Insulting someone about their race could become legal

INSULTING someone on the street about their race could yet become legal, the Federal Opposition has warned as the Abbott Government seeks to change racial discrimination laws.

Attorney-General George Brandis on Tuesday released the Abbott government's planned changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, urging people around Australia to have their say.

But the changes, which repeal key sections of national race discrimination laws, include allowing racial insults, humiliation and offence in the interests of free speech.

Senator Brandis said the changes aim to balance freedom of speech against people's right not to be racially vilified, but Shadow A-G Mark Dreyfus criticised the changes.

Mr Dreyfus said "you could drive a truck through the exceptions" that were proposed, saying the proposed reforms were a "green light" for racism.

While he said he did not want to speak for victims of racial abuse, "it would seem to me unlikely that any of those community groups are going to be satisfied by this exception".

Specifically, the proposed reforms would remove the words offend, humiliate and insult from Australia's racial discrimination laws.

But Sen Brandis said the removal of those words would be replaced by a new "racial vilification" term, which has not previously been used in Australia's race laws.

"A properly worded section can achieve both objectives of the protection of freedom of speech while at the same time protecting against racial vilification and unacceptable conduct," he said.

However, it will likely come down to what is proposed after a month-long consultation period, and how the judiciary interprets vilification if the proposed laws are passed.

Sen Brandis said the proposed changes would help to ensure the "robustness of democratic exchange", but would likely have prevented legal action similar to that taken against columnist Andrew Bolt.

However, it would not remove reference to intimidation on the basis of race or cultural background.

"People have a right to go about their daily lives free or fear or intimidation - intimidation is not part of public discussion," Sen Brandis said.

The government has released an exposure draft of the proposed changes for public consultation, which was endorsed unanimously by the Coalition party room this morning.

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