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Xenophon stymies new push to give people 'right to be bigots'

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A fresh push to change racial discrimination laws appears likely to fail.

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New senators Derryn Hinch and Malcolm Roberts plan to join David Leyonhjelm and Bob Day in trying to scrap section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to offend, insult or humiliate a person on the grounds of race.

But South Australian senator Nick Xenophon, who will lead a team of three in the upper house, won’t be joining the push.

“When you have both the Jewish community and the Arab community on a unity ticket in the same room saying we think these amendments are reckless then you know that this is an area that we shouldn’t go down,” he told ABC radio today.

The coalition would need nine extra votes to get any change through the Senate, but would likely fall two votes short without the support of the Nick Xenophon Team, Labor or the Greens.

An initial bid by conservative coalition members to change the laws failed two years ago. At the time, Attorney-General George Brandis infamously defended the Government’s plan to amend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, on the grounds that people have “a right to be bigots”.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said the case had not been made for any change to the law and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull should ensure it did not become a bargaining chip for other legislation.

“We are pleased that Senator Xenophon will be taking the same position that Labor has taken on a principled basis,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Melbourne.

“The real issue here is, is Malcolm Turnbull going to sell out protections against hate speech so he can get other laws through the Senate?”

-AAP

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