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Majority of voters oppose race-hate reform

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A majority of Australians oppose the Turnbull government's efforts to change the nation's race-hate laws, new polling shows.

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The Fairfax-Ipsos poll of 1400 voters shows 78 per cent believe it should be unlawful to offend, insult or humiliate someone on the basis of their race or ethnicity.

The Federal Government wants the words “offend”, “insult” and “humiliate” in Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act changed to “harass and intimidate”.

Despite the opposition, support for amending section 18C has increased by 10 percentage points since 2014.

A second poll, published by Essential today, shows that 40 per cent of Australians believe the laws were “about right”, with 26 per cent saying they are too weak and 16 per cent indicating they are too strict.

Howeer, when asked about the specific wording change, 45 per cent of voters approved compared with 34 per cent against.

Meanwhile, Federal Labor has left the door open to support changes to the way the Human Rights Commission deals with race-hate complaints, as the government considers further amendments.

But caucus on Tuesday still voted to oppose the government’s proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act from the words “offend”, “insult” and “humiliate” to “harass and intimidate”.

Caucus decided to seek further amendments to the commission’s complaints-handing process.

The process changes have broad support on the Senate crossbench, but the word changes do not.

The decision leaves the Coalition Government with little choice but to dump or split its legislation, which is set to go before the Senate on Tuesday after the tabling of an inquiry report into the bill.

It is understood the government has further amendments, which Labor has yet to see, to the bill originally presented last week by Attorney-General George Brandis.

Labor senator and indigenous leader Pat Dodson told caucus the government’s management of the changes to Section 18C and the commission’s complaint-handling processes had been a “shambles”.

He said if the government had been an indigenous organisation it would have been sacked.

Tasmanian independent senator Jacqui Lambie says she is open to supporting a split bill, with the Act changes separated from the operational changes.

The draft laws are expected to come on for debate shortly after the report is tabled.

– AAP

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