Conservatives derail Turnbull agenda

Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer
AAP

Malcolm Turnbull's bid to make the first week of the new parliament about the economy is being hijacked by coalition members seeking to water down race hate laws.

As new MPs and senators were sworn in to the 45th parliament, conservative coalition members began strongly lobbying for support to water down section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal "to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person" on the basis of race or religion.

Treasurer Scott Morrison sought to talk down the move as much less of a priority than the budget and economy.

"It doesn't help me pay back one cent of debt, it doesn't help me reduce the deficit, it doesn't help me get one more person into a job ... these are the things I'm focused on," Mr Morrison said.

Seizing on the issue and noting Pauline Hanson's return to parliament, Labor leader Bill Shorten asked Mr Turnbull to back a special parliamentary motion on equality.

In 1996, when the One Nation founder first entered parliament, then Labor leader Kim Beazley asked incoming coalition prime minister John Howard to back a motion upholding equal rights for all Australians.

The motion was later moved by Mr Howard on October 30, 1996, and backed by Labor.

Mr Shorten told the opening of the parliament he had written to the prime minister seeking support for an identical motion "reaffirming this house's commitment to the right of all Australians to enjoy equal rights and be treated with equal respect regardless of race, colour, creed or origin".

The motion also reaffirms the parliament's support for a non-discriminatory immigration policy, to Australia being a culturally diverse and tolerant nation and denounces racial intolerance in any form.

Senator Hanson, who was sworn in on Tuesday along with three other One Nation senators, was elected on a platform of banning Muslim immigrants and refugees, stopping the building of mosques until an inquiry is held and banning the burqa in public places.

Senator Bernardi said changing the law - which Mr Turnbull has said is not on his to-do list - had the support of the "overwhelming majority" of his backbench colleagues as well as many in ministerial ranks.

But he doesn't want the bill brought to a vote until its passage is assured.

"We have to convince the government that this is a worthy thing to do," he said, adding that passing it would help the coalition reconnect with "disenfranchised" supporters.

The government will this week introduce laws to deliver a tax cut for businesses and middle-income earners, make $6 billion in budget savings, reinstate the building industry watchdog and toughen penalties for union corruption - all of which the prime minister said were important economic reforms.

"This will be a term of delivery for the Australian people," Mr Turnbull said.

Labor will put on the notice paper a bill to allow same-sex marriage but it is unlikely to come up for debate until September 12.

Liberal frontbencher Mathias Cormann said coalition MPs would not be voting for the private member's bill, as the government's position was to have a plebiscite before changing marriage laws.