Indigenous Liberal MP Ken Wyatt has warned that he could cross the floor if his party moves to repeal laws that make it unlawful to offend, insult or humiliate a person on the basis of their race or ethnicity.
Representatives from various minority community groups warned on Tuesday that the Abbott government would be ''licensing the public humiliation of people because of their race'' if it changed certain sections of the Racial Discrimination Act.
In a strongly worded letter, a group of representatives from various minority communities responded to a report in The Australian newspaper, which speculated that the federal government proposed to remove the words "offend, insult, humiliate" from section 18C of the race hate laws.
Mr Wyatt expressed strong concerns in the Coalition party room on Tuesday, warning that safeguards should be kept in place to ensure that people could not be racially vilified.
Mr Wyatt said his support for the bill was conditional on the final form of the legislation.
Last week, Mr Wyatt told Fairfax Media that repealing section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act could disempower the vulnerable or result in a hardening of intolerant attitudes.
Liberal MPs David Coleman, Craig Laundy, Alex Hawke, Ewen Jones and George Christensen were among the MPs that spoke on the legislation.
It is extremely rare for MPs from any party to cross the floor and vote against their party's position on a piece of legislation.
Former Liberal leader Malcom Turnbull voted against his party position and crossed the floor in February 2010 to support the Rudd government's emissions trading scheme, while Liberal National senator Sue Boyce is another recent example. She crossed the floor in 2013 to support a bill that recognised overseas same-sex marriages.
Labor MPs are usually expelled from the party if they vote against their party in either chamber.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott summed up the debate in the party room, telling his colleagues that no one in the party liked racism, that everyone supported freedom of speech and that Attorney-General George Brandis was working hard to get the balance right.
Mr Jones told Fairfax Media that he supported Mr Wyatt's point of view and concerns about the laws and said it had been a healthy debate in the party room.
"I wouldn't have the faintest idea what is like to experience racism and I think that we have get the balance right on this one,'' he said.
He praised Mr Abbott's summary of the debate.
The Coalition's plan to change the legislation was sparked after News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt was found guilty of breach the Racial Discrimination Act in a column he wrote for Melbourne's Herald Sun.
Both Mr Coleman and Mr Laundy, who represent multicultural electorates, have made private representations to Senator Brandis about their concerns over the proposed changes.