Senator Cory Bernardi plans to defy the Prime Minister on amendments to Racial Discrimination laws. Photo: Alex EllinghausenLiberal Senator Cory Bernardi is set to defy Prime Minister Tony Abbott and co-sponsor a bill aimed at changing the Racial Discrimination Act, which the government abandoned just over a week ago.
Family First Senator Bob Day is planning to introduce a compromise bill, which will simply strike out the words “offend and insult” from the legislation rather than entirely overhaul the section as the government has proposed.
That proposal aims to make it no longer an offence to “offend” or “insult” someone on the grounds of his or her ethnicity. The Coalition pledged to reform the act after News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt was found to have breached the legislation in 2011.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott abandoned the election pledge after a backlash from many of his own MPs and ethnic communities who said it watered down protections against race-hate speech.
Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi had already said he would vote for Senator Day’s bill but has now told Fairfax Media he intends to go further and throw his full weight behind the bill by co-sponsoring it.
“We promised to reform Section 18c at the last election and I intend to honour that promise,” Senator Bernardi told Fairfax Media, in a clear rebuke of the Prime Minister’s decision to break the election promise.
He said it was a “matter of principle” and he wanted to let dismayed “grassroots members of the Liberal party” know that there are “some members of Parliament who are absolutely committed to freedom of speech in this country”.
Senator Day said it was a “great initiative of Cory’s to get on board” and said the move could help “other Liberals get on board”.
But he said he was seeking broad support and wanted to de-politicise the debate and urged a Labor senator and other crossbenchers to also consider co-sponsoring the bill.
“It would be nice if a Labor person would join in, I’m scouting around for anyone else who might want to get on board,” he told Fairfax Media.
The bill would have little chance of ever becoming law but Senator Day said “every little bit helps”.
“Anything’s better than nothing,” he said. “If we can just remove the words ‘insult’ and ‘offend’, it would solve the Andrew Bolt problem – being hauled off to court because someone said they were offended.
John Roskam from the free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs has said Bob Day’s compromise model would be “impossible” for the government to refuse. He raised more than $40,000 from angry supporters to fund an attack against the prime minister for breaking the government’s promise.
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