skip to content
Law Handbook banner image

Racial discrimination


Areas of discrimination on basis of race under SA law

Under South Australian legislation it is unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis of race in the following areas:

  • employment
  • membership of an association
  • qualifying bodies
  • education
  • sale of land
  • provision of goods and services
  • accommodation
  • superannuation


  • charities
  • special measures designed to benefit persons of a particular race or ethnic group
  • employment not in connection with an employer's business
  • employment for which it is a genuine occupational requirement that a person be of a particular race
  • social clubs established for the purpose of promoting the interests of persons of a particular race or ethnic group
  • accommodation in one's own household

Areas of discrimination on basis of race under Commonwealth law

It is unlawful under Commonwealth legislation to discriminate on the basis of race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin in the following areas:

  • Access to places and facilities
  • Land, housing and other accommodation
  • Provision of goods and services
  • Membership of trade unions
  • Employment

Under section 10 equality before the law is guaranteed. If a law of the Commonwealth or a state gives rights to one racial group and not another, the effect of this section is to give the same rights to the excluded racial group.

The Fair Work Ombudsman can also accept complaints about discrimination at work on the ground of race.

Exemptions under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth)

  • Special provisions made to seek the advancement of certain racial or ethnic groups requiring such protection as to ensure they enjoy equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms
  • Employment of a person on a foreign-owned ship or aircraft if person employed outside Australia
  • Employment in a private household
  • Any provision of a will or deed conferring charitable benefits on members of a particular race, colour or national or ethnic group

Making a complaint

Complaints can be made to the Australian Human Rights Commission or the Equal Opportunity Commission. There is no cost to lodge a complaint in either the Equal Opportunity Commission of South Australia or the Australian Human Rights Commission. For forms and guides on making a complaint see the websites of the Equal Opportunity Commission and the Australian Human Rights Commission.

For complaints relating to discrimination in employment, claims can may made to the Fair Work Commission, see the Employment chapter of the handbook on protected workplace rights: General Protections.

Time limits:

The Australian Human Rights Commissioner may decide not to take any action for complaints on acts committed more than 6 months previously.

The Equal Opportunity Commission requires a complaint to be made within 12 months of the event being complained of, but can grant extensions of time.

General Protections claims relating to dismissal have a 21 day time limit (from the date of notice of dismissal) in the Fair Work Commission.

Aboriginal teacher subject to racial slur and refused service at supermarket

Michelle, an Aboriginal teacher, said she was not served in a large regional supermarket. When she complained to the manager, the shop assistant said, "I couldn't see her because of the colour of her skin." Michelle said this was witnessed by a non-Aborginal colleague. Michelle was quite distressed and went back into the store to follow up with the manager, but did not feel the matter was properly dealt with.

In response to her complaint, the store investigated the matter and provided letters of apology from both the shop assistant and the manager.

Outcome: At conciliation, the store undertook to provide discrimination training to all staff and pay Michelle $1500 compensation.

Racial discrimination  :  Last Revised: Wed Nov 8th 2017
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.