Government to examine 18C changes

In a press conference with Attorney-General George Brandis today Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the Coalition's Party Room had agreed to attempt to amend the oft-cited section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and a number of other pieces if legislation.

The government has unveiled plans to change section 18c of the Act, which makes it illegal to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone on the basis of their race or ethnicity.

The words "offend", "insult" and "humiliate" will be replaced with "harass", while "intimidate" will remain in the Act. "We are defending Australians from racial vilification by replacing language which has been discredited and has lost credibility".

Changes are also being proposed to the complaints handling process of the Human Rights Commission.

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The AHRC said it received 77 complaints under section 18C of the Act previous year, and 52 per cent of racial vilification complaints were resolved at conciliation.

He then said the change which had been announced was a weakening of the Act, which he said had served the country well since its introduction in 1975.

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said ordinary Australians who had seen their wages cut or not growing, cuts to family tax benefits, would be wondering how the government was so out of touch.

"We've got a law that is working well to protect people from racial hate speech - why don't we just leave it alone and actually focus on what makes a difference to people's lives?" she told reporters in Canberra.

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"It's a shameful thing to be doing on, of all days, Harmony Day, when schools around Australia, school children are having explained to them why we set our face against racial discrimination and why we set our face against racist hate speech in our community".

The changes need the approval of the House of Representatives and the Senate to become law but are already facing significant opposition in the Upper House.

Crossbench senator Nick Xenophon also indicated he wouldn't back the changes.

The Racial Discrimination Act came to national attention in 2011 when broadcaster Andrew Bolt was found to have breached it when he wrote columns criticising prominent Indigenous Australians.

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