Abbott-era Racial Discrimination Act changes 'back on the table' in new Senate
An Abbott-era push to remove racial discrimination protections could be back on the table in the new Parliament, with several incoming senators determined to strike off section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Derryn Hinch, Senator-elect
for Victoria, said he supported unwinding the law "1000 per cent" and had discussed the issue with Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi and re-elected Family First Senator Bob Day.
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"Watch out for 18c because that is going to be really right back on the table," he told ABC radio on Friday. "I want to scrap it. I'm offended and insulted by any legislation that says 'offend and insult' anybody."
The team of four One Nation senators will also push to have section 18c repealed. Malcolm Roberts, who was elected alongside Pauline Hanson to represent Queensland, raised the issue at his debut press conference on Thursday.
"We need people to speak up freely and deliver what they really believe and yet they get slammed for that. I'm looking at 18c under the Racial Discrimination Act," he said.
"That needs to be addressed because that is curbing free speech. When we have free speech curbed, it means we don't talk about the real issues - tax, Islam, terrorism, the economy."
The controversial section makes it unlawful to publicly "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people" on the basis of race. Opponents argue this clause restricts freedom of speech.
However, section 18d exempts "any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose", as long as it is done "reasonably and in good faith".
Former prime minister Tony Abbott wanted to water down section 18c, which had become a bugbear of conservative commentators - most notably Andrew Bolt who was found to have breached the Act.
But Mr Abbott abandoned those plans late in 2014, saying: "I don't want to do anything that puts our national unity at risk at this time and so those proposals are now off the table."
Attorney-General George Brandis said changes to section 18c remained "off the table" and the government had no plans to pursue the issue again.
But with the Turnbull government in a weakened Senate position and requiring the support of at nine crossbenchers to pass any bills blocked by Labor and the Greens, the independents will find themselves in a powerful position to influence the government's legislative agenda.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull previously indicated he was "comfortable" with a proposal by Senator Day to remove the words "insult" and "offend" from section 18c.
Re-elected Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm could also be counted on to back any moves to dump or water down the act.
Less likely to support any such plan are the three Nick Xenophon Team senators, with Senator Xenophon previously describing himself as "uneasy" about the proposed changes under Mr Abbott.
Before the election, the NXT and the Jacqui Lambie Network told The Australian Jewish News they did not want to make any changes to the act.
The NXT trio can also block bills in the Senate if it teams up with Labor and the Greens.
Asked about the issue on Friday, Labor leader Bill Shorten said the case for changing section 18c had not been made.