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Leyonhjelm seeks freedoms if ABCC to pass

AAP logoAAP 4/11/2016

Malcolm Turnbull's chances of passing workplace laws, which became triggers for the July double dissolution election, will depend on action on freedom of speech.

Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm has launched a fresh round of horse-trading over the government's bill to restore the building industry watchdog, including changes to the racial discrimination act.

Senator Leyonhjelm's vote on the bill is in doubt after the government reneged on a deal over gun imports.

He told AAP on Friday if a vote was held today he would say no to the draft laws.

However, the NSW senator put a new offer to Mr Turnbull at a meeting this week, as the prime minister made the rounds of a number of crossbenchers.

Senator Leyonhjelm has concerns about the reversal of the onus of proof and restrictions on the right to silence in the ABCC bill.

But the libertarian said he could support it if there was a "compensating improvement in freedom".

He has given the prime minister a list of possible changes to law regarding liberties, rights and responsibilities, including the repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

"I do not want our 'net freedom' to go downhill," he said.

The senator said he was "not in any hurrry" to pass the ABCC bill, but believed it could come to the Senate for debate in the final sitting fortnight of parliament.

However, while Employment Minister Michaelia Cash was in favour of bringing the bill on before the end of the year, other ministers were less enthusiastic, Senator Leyonhjelm said.

"My guess is they probably won't try if they think they are going to lose," he said.

The government, which has 30 senators, will need eight extra votes to pass the bill after Family First senator Bob Day quit to deal with the fallout from his construction business collapse - leaving the Senate with 75 members for now.

That support could come from Senator Leyonhjelm, One Nation's four senators and the three Nick Xenophon Team senators, with independent Derryn Hinch also a possibility.

However, One Nation senator Rod Culleton has cast doubt over whether he will vote in parliament while the High Court determines his eligibility to be elected.

A Labor figure told AAP if Senator Culleton votes for the ABCC bill and it is later found his election was invalid "all hell would break loose".

Mr Turnbull said the government was weighing up whether to support an inquiry, being put forward by West Australian Liberal senator Dean Smith, into issues relating to freedom of speech.

He said nobody wanted to undermine what is the most successful multicultural society in the world.

"At the same time we have a robust democracy where free speech is a key element in our way of life and so getting the balance right is always an issue," Mr Turnbull told reporters in Hobart on Friday.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson said on Twitter it had become clear a parliamentary inquiry was needed to examine the Racial Discrimination Act's limits on free speech.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the prime minister should not be horse-trading over hate speech.

"Old Malcolm would never have contemplated this," Mr Shorten said on Friday.

"Every time the bullies on the backbench ask for something, Malcolm Turnbull gives it to them.

"They can sense his weakness and they will keep exploiting it."

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