Labor has claimed victory over changes to race-hate laws, despite Attorney-General George Brandis saying the parliament has made “significant and material changes” to the way complaints are handled.
The Senate passed a heavily amended bill just before 1pm AEDT on Friday, accepting the process changes but rejecting the government’s much-vaunted modifications to Section 18C.
The bill returned to the lower house just after 2pm where it was fast-tracked by the government with little debate.
Senator Brandis was supportive of the amended bill when summing up the debate, which ran for almost four hours on Friday and just over eight hours on Thursday.
“These are significant and material changes that will improve the operation of Australia’s Human Rights Commission to avoid the abuses and the misuse of the commission that we have seen in the recent past,” Senator Brandis told parliament on Friday.
Senator Brandis said the government had been “inspired” by those who had been persecuted through the commission’s processes.
“We are inspired today by the memory of the late (newspaper cartoonist) Bill Leak,” he said.
Mr Leak died of a suspected heart attack in March after coming under fire for a controversial editorial cartoon about indigenous parental neglect.
He was investigated for a possible breach of 18C but the racism complaint was subsequently dropped.
The coalition failed in its attempt to change the words “offend”, “insult” and “humiliate” in Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act to “harass and intimidate” during a late-night debate on Thursday.
The attempt to re-word the section was killed off by a Labor amendment to the bill, 31 votes to 28.
Labor leader Bill Shorten told parliament on Friday the government was wasting time on watering down race-hate laws while people were being put out of work because of the shut down of Victoria’s Hazelwood power station.
Mr Shorten said the proposed changes defeated by Labor would have “hurt people”.
“Labor will not stop on this campaign until the Liberal party drops its push to water down race-hate laws in this country,” he said.
Conservative think tank, the Institute for Public Affairs, said the coalition must re-commit to changing 18C at the next election.
“Senators who voted against this bill have failed a test of their commitment to basic human liberty,” the IPA’s Simon Breheny said.
Greens senator Nick McKim said there were improvements in the amended bill, but some changes would reduce the capability of the commission to do its job.
Cabinet Minister Mathias Cormann earlier said the Turnbull government gave its best shot in convincing Senate crossbenchers to agree to the 18C changes.
“We were very keen to give it our absolute best shot to persuade the crossbench to join us in strengthening anti-vilification laws,” he told ABC radio.
“AUSTRALIA POLITICS: Labor Claims Victory Over Race-Hate Laws Changes”.