Indigenous Coalition MP Ken Wyatt has spoken out against the repeal of legislation making it unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate on the grounds of race or ethnicity.
Mr Wyatt told Fairfax Media he feared that repealing section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act would either disempower the vulnerable or result in a hardening of intolerant attitudes.
''Australia has come a long way in the last 30 or 40 years and what I wouldn't like to see is a regression that allows those who have bigoted viewpoints to vilify any group of people at all,'' he said.
''For me, it is about not disabling a mechanism that makes people think carefully about the vilification of anyone or any group because they know there is a deterrent,'' he said.
His remarks came as Attorney-General George Brandis described the existing law as ''extremely invasive'' and reaffirmed the government's intention to ''do away'' with it.
Tony Abbott vowed in August 2012 to ''repeal section 18C in its current form'' on the basis that freedom of speech should not be restrained ''just to prevent hurt feelings''. Ethnic, religious and indigenous groups have urged the government to think again, raising expectations that the words ''offend'', ''insult'' and possibly ''humiliate'' will be taken out of the section.
Mr Wyatt said his attitude was shaped by his 10 years' experience in Western Australia's equal opportunity tribunal and witnessing how ''racial vilification has significant impacts on people in ways we don't fully appreciate''.
''I support the whole concept of free speech, but I think there are boundaries that you have to draw and this is one of them.''
He believed that section 18c encouraged mediation and parties coming together to resolve conflicts and that its repeal would result in disempowerment of vilified groups or ''greater use of litigation, which doesn't resolve the issue at all''.
Senator Brandis has been meeting interested groups, focusing on how to strike the balance between free speech and protection from vilification. ''The government comes down on the side of those who want to see maximum freedom of speech,'' he told ABC radio on Friday.
''And, by freedom of speech, I mean people's freedom to hold opinions and express those opinions without some bureaucrat or official or human rights body or judge telling them what they are allowed, and what they are not allowed, to say.''