because of their race (s 18C Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth)).

A person must not do a public act that incites hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule towards another person or group because of their race or another listed reason (e.g. religion) (s 124A Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld).

What are some examples of behaviour that might be unlawful?
  • A teacher says a student is stupid or lazy because of their race.
  • A person on the street yells a racial slur and ‘go back to where you came from’.
  • A worker uses internal communications in the workplace to make racial slurs and encourage others to alienate a colleague because of their race.
  • Someone displays signs or symbols that encourage violence against people of a particular race in the front window of their house.
  • A community member posts or comments on a community (e.g. neighbourhood watch) or government (e.g. Queensland Police Service) Facebook page expressing contempt for, or encouraging others to act against or surveil, a particular racial group.
What does it mean to do something in public?

Public spaces include on the street, in parks, in shops and restaurants, at events and any other places accessible to the public.

It is public whenever something is posted online where other people can see it including commenting on posts started by others.

Someone’s own social media, even when published to a limited audience, can be public. Publication by traditional media on any platform is public.

Some private spaces can be public because they are used by members of the public including workplaces, hospitals, schools and other educational institutions. Even a person’s home or yard can be public if people on the street can see or hear racist behaviour occurring.

Are there other laws that cover racist behaviour?

Sometimes racist behaviour is also unlawful under the criminal law, particularly if that behavior might incite others to violence. If racial hatred is a motivation for another criminal offence (e.g. willful damage or an assault), from April 2024 it might lead to an additional penalty.

Depending on where it occurs, racist behaviour might also be unlawful discrimination. It could also be bullying, domestic and family violence, other unlawful misconduct or a nuisance. It might be an unlawful limitation on human rights.

What do to when you have experienced racist behaviour

You can find more information about racist behavior and formal complaint options in the Queensland Law Handbook, from the Queensland Human Rights Commission, the Australian Human Rights Commission and the eSafety Commissioner. There may also be other options depending on where and when the conduct occurred.

We recommend legal advice before making a formal complaint. There are also a range of informal options to report racism including to the Queensland Human Rights Commission and Call it Out.

If you are concerned about someone’s safety or want to report a criminal matter, you can also contact police. In an emergency call 000. For non-urgent police matters call 13 14 44.