• Indigenous leader and Labor Senator Pat Dodson (AAP)Source: AAP
The Aboriginal Legal Service has been knocked back from attending a Senate hearing to discuss changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.
24 Mar 2017 - 10:49 AM  UPDATED 24 Mar 2017 - 3:57 PM

An Indigenous group has been barred from giving evidence to a Senate inquiry into the government's changes to race-hate laws.

Labor and the Greens wanted the Aboriginal Legal Service to give evidence to a five-day inquiry into changes to the Racial Discrimination Act and the way in which the Australian Human Rights Commission handles complaints.

But chairman of the inquiry committee, Liberal senator Ian Macdonald, on Friday refused to allow the service to offer its thoughts on the legislation, which was only released this week.

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“That is incredible and it is disgraceful that we should be excluding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from this debate, but that is what government senators have done this morning," Labor senator Murray Watt said.

Meanwhile Labor senator Pat Dodson lambasted the process of changing the Act as a 'shambles'. 

“The Aboriginal people have not been given any opportunity to comment on a bill, that there’s likely to be a lot of impacts rising from," he said.

Senator Macdonald said he would not allow it because "once you start having one group of any type, in this case an Indigenous group, who have a particular view, do you call other members of that same group that might have a different view?"

"I think it was for that reason we decided to restrict it to the ones we have (on the witness list)," Senator Macdonald said.

Senator Watt said he would be happy for the committee to invite an Indigenous person to argue in favour of the law changes.

Independent senator Derryn Hinch said the issues in the legislation had been widely canvassed in a previous inquiry and adding witnesses to the list was not necessary.

"Everybody in Australia has had a chance to put their view - all the views are known," he said.

A spokesperson for the NSW/ACT Aboriginal Legal Service asked senators to remember the 'special circumstance' of offensive and insulting language when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“It’s worth noting that across our country and in all jurisdictions there will be Aboriginal people remanded in custody on charges of offensive language, many of those will be children, and there will be circumstances similar to swearing at police," he said. 

"I think this is something to be borne in mind as well when the debate continues on what is offensive and insulting language."

Senator Macdonald began the hearing paying tribute to the late cartoonist Bill Leak.

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"The committee would note Mr Leak's untimely death, extends its condolences to Mr Leak's family and we hope his passion for this particular issue and the legislation which has followed is some recompense to his family of his contribution to public life in Australia."

Senator Watt said at the start of the hearing Labor senators wanted to "acknowledge the extreme hurt that is caused to all Australians of non-Anglo Saxon background whenever they experience racial humiliation, offence or insults".