The Liberal Party is fracturing over Tony Abbott’s promise to repeal part of the Racial Discrimination Act, with WA MP Ken Wyatt warning he would cross the floor.
Mr Wyatt, the first Aboriginal member of the House of Representatives, told colleagues yesterday he opposed any retreat on laws to protect people from racial discrimination.
The Government plans to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act that makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person on racial or ethnic grounds.
Attorney-General George Brandis and the Prime Minister argue this section curtails freedom of speech.
Conservative News Corporation columnist Andrew Bolt was prosecuted under the Act in 2011.
Nine Aboriginal people sued Bolt alleging he implied they identified as being Aboriginal for personal gain.
It is understood Mr Wyatt told Liberal and Nationals MPs that racism remained “problematic” in Australia and gave notice he might cross the floor on the issue.
Western Sydney Liberal MPs David Coleman and Craig Laundy, both of whom have multi-cultural marginal electorates, also registered misgivings about the repeal plan, saying it would be interpreted as a relaxation of anti-vilification laws.
One observer said Mr Abbott bristled when Mr Coleman warned that Labor ran better marginal seats campaigns.
The Prime Minister interrupted the new MP to say it was possible to have zero tolerance of racism while fiercely supporting free speech.