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18C inquiry to take under four months

AAP logoAAP 8/11/2016

A parliamentary committee has just under four months to take submissions and evidence and report back to parliament on an issue which one MP describes as politically intoxicating to some individuals and parties.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, whose membership comprises five Liberal, four Labor and one Green, will examine the Racial Discrimination Act.

In particular, it will assess whether it imposes unreasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and whether sections 18C and 18D should be reformed.

The committee will report back to parliament by February 28 next year.

Liberal senator Dean Smith said the inquiry was a calm, prudent and sensible approach which captured all the key issues.

"The politics of this are easy. The politics are intoxicating for some people and for some political parties. We understand that," he said on Sky News.

Most commentary focuses on Section 18C which make it an offence to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a group of people based on race.

That was the basis of action against three Queensland students told to leave an indigenous only computer lab.

"Just got kicked out of the unsigned indigenous computer room. QUT stopping segregation with segregation," one later wrote.

It's also the basis of Human Rights Commission action against Australian cartoonist Bill Leak.

Already the discussion is dividing on party lines. Labor and the Greens say the government is encouraging hate speech though the inquiry.

Senator Smith said he didn't think this was a left versus right debate any more, with former Labor foreign minister Bob Carr saying 18C needed to be examined and Human Rights Commission president Professor Gillian Triggs saying an inquiry was reasonable.

"For ordinary people they have seen a cartoonist, students now come to the coalface of that law, it is right and prudent for parliament to explore these issues and report back," he said.

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