What is unlawful discrimination?

Racial disharmony 

It is unlawful to cause or excite hostility against groups of people, or bring them into contempt, because of their race, colour, or ethnic or national origin.

Under the Act, exciting racial disharmony means to:

  • publish, distribute or broadcast material which is threatening, abusive or insulting
  • use threatening, abusive or insulting words in a public place
  • use threatening, abusive or insulting words in a situation where the speaker knows that they are likely to be reported.

To be unlawful, the action must incite, or be likely to incite, hatred against a group of people or bring them into contempt. An action does not need to be deliberate to be against the law.

The right to freedom of expression is an important part of New Zealand’s democratic society. For this reason, a complaint of exciting racial disharmony must be balanced against the right to freedom of expression. Complaints must meet a high threshold before they can be progressed.

Serious threats or insults made against individuals may be best dealt with under criminal law or by a civil action for defamation.