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Politics live: Free speech in the spotlight as politicians argue about 18C

18C: stronger or weaker?

Malcolm Turnbull says he's strengthening the Racial Discrimination Act, Labor says the government is weakening it.

National Party senator John 'Wacka' Williams has made the decision to tell people that he has Parkinson's disease. 

He'd been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in June 2016, and his own GP had suspected it for a year before that, but he'd kept it a private matter, shared only with close friends and colleagues.

"Nancy [Williams' wife] said 'well, you've always been a straight shooter, you may as well just tell everyone the truth'," Senator Williams told The Age's Tony Wright.

Senator John 'Wacka' Williams on Monday.
Senator John 'Wacka' Williams on Monday. Photo: Andrew Meares

It's all very well to talk about changes, of course, but should the party room agree on them they would still have to go through Parliament.

Labor and the Greens are strongly opposed to the changes and so is Nick Xenophon, who commands a bloc of three votes in the Senate.

Senator Xenophon told Fairfax Media: "We are not convinced on these substantive changes to the wording. We want to see how the proposed process changes go first."

And, yes, it is Harmony Day.

Government ministers - none of whom are warriors on this one - are trying to get through interviews on this one this morning by arguing (a) that ordinary people do not care about the issue at all but (b) the issue has become as a distraction so, therefore, the government needs to do something.

Trade Minister Steve Ciobo says it is a "small niche of people that really care about it" but "this is something that's preoccupying us.....so we're going to deal with it so we can continue to focus on issues like jobs".


It couldn't get any action under former prime minister Tony Abbott but now it looks likely changes will be made by Malcolm Turnbull (oh the irony).

The Coalition party room is going to debate the issue in about half an hour's time.

The proposal is that the words 'insult', 'offend' and 'humiliate' be replaced with 'harass' and 'humiliate'.

(Let's leave aside the ultimate irony that this issue is being fanned by people with access to parliamentary privilege, the ultimate in free speech.)

Former prime minister Tony Abbott departs question time on Monday.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott departs question time on Monday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Free speech and, specifically, section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says it's hardly as issue people are chasing him down the street to talk about.

Nevertheless, it has become a cri de coeur of the right of the Coalition.


Hello and welcome to the day in politics.

Andrew Meares, Alex Ellinghausen and I are pleased to have your company once more.

Thanks for joining us.