Rights – Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander

Picture of aboriginal artwork on blues and greens

Your Rights

As an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person, you have the right to be treated fairly. Discrimination may occur if you are treated less favourably than another person in a similar situation because of your culture, colour, descent, nationality or ethnic origin or immigrant status. It can occur directly in situations where you are denied something because you are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander or indirectly where a rule or policy that is the same for everyone has an unfair effect on you because of your culture.

You also have the right to not be subjected to racial hatred or vilification. Vilification is a public act against you because of your culture, colour, national or ethnic origin that is likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate.

Examples may include racially offensive or abusive:

  • Material on the internet
  • Comments or images in a newspaper, magazine or other publication such as a leaflet or flyer
  • Speeches at a public rally
  • Comments in a public place, at sporting events by players, spectators, coaches or officials


The Australian Human Rights Commission outlines a number of social justice rights for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples. This includes the right to:

  • A distinct status and culture, which can maintain and strengthen the identity and spiritual and cultural practices of Indigenous communities
  • Self-determination, meaning you have the right to freely determine your political status and freely pursue your economic, social and cultural development
  • Land, to maintain the spiritual and cultural basis of Indigenous communities.


There are other basic human rights outlined by the Australian Human Rights Commission that you have access to. These include the right to:

  • An adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing
  • The highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
  • Be free and safe from violence
  • Enjoyment of culture and preservation of language, and to not be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of culture
  • Be treated equally under the law


The Racial Discrimination Act makes it against the law for someone to treat you unfairly, or to discriminate against you, on the grounds of culture, colour, descent, national or ethic origin. It protects you against discrimination in public life, including:

  • Employment – getting a job, training, promotion, unfair dismissal
  • Education – enrolling or studying at a private or public school, college or university
  • Accommodation – renting or buying property
  • Getting or using services – banking and insurance, government department services, transport or telecommunication, access to lawyers, doctors or tradespeople, restaurants, shops or entertainment venues
  • Accessing public spaces – parks, restaurants, hotels, shopping centres, or government offices


The Racial Discrimination Act also outlines activities that are not deemed as discrimination, provided the activities are ‘done reasonably and in good faith’. These activities can include:

  • An artistic work or performance
  • A statement, publication, discussion or debate made for genuine academic or scientific purposes
  • Making a fair and accurate report on a matter of public interest
  • Making a fair comment, if the comment is an expression of a person’s genuine belief


Police Custody – If you are in police custody, the police can only question you if you have a support person with you during the interview. If you are having difficulty as a result of language, educational, cultural or ethnic handicaps or differences, they should notify the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service if you are arrested. For more information, see our Criminal section.

Racial Discrimination Act – The Australian Human Right Commission offers more information on the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975, click here.