In what is seen to be another challenge to Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s authority as Liberal party leader, some government backbenchers in the Senate were reported to cross the floor in support of a proposed softening of Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act by Family First Senator Bob Day.
Senator Day has proposed to remove the words “insult” and “offend” from the act. Under current legislation, it is a prosecutable offence to insult or offend someone based on their race.
Mr Abbott last year abandoned a similar proposal by Attorney-General Senator George Brandis after a strong opposition from religious leaders, Liberal MPs, Labor MPs, and civil society leaders.
The reported move of half a dozen of Liberal senators to cross the floor in favour of changing race hate laws is seen by observers as another challenge to Mr Abbott’s leadership. A meeting to vote on a leadership spill motion was held on February 9 ~ with Mr Abbott remaining in his position as party leader.
Observers believe that with Mr Abbott’s frontbenchers not likely to support Senator Day’s bill, and given also that Labor will oppose changes to section 18C, Senator Day’s bill will “almost certainly fail and make any government senators’ support purely symbolic”.
But Labor Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism Michelle Rowland think otherwise.
“If the Prime Minister was prepared to make a deal on submarines with South Australian Senators to save his job, who is to say he won’t use Section 18C as a further bargaining chip?,” a joint statement by Mr Dreyfus and Ms Rowland said.
“Section 18C has served Australians well for almost 20 years and no case has been made to change the legislation.
“Labor will fight any move to weaken protections against racist hate speech.”