• Racial Discrimination Act (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The last two weeks have seen the resurrection of the debate on Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to offend or insult, humiliate or intimidate a person. The changes, first raised by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2014, would make it legal to insult or offend someone based on their race or ethnicity.
NITV Staff Writer

15 Aug 2016 - 1:40 PM  UPDATED 15 Aug 2016 - 5:02 PM


Mr Abbott backed away from the changes after a community backlash two years ago, but now incoming senator Derryn Hinch and Queensland One Nation senator-elect Malcolm Roberts say they want the debate back on the agenda.  

“It should not be a crime to offend or insult somebody,” Mr Hinch said at the Melbourne Press Club. “I am offended and insulted by a law that can put you in jail because you offended somebody.”


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The debate now

Former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott delivered a speech on Friday saying he believes that on reflection, his government should have gone after less ambitious reforms. He suggested he should have focussed on getting rid of a couple of the words, and perhaps just focus on the words "offend" and "insult".

Federal opposition leader, Bill Shorten says Abbott’s comments about the need for reform of the Racial Discrimination Act shows the Coalition is in chaos. "Mr Turnbull should rule out any changes to section 18C, making it easier, deregulating the ability to have hate speech. This is an early test for Mr Turnbull. If Mr Turnbull really runs the Liberal Party, he would say Mr Abbott's ideas are not going to get oxygen. If he can't rule out Mr Abbott's ideas, then what we have a divided, dysfunctional Liberal party, led by a very weak prime minister."

WA Labor senator Pat Dodson says the matter “has to be put to bed”. He believes the Prime Minister must “really say that that’s no longer part of a bargaining tool with any of the cross-benchers,” Dodson says.

Last week, Attorney-General George Brandis said any changes were off the table, but Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says that’s not enough. “It only takes a couple of those backbenchers to start threatening Mr Turnbull and Mr Turnbull will just turn to water and do whatever they say,” Mr Shorten says.

The Labor leader called on the Prime Minister to “rule out 18C in the life of this parliament”.

Even if a bill is proposed, it’s likely to meet tough opposition in the senate.

Labor and the Greens are firmly against any amendments, along with the Nick Xenophon Team, which gives the senate enough voting power to block any changes.  


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Fighting fire with fire

Meanwhile, Crossbenchers Bob Day and David Leyonhjelm say they will introduce separate bills to reform section 18C. Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission after being described as an "angry white male" in a newspaper column. A vocal critic of racial vilification laws, the New South Wales senator says he's aiming to show the "absurdity" of the legislation. Leyonhjelm intends to use Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act he proposes to scrap.

"Assuming the adjudicators at the Human Rights Commission are guided by the law and not racists, I anticipate the complaint should succeed," he said in a statement on Monday, adding a successful repeal would allow Fairfax journalist Mark Kenny to insult him as much as he wants.”