Dr Tom Calma

"This will put back reconciliation, understanding [and] respect": Indigenous leader Dr Tom Calma. Photo: Andrew Meares

Indigenous leader Tom Calma has skewered Attorney-General George Brandis' proposed changes to race-hate laws, making for an awkward Monday as the two men will share the stage at a reconciliation launch.

Dr Calma, the co-chairman of Reconciliation Australia, said Senator Brandis' changes would set back the reconciliation process between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

Dr Calma and Senator Brandis are preparing to launch a ''reconciliation action plan'' for the Federal Circuit Court at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence in Redfern on Monday.

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Believes the changes are necessary to promote free speech: Senator George Brandis. Photo: Andrew Meares

The federal government's race-law changes would create ''more opportunities for people to humiliate, vilify or denigrate other people based on their race or religion,'' Dr Calma said.

Broad exemptions in Senator Brandis' proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act could lead to ethnic minorities being humiliated and denigrated, he added.

The changes could also undermine indigenous reconciliation - the very cause Dr Calma and Senator Brandis will be in Redfern to promote.

''This will put back reconciliation, understanding [and] respect,'' Dr Calma said. ''The protections are there to protect people from being vilified but also to be a deterrent to potential offenders.''

Dr Calma's intervention is significant, not only because he is one of Australia's most senior and respected indigenous leaders. He also served as race discrimination commissioner for five years between 2004 and 2009.

Senator Brandis has been criticised by ethnic and religious groups, the opposition and some of his own cabinet colleagues and backbenchers, for his desire to repeal the ''Andrew Bolt laws'' - sections 18B-E of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Senator Brandis were inspired to change the race-hate laws after News Corp columnist Bolt was found to have breached them in 2011 because of the way he wrote about light-skinned Aborigines.

Under Senator Brandis' proposed changes - which are canvassed in an ''exposure draft'' for community consultation over the next month - it would no longer be unlawful to ''offend, insult and humiliate'' someone because of their race, colour or ethnic origin.

But, under new sections of the act, it would be unlawful to incite hatred against or intimidate them.

The problem with this, critics say, is a broad ''get-out'' clause that allows intimidation, incitement of hatred and other forms of vilification, so long as they are done in the course of participating in a public discussion.

Senator Brandis believes these changes are necessary to promote free speech, but cabinet colleagues including Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull are understood to believe that the proposed amendments go too far.

Labor MPs have highlighted community concerns about the changes, which were inflamed by Senator Brandis telling the Senate last week that ''people do have a right to be bigots, you know''.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten denounced Senator Brandis' plans in a speech in Melbourne on Sunday to the Zionist Federation of Australia. ''I believe this is a colossal mistake, and a dangerous one,'' Mr Shorten said.

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