A Liberal MP has signalled his readiness to cross the floor and vote against the Abbott government if controversial changes to the Racial Discrimination Act proceed in their proposed form.
Craig Laundy, whose electorate of Reid is one of Sydney’s most ethnically diverse, has written to Attorney-General George Brandis to outline his opposition to plans to water down race hate protections.
Mr Laundy has received 3000 individual pieces of correspondence from constituents on the government’s intentions for sections 18C and 18D of the Discrimination Act.
None was in support of Senator Brandis' ‘‘right to be a bigot’’ reforms, which he insisted were in defence of freedom of speech.
‘‘I believe we are potentially permitting acts that have no place in our wonderfully multicultural communities,’’ Mr Laundy said.
When asked whether he was prepared to become the first member of the Abbott government to cross the floor, he said he would vote with his ‘‘community and country’’ as his priorities.
‘‘I brought my integrity to Parliament and I intend to take it with me when I go," he said. "We [as politicians] should always seek to add value for our children, not take value away.
‘‘At the right time I will make a decision [on how to vote] based on what is put in front of me."
Mr Laundy received immediate support from fellow Liberal David Coleman, who held the nearby seat of Banks.
‘‘The Government has released an exposure draft of legislation which attempts to strike the balance between free speech and protection from racial discrimination," he said.
"In my view, the exposure draft does not achieve this balance, and needs to be amended to provide greater protection against racial discrimination. I will be conveying this view to my colleagues.’’
John Alexander, whose seat of Bennelong had as many people who identified as ‘‘Chinese’’ as ‘‘Australian’’, was another Liberal rattled by the fierce public response to removing elements of the act that made it unlawful to "offend, insult or humiliate’’ someone based on their race or ethnicity.
The proposed law would instead offer protection for ‘‘vilification and intimidation’’, with sweeping exemptions provided in 18D.
Mr Alexander, who last week was reported as having considered pushing a petition around the backbench, met with Senator Brandis to express his opposition.
A spokesman for Victorian Liberal Jason Wood confirmed he was opposed to the changes as drafted. Veteran Liberal Philip Ruddock and Aboriginal MP Ken Wyatt had also expressed concern about the direction of the reforms.
Mr Laundy said his opposition was as personal as it was political after his 14-year-old daughter witnessed her friend being abused in public for wearing an Islamic hijab.
‘‘Over the duration of many discussions that I have had on this issue, not a single person has suggested to me that their right to free speech has been restricted by the act in its current form," he said.
"Consequently, I do not believe that the case for such far-reaching and potentially damaging changes has yet been made.’’
The Opposition has begun to capitalise on the heat in marginal electorates. On Wednesday, shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus held a town hall meeting in Dandenong, outer Melbourne, with Hugh de Krester of the Human Rights Law Centre. More meetings are planned in Sydney and Brisbane.
Last week, Senator Matt Thistlethwaite held a press conference in Chinese for Chinese-Australian media to stoke concern.
Twenty Chinese community groups have come together to fight Senator Brandis’ proposal.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/liberals-break-ranks-against-george-brandis-race-hate-law-20140409-zqsrt.html#ixzz2yQmLQvpM