Racial law reform could lead to discrimination

CHANGES to Australia's racial discrimination act could "license" race-based discrimination, the nation's Race Discrimination Commissioner said on Monday.

Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane weighed into the debate over the Abbott Government's planned reform of the race laws for the first time on Monday.

While the specific reforms have not yet been outlined, Attorney-General Senator George Brandis has indicated amendments to the discrimination act are being considered.

Those changes follow the recent high-profile court case involving opinion writer Andrew Bolt, who was found guilty of breaching the act over his comments about "light-skinned Aborigines".

Any changes to the act will focus on the balance of ensuring freedom of speech, while protecting people from discrimination on the basis of their race.

Mr Soutphommasane said on ABC on Monday that any potential changes "should not give licence" to racial discrimination in Australia.

He said that as society "takes its cue from political leadership" and the current protections were crucial to protecting people from racial vilification stopped short of violence.

Mr Soutphommasane said "mere offence or hurt feelings" was not enough to require such protections, but it was crucial to protect people from stronger attacks on the basis of race.

He said he remained concerned such changes could provide a "green light" to racial discrimination in the community.


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