'18C debate not over', say both Liberal Senator and Labor MP

Liberal Senator James Paterson and Labor MP Linda Burney.
Liberal Senator James Paterson and Labor MP Linda Burney. Source: AAP

The debate over 18C isn't over, federal politicians say.

Liberal Senator James Paterson and Labor MP Linda Burney have said the defeat of the government proposal to change race-hate laws in the Senate does not mark the end of the debate.

“I have no doubt we will soon again be debating changes to 18C and I know the public will have even less sympathy for this flawed law than they do today,” Senator Paterson said in a statement to SBS News.

The Coalition failed in its attempt to change the words "offend", "insult" and "humiliate" in Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act to "harass and intimidate" during a late-night debate on Thursday.

The attempt to re-word the section was killed off by a Labor amendment to the bill, which passed 31 votes to 28.

Linda Burney, Shadow Minister for Human Services, told SBS News she also believed the Senate vote would not be the last of the issue.

“If the Prime Minister thinks he has squared this away, hung out the olive branch to say, ‘look I’ve tried, I’ve failed’ and shored up his leadership, I think it is going to have the opposite effect,” Ms Burney said.

WATCH: Senate debates 18C 

‘Progress has been made’, says IPA

The Labor MP said those in the Liberal Party who supported changes to 18C would be emboldened by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s support for changes.

“Of course it’s not the last of it. It’s already clear Senator (Cory) Bernardi and those in the Liberal Party that are associates of the Institute of Public Affairs are not going to let this go,” Ms Burney said.

While efforts to amend the wording of section 18C failed to pass, the Senate on Thursday accepted changes to the process of handling complaints.

The lesser changes had both Labor and Liberal support. 

Simon Breheny, Director of Policy at the Institute of Public Affairs, said the organisation would be doing more in the coming ‘months and years’ to ensure the Racial Discrimination Act was changed.

“The vote in the Senate last night doesn’t change the fact that 18C presents a very significant problem for freedom of speech,” Mr Breheny told SBS News.

“I think this is going to continue, this is not an issue that is going anywhere and I encourage people to participate in this debate”.

Mr Breheny said despite the Senate defeat he believed there had been progress on the issue and noted that support for changes was now official Coalition policy.

“I think it is a great thing that we have moved from the position of the former Abbott government,” he said.

“I think that it’s wonderful that the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and others in the government have realised that this issue is really significant.”

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott abandoned the government’ plans to abolish 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in 2014.

WATCH: Senator George Brandis on 18C 

‘Time to move on’

Greens Senator Nick McKim said on Thursday the defeat of the government’s proposed changes was a “victory for common sense”.

“Fair-minded Australians right across the country will be celebrating,” he said.

However Joseph Caputo, chairperson Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, said it wasn’t a moment for celebration.

“It’s a sad day, I would have preferred the government hadn’t revisited this issue, and I’m saddened that the government has decided to revisit it,” Mr Caputo told SBS News.

WATCH: Senator Malcolm Roberts says 18C protects Muslim Criminals 

Mr Caputo said while he hoped the government changed its policy on supporting changes to 18C, he wouldn’t be campaigning to pressure them to do so.

“I hope that from now on this issue will never see the light of day again. The government should take heed that there is not an appetite, either publicly or in the parliament to water down the anti-discrimination laws,” he added.

“We should just put it behind us and move on.”