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Lib senator ups ante on hate-speech laws

AAP logoAAP 16/08/2016

Liberal senator Cory Bernardi has thrown down the gauntlet to his coalition colleagues, vowing to use the first week of the new parliament to change hate-speech laws that he argues are part of a "pervasive step toward Orwell's totalitarian Newspeak".

Momentum is gathering inside the Turnbull government for a change to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act that makes it illegal to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone because of their race.

Senator Bernardi co-sponsored a private bill in the previous parliament that sought to remove the words 'offend' and 'insult' from the act.

"In the first week back in parliament I'll be reintroducing the same bill with the expectation that this parliament will finally get a vote and expose very clearly who among your elected representatives is interested in protecting our freedoms and way of life," he wrote in his Weekly Dose of Commonsense missive.

"It will also indicate those who have been captured by and surrendered to Orwell's frightening vision characterised in his book 1984."

Coalition supporters of the change believe they are within one or two votes of securing a Senate majority on the issue.

But cabinet minister Marise Payne insists the coalition has no plans to change racial discrimination laws despite the agitation of some of its backbench and crossbench senators.

"The debate may be continuing with some people but the government has no intention to make any amendments to 18C; that reform was taken off the table in August of 2014," she said.

Labor has demanded that Malcolm Turnbull explain whether he told right-wing MPs he would press the changes in exchange for their support during last year's Liberal leadership crisis.

"We've just seen most recently that fairly dramatic revelation overnight that he did a dirty deal to undermine protections against hate speech with the right wing of his party," Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told reporters in Melbourne.

Assistant Minister Anne Ruston, a Turnbull ally, has told her supporters some words in section 18C should "probably go, at least".

"Laws governing our behaviour towards others should be as objective in their wording as possible," she said in a newsletter.

Opposition spokesman on multicultural affairs Tony Burke said the prime minister must immediately reject Senator Ruston's comments.

Otherwise it would confirm he was been held hostage by fringe elements of his own party, he said.

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