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TheScanlonFoundations2014studyonsocialcohesion,forexample,foundthat18percentofpeople

haveexperienceddiscriminationonracialorreligiousgroundsduringthepasttwelvemonths.2A
notablestudyconductedbyeconomistsatAustralianNationalUniversityfoundsignificant
discriminationagainstthoseofnonAnglobackgroundsinemployment.3Institutionalformsofracism
againstAboriginalandTorresStraitIslanderpeopleremainsentrenched.4
AustraliahaslargelybeenasuccessfulmulticulturalsocietysincethedemiseoftheWhiteAustralia
ideal
AustraliadoesnothavetheequivalentsoftheKuKluxKlan,theFrontNationalortheEnglishDefence
League.

Prior to the legislations introduction,


non-violent acts of racism were typically beyond the
reach of the law. The general right to be free from
being discriminated against on racial grounds
indeed on any ground has never been developed
in common law.7
It was only through the RDA that
such a right was established. In addition to a general
prohibition on racial discrimination (under s 9), the
RDA makes discrimination unlawful in the realms of
employment, provision of goods and services, housing
and accommodation, and access to public places.
ChiefJusticeoftheHighCourt,SirHarryGibbs,oncedescribedthelegislationasprovidingaqualified
billofrights.10Throughtheprovisionsunders10,andbyvirtueofs109oftheAustralian
Constitution,theRDAcanoverrideanystateorterritorylegislationthatdiscriminatesonthebasisof
race.
majorityofcomplaintsconciliatedundertheRDAresultedinanagreedoutcomebetweentheparties.
Thecriticismthatrelativelyfewcasesofracialdiscriminationhavebeenlitigatedinthecourtsmaybe
misplaced,inonesense.Muchlikeaducksfeetfuriouslypaddlingunderwater,therealworkofthe
legislationmaynotbeevidentatfirstglance.

noonecanbeprosecutedorconvictedforbreachingtheRDA.Racialdiscriminationmaybeunlawful,
butitdoesnotconstituteacriminaloffenceattractingpenalties.Acontraventionofthelawisneithera
misdemeanournorafelony,butastatutorycivilwrong.Wheresomeonebelievestheyhave
experiencedracialdiscriminationunderthelaw,theyarefreetomakeacomplainttotheAustralian
HumanRightsCommission(AHRC)andseekaremedy.
Sinceitcommencedoperation,morethan6000complaintsaboutracialdiscriminationhavebeen
successfullyconciliated,withfewerthan300reporteddecisionsmadebyacourtortribunaloverthat
time.22
Havinginplaceaconciliationframeworkallowsforacomplainthandlingprocessthatisaccessible,
privateandflexible.Itaimstoprovideaninformalresolutionofacomplaintinawaythatavoidsthe
lengthinessandexpenseoflitigation.Theconciliator,intheformoftheAHRCasathirdparty,seeks
touncoverevidencetoshowthepartieswheretheystandwithregardtotheirrightsandobligations.A
successfulconciliationisonewherebothpartiesagreeontheresolution,andwhichpreventsa
repetitionoftheactthatwascauseforcomplaint.23