Liberal senators determined to keep 18c alive

Liberal senators determined to keep 18c alive

By David Crowe

Liberal senators are determined to keep free speech on the political agenda by launching a debate over Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, despite moves yesterday that block any attempt to legislate a change.

In a sign of the government’s internal differences on the issue, Liberals will seek to keep the issue alive after Nick Xenophon made it clear his group of three senators would use its blocking stake to reject reforms.

“My view is that we are at the very beginning of the process,” Victorian Liberal senator James Paterson said.

“I hope and expect there will be many opportunities during this parliamentary term to persuade any colleagues with reservations that this reform is necessary and desirable.”

Senator Xenophon has joined Labor and the Greens in opposing any change to the law, which makes it an offence to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone on the grounds of their race, colour or ethnic origin.

But there is a push for change from new Victorian senator Derryn Hinch, the Liberal Democratic Party’s David Leyonhjelm, Family First’s Bob Day and the four senators in Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

The push for free speech reform from the crossbench is fuelling a similar sentiment among some members of the Liberals and Nationals, generating calls for change that will challenge Malcolm Turnbull on the issue.

The Prime Minister has signalled no change in the government’s position against changing 18c, a stance taken after Tony Abbott and the federal cabinet reversed their policy after earlier proposing to scrap the provision on the grounds it hindered free speech.

Even if the government switched position again, Labor could use its 26 votes in the upper house to combine with the nine Greens and three members of the Nick Xenophon Team to form a bloc of 38 votes, half the chamber of 76. Tied votes are lost in the upper house.

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