Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson.

Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Australia's leading Holocaust denial group has backed the Abbott government's intention to water down the nation's race-hate laws.

The Adelaide Institute, founded by convicted Holocaust denier Fredrick Toben, says section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and other laws on racial vilification stifle ''legitimate'' historical debate.

Attorney-General George Brandis and newly appointed Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson have both publicly called for the abolition of laws, last used against News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt over articles about light-skinned Aborigines.

Mr Wilson described the views of Dr Toben and his institute as ''repugnant'' and ''fantasyland rubbish'' but said he believed the courts were not the way to confront them.

Adelaide Institute director Peter Hartung said he did not have a view on Mr Wilson's appointment to the commission but that the denialist group supported the repeal of section 18C. "These laws stop discussion of things that can be proved with facts and figures so it cannot be debated,'' he said.

''These laws were brought in to shut people up when they have no rational argument against what they're saying.''

Critics have branded 18C the ''Bolt laws'' after the News Corp columnist's prosecution in 2011 for his ''inaccurate and offensive'' attack on a group of Aborigines. However, Section 18C has mostly been used by Australian Jewish groups against Holocaust deniers and Nazi sympathisers.

Mr Hartung said the Adelaide Institute was sympathetic to Mr Bolt's cause. ''What Andrew Bolt said was basically true and factual.''

Mr Wilson said that free and untrammelled public debate was a better way to confront Holocaust denial than anti-hate speech laws.

''Rather than hide in their caverns of hate, these people should be exposed for the stupidity and absurdity of their commentary in public debate so their names can be dragged through the dirt for all time,'' the newly appointed commissioner said. ''I disagree with people having recourse to the law to shut down public debate because there is a big difference between recourse to the law to protect yourself from physical violence, and protecting yourself from stupid and childish ideas.''

Dr Toben went to jail in 2009 for defying Federal Court orders to remove material from his website that claimed there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz, and describing the murder of millions of European Jews during World War II as the ''Holocaust myth''. He was convicted and jailed in 1999 in Germany for the specific crime of Holocaust denial.

Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council spokesman Jeremy Jones, who has prosecuted Dr Toben using 18C , said he was ''not surprised'' the denialists wanted the laws scrapped. ''The minimum you would expect in a country like Australia is that people who are vilified by this material have some recourse to the law,'' Mr Jones said. ''The recourse that we're talking about is asking people to stop what they're doing; nobody was suggesting that people have any sort of onerous penalties.

''Under 18C you do not have an untrammelled right to destroy the quality of life of any other Australian with your words.''

A spokesman for Senator Brandis said he wanted to stop section 18C being used to stifle ''freedoms of speech''. ''The government wants to ensure that laws which are designed to prohibit racial vilification are not used as a vehicle to attack legitimate freedoms of speech,'' the spokesman said.

''The two values - protecting people against racial vilification and defending freedoms of speech - are not inconsistent.''