Turnbull works on free speech changes

Brunilde Fioravanti
Marzo 21, 2017

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is understood to be looking at both options before a package of reforms is put before the Coalition party room on Tuesday.

The words "offend", "insult" and "humiliate" will be replaced with "harass", while "intimidate" will remain in the Act.

Mr Turnbull "absolutely rejected" claims he was seeking to water down Australia's racial hate laws and said the changes would make the legislation clearer and more effective. "We are defending Australians from racial vilification by replacing language which has been discredited and has lost credibility".

The Commission will be expected to decide whether complaints have any substance sooner, complaints will need to be lodged within six months and resolved within a year, according to the Attorney-General George Brandis.

Labor MP Linda Burney lashed out at the Government for pushing ahead with the changes, particularly on Harmony Day, saying she knew first-hand what it was like to face racial discrimination.

Labor said it was ironic the government had chosen the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to unveil what it labelled a weakening of domestic laws.

"Why don't we just leave it alone and actually focus on what makes a difference to peoples' lives?"

Senators Cory Bernardi, Derryn Hinch and David Leyonhjelm are all in favour of amending the Act, but South Australian senator Nick Xenophon has cast doubt on whether his party would support it.

A parliamentary committee failed to find a consensus on changing the law but called for changes to the commission's handling of complaints.

"Clearly the process has become the punishment in many cases", he told ABC radio.

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.

Mr Turnbull admitted he did not have plans to change the act when elected, but said the change was prompted by high-profile cases involving Queensland University of Technology students and cartoonist Bill Leak.

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