Australia to strike down law banning racial slights

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia moved Tuesday to water down its race discrimination laws, saying hurt feelings were inevitable during robust debate and the government would not legislate to protect them.

Attorney-General George Brandis said the government planned to repeal a section of the Racial Discrimination Act that makes it illegal to "offend, insult or humiliate another" because of their race.

"Laws which are designed to prohibit racial vilification should not be used as a vehicle to attack legitimate freedoms of speech," he said.

Mr Brandis said a new clause would be inserted into the law to ban racial vilification, defined as inciting hatred against racial groups, rather than simply offending them.

The change honours an election promise made in the wake of a court case when a conservative newspaper columnist criticised "white Aborigines" who claimed grants and scholarships meant for indigenous Australians.

The columnist, Mr Andrew Bolt, was found guilty of racial discrimination when a group of the people targeted in his article took him to court saying they had been offended and insulted.

Mr Brandis said it was impossible to discuss difficult issues without occasionally causing offence to those who held a different view.

"It is not, in the government's view, the role of the state to ban conduct merely because it might hurt the feelings of others," he said.

The opposition Labor Party said the changes would give a "green light" to racist hate speech.

"There is very little that is going to be prohibited," Labor's legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus said.