THE Federal Government will move to amend key sections of the Racial Discrimination Act in a bid to prevent members of the public and the press from facing lawsuits when they are accused of breaching it.
In a press conference with Attorney-General George Brandis today Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the Coalition's Party Room had agreed to attempt to amend the oft-cited section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and a number of other pieces if legislation.
The PM specifically referred to two recent cases, one which involved three students at the Queensland University of Technology and another which involved Bill Leak - the recently deceased cartoonist for The Australian Newspaper.
"There has been a great deal of public discussion in recent times about the protection of freedom of speech in Australia. That discussion has focussed, in particular, upon section 18C of the RDA, and on the way in which the Commission deals with complaints," Mr Turnbull said.
"The recent cases of the students at QUT, and the complaint against the late cartoonist Bill Leak, have brought the issue to even greater prominence."
Mr Turnbul then pointed to a report from the Australian Law Reform Commission handed down in March 2016 which said: "Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act, of which s. 18C forms part, would benefit from a more thorough review in relation to freedom of speech".
He added that in November last year the Australian Human Rights Commission - which has been drawn into many civil cases involving Section 18C - had asked the Turnbull Government to propose: "amendments to streamline the processes by raising the threshold for accepting complaints".
Mr Turnbull said his government's legislation would strike the right balance between strengthening protections against hate speech and ensuring that frivolous or vexatious complaints are put to rest without those being accused of racism facing large personal financial costs.
"The legislation will remove the words 'offend, insult, humiliate' from section 18C of the RDA and insert the word 'harass'." Mr Turnbull said.
"It will also introduce the 'reasonable member of the Australian community' as the objective standard by which contravention of section 18C should be judged."
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said this was a sorry day for Australians.
He then said the change which had been announced was a weakening of the Act, which he said had served the country well since its introduction in 1975.
He also said Mr Turnbull had "his chain yanked by the right wing of his party."
"And for the Prime Minister to pretend this is a strengthening of the law is simply nonsense.
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