Harmony Day and 18C: 'There's irony in it'

Minister for Small and Family Business, Workplace and Deregulation, Craig Laundy. Source: AAP

Coalition MPs are considering watering down race-hate speech on Harmony Day - which celebrates diversity, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone.

The unfortunate timing of a likely decision to water down race-hate speech laws on Harmony Day has polarised federal parliamentarians.

The day celebrating Australia's diversity also coincides with the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, all while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and coalition MPs debate the issue in a partyroom meeting.

"There's irony in it," said indigenous Labor senator Patrick Dodson calling the changes a licence to abuse and hate.

"We should be motivated by the higher goods not by the base motives around the misperceived view of free speech," he told reporters in Canberra..

Liberal MP Craig Laundy has vowed to stand up for his multicultural electorate when colleagues debate the changes.

Mr Laundy, who holds the marginal western Sydney seat of Reid, says he is comfortable with a contentious section of the Racial Discrimination Act despite a change that could replace the words "insult" and "offend" with "harass".

The MP said the debate was at a very different place than it was in 2014.

"Former prime minister (Tony) Abbott I think did the discussion a great disservice when he stated that one of the reasons he was walking away from changing 18C was to appease the Muslim community," he said.

"The major drama is Islam is not a race, it's a religion."

Key crossbench senator Nick Xenophon will support a change to the investigation processes of the Human Rights Commission, but he doubts re-wording section 18C will get through parliament.

"Clearly the process has become the punishment in many cases," he said.

Labor MP Linda Burney, the first Aboriginal woman elected to the House of Representatives, said she had experienced racial discrimination first hand.

"If people think that racial discrimination is not an issue in this country, they should stand in the shoes of people from a migrant background and they should stand in the shoes of Aboriginal people," she said.

Liberal MP Jason Falinski said some voters in his electorate on Sydney's northern beaches had expressed concerns about the inhibition of free speech posed by 18C.

But he couldn't say what types of things those people wanted to say which they weren't allowed to at present, but insisted that wasn't the issue.

Australian Conservatives senator Cory Bernadi said it was only the death of cartoonist Bill Leak that had prompted the government into action.

"Why is it that we had to have someone sacrificed at the altar of political correctness to prompt a government to do something worthwhile?" he asked.

Greens senator Nick McKim said making changes to 18C was exactly what multicultural Australia had asked the prime minister not to do.

"What a terrible day this will be for harmony if Malcolm Turnbull does go forward with the proposal we understand he will be adopting," he said.

Source AAP

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