• The Liberal Party is divided over changes to the Racial Discrimination Act (AAP)Source: AAP
A joint parliamentary committee failed to provide any concrete recommendations on changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, leaving Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to make a ruling and his party divided.
1 Mar 2017 - 4:27 PM  UPDATED 2 Mar 2017 - 9:37 AM

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be forced to make a rule on a potentially damaging Liberal Party split over race-hate laws as the issue continues to cause tension within government ranks.

The Parliamentary Committee tabled its report into the Racial Discrimination Act yesterday but failed to reach a consensus on whether section 18C should be changed.

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Inquiry fails to reach agreement on push to change Racial Discrimination Act
A parliamentary inquiry into the Racial Discrimination Act has recommended that no major changes be made to the section that covers freedom of speech.

Instead the report provided a number of options without offering any resolution on the best way forward.

The lack of concrete recommendations is causing division amongst the Liberal Party and placing Mr Turnbull in a precarious position. But some party members are not backing down.

Liberal backbencher, Tim Wilson, says he still wants to see the provisions around insult and humiliate taken out and replaced with harassment.

"When it comes down to it, there is no equivalent provision in other federal laws dealing with free speech. So you can say whatever you like about people with a disability, about people's sexual orientation or gender, but you can't say something on the base of race," he told NITV. 

Liberal backbencher and Committee Chair Ian Goodenough said he would like to see the wording of section 18C changed. 

"I would support replacing the words of offend and insult with a higher term, such as harass or vilify," he told AM. 

There are a number of Coalition MPs supportive of changing the Act but there are some who oppose. 

Liberal MP, David Coleman, told AM the changes are inappropriate. 

"I am of the view that the law has been in place for more than 20 years, I think that it has worked effectively in defending against racial discrimination," he said. 

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said in Question Time that softening the Racial Discrimination Act will not help everyday Australians to get jobs or help put money in their pockets. 

"The debate over section 18C is a metaphor for the current government, totally divided, two camps at war with each other, no one with the leadership or authority to make a decision and carry the day," he said. 

"While the bi-partisan committee's recommended no change to the law, the ball is in now the Prime Minister's court. He should rule out the right to be a bigot once and for all." 

Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek, says the government is not focused on the big issues. 

"They're focused on whether the rainbow flag was flying at the Department of Finance and making it easier to insult people on the basis of their race. It's an extraordinary time for the government that is so unable to focus on the issues that are affecting Australian families," she said. 

Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, says the government needs to the issue to bed. 

"It should be dead, buried and cremated to use a familiar phrase. It’s only a tiny, tiny number of anyone interested in politics and some kind of far-right group in the Liberal Party who have continued to push this. And this inquiry was meant to recommend changes as I understood the government’s intention. It hasn’t, let’s bring this to an end and leave the law that protects Australians from race hate speech in place," he said. 

Labor MP Jason Clare agreed. He told Sky News the government has been distracted and obsessing over the changing the legislation for years. 

"Scott Morrison’s right this doesn’t create a job all it does is expose the division in the Liberal Party. They’re obsessed with this issue about whether it should be legal to harass or intimidate or offend people based on the colour of their skin. It shows how divided the Government is, but also shows how out of touch they are," he said. 

Greens Senator, Nick McKim, says now is not the time to be changing race-hate laws.  

"There's rarely been a worst time in Australia's history to unleash more racism cause we are already seeing increased racism in this country," he said. 

Cabinet will now consider the report with any changes to the law required to go through a lengthy Committee and party room process before it heads through to Parliament. 

Related reading
Changes to 18C could bring 'more hatred and violence’, says Amnesty
Amnesty International believes the gradual watering down of the country's Racial Discrimination laws ‘could embolden racists in the community’.
The raging debate on Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act
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.