Queensland Senator George Brandis.
Queensland Senator George Brandis. Allan Reinikka

Watering down of the Racial Discrimination Act slammed

A KEY authority on race discrimination has blasted plans by Federal Attorney-General Senator George Brandis to "water down" the Racial Discrimination Act, saying new polling shows 88% of Australians opposed the change.

The amendments scrap section 18C of the legislation, the part which makes it illegal for someone "to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person" on the basis of race, colour or background.

Three other sections - 18B, 18C and 18E - will also be removed, replaced by a section that would create rules against racial vilification.

The changes were proposed after News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt was successfully sued for claiming certain light-skinned Aboriginal people were pretending to be indigenous to benefit themselves.

Australia's Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane said the sentiment shown in the Nielsen Poll published on Monday was in line with multicultural and indigenous communities, human rights groups and the legal profession.

"Racial tolerance is a pillar of Australian public morality," he said.

"Today's findings are an emphatic statement of our society's commitment to civility, decency, and tolerance.

"It is an acknowledgement that race relations should be placed above politics or ideology."

The Attorney-General's office declined to comment on the proposed changes because they were out for consultation until April 30.

Senator Brandis has previously said the changes would be the first time that racial vilification is included in the Commonwealth legislation.

"Laws which are designed to prohibit racial vilification should not be used as a vehicle to attack legitimate freedoms of speech," he said.

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said polling showed community was sending a clear message to the government.

"The time has come for Tony Abbott and Senator Brandis to listen to Australians and abandon their plan to water down protections against racial vilification and hate speech," he said.

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