Regulating Racism

Regulating Racism

Racial vilification laws in Australia

By Luke McNamara


In 1989 New South Wales became the first Australian state to pass legislation outlawing racial vilification. By 2001 the Commonwealth and the majority of Australian states and territories had followed suit, suggesting a broadly held view that racism was a sufficiently serious problem in Australian society to warrant the imposition of legislative restrictions and sanctions on conduct which generated ill-feeling against particular racial or ethnic groups. And yet, throughout this period the legal regulation of racial vilification has been controversial, with each new legislative reform initiative prompting heated debate.

Regulating Racism provides a comprehensive examination of the history and current operation of federal, state and territorial racial vilification laws in Australia. Based on detailed analysis of relevant reports, legislation, parliamentary debates, statistical data, and judicial and quasi-judicial decisions, it reviews the range of approaches to the legal regulation of racial vilification which have been adopted in this country, including the creation of:

  • criminal offences;
  • statutory torts; and
  • grounds of human rights complaint.

The book addresses a number of key questions about the origins and operation of racial vilification laws. Why were different legislative models chosen? What are the implications of those choices for victims of racial vilification? What impact have free speech 'rights' and values had on the approach which Australian law-makers have adopted towards the regulation of racial vilification? How have racial vilification laws been applied and interpreted by human rights agencies, prosecuting authorities, tribunals and courts?

Regulating Racism evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches to the legal regulation of racial vilification which have been utilised to date in Australia. It makes an important contribution to our understanding of the role and limits of racial vilification laws in a democratic multicultural society.


Published September 2002
Publisher Institute of Criminology, Sydney
ISBN 9781864874679
Australian RRP $44.00
International Price $38.50