Opposition Leader Bill Shorten called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to pull Senator Cory Bernardi into line over his suggestion to change the Racial Discrimination Act. (AAP)
Labor leader Bill Shorten has branded outspoken Liberal senator Cory Bernardi a member of “team idiot” for trying to weaken race hate laws during a national security crisis.
The conservative senator has joined forces with Liberal colleague Dean Smith, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm and Family First’s Bob Day in an attempt to revive dumped government plans to change a contentious section of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Under a private bill, co-sponsored by the four senators, the words “offend” and “insult” would be struck from section 18C of the act.
Senator Day said the changes had been revived because the Muslim community had not joined “Team Australia” in the fight against home-grown extremism.
Mr Shorten called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to pull Senator Bernardi into line at a time when Australians were fearful of the Islamic State terror threat.
The senator’s support for changing race-hate laws on top of his call to ban the burqa from Parliament House was “dramatically unhelpful to maintaining calm”.
“If we want to starve extremists of oxygen, this country doesn’t have time to play cheap rabble-rousing games,” Mr Shorten said.
“We need unity in Australia at the moment, we don’t need people who should know better fuelling and fanning the flames of intolerance.”
Mr Shorten lumped Senator Bernardi into “team idiot”, with George Christensen, another Liberal and a burqa-ban advocate.
“I don’t know what book they’re reading from, but it’s not any book I want to pick up,” he said.
Mr Abbott cited the need to get everybody on “Team Australia” as the reason for dumping a government plan to change the act.
“When the Muslim community didn’t come on board with his Team Australia project, I would have thought all bets are off,” Senator Day told ABC radio.