Prime Minister Tony Abbott has defended comments made by Attorney-General George Brandis when he said Australians have the right to be bigots.
The federal Attorney-General says Australians have the right to be bigots as his government moves to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
The section makes it unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a person on racial or ethnic grounds.
In a response to a question from Indigenous Labor Senator Nova Peris, Attorney General Senator George Brandis says Australians can speak their minds.
"People do have a right to be bigots you know. In a free country people do have rights to say things that other people find offensive or insulting or bigotted. Nevertheless Senator Peris may I point out to you that Section 18C in its current form does not prohibit racial vilification."
Prime Minister Abbott said he supported Senator Brandis' comments, adding that freedom of speech was to be "enjoyed", even if it offended people.
"Of course this government is determined to try to ensure that Australia remains a free and fair and tolerant society, where bigotry and racism has no place," Mr Abbott said. "But we also want this country to be a nation where freedom of speech is enjoyed.
"And sometimes, Madam Speaker, free speech will be speech which upsets people, which offends people."
The repeal bill is causing discontent within government ranks with West Australian Liberal Indigenous MP Ken Wyatt threatening to vote against the government on the repeal.
The Coalition's only Jewish MP, Josh Frydenberg, is backing moves to get rid of it.
The Opposition's Mark Dreyfus condemned Senator Brandis' comments as giving the "green light to racist hate speech" in Australia.
"Labor is deeply concerned by the scope of changes the Government is planning to Section 18C," shadow Attorney-General Dreyfus said in a statement.
"Tony Abbott and Senator Brandis have shown they’re not prepared to listen to community groups, experts, or their own MPs, who vigorously oppose the watering down of legal protections against racism."
Mr Dreyfus said Section 18C should remain unchanged as it has served the community well over 20 years.
Section 18C explained
Section 18C states that it is unlawful for a person to "offend offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people...because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin."
A Federal Court judge found he had breached the Racial Discrimination Act because a pair of articles he wrote were not written in good faith and contained factual errors.
The judge said the articles would have offended a reasonable member of the Aboriginal community.
Do you think people have the “right to be bigots”? Share your thoughts in the comments below.