Liberals blame Brandis' bigots comment for race law failure

George Brandis' infamous defence of the rights of bigots has been cited by his own colleagues as the cause of the government's capitulation on changing race-hate laws. Liberals said the Attorney-General's comments in April had torpedoed what was a move to uphold free speech.

Liberal Senator Dean Smith backed the proposed changes but said they had gotten off to a ''bad start''.

''The section 18C debate has been a powerful but salient lesson for the government. The debate demonstrated that sound policy not handled with care and precision early, can be quickly and easily hijacked by critics,'' he said.

NSW Liberal Craig Kelly said the bigot comment had allowed the government's critics to ''twist'', ''hijack'' and turn the debate against the government and it never recovered.

''It's very difficult when someone stands up and talks about giving rights to bigots to [then] explain that.''

He said while the Attorney-General was factually correct, it was a ''legalistic argument rather than a political one''.

He also called for the government to better prepare the electorate on the need for major reforms, including fixing the deficit.

Queensland Liberal National MP George Christensen said the government should have ''stuck to its guns on such a fundamental issue''.

''The debate got sidetracked [by the bigot comment] and could have been handled better … it moved away from free speech and ended up being about the government wants to give racists the rights to say.''

Liberal Senator Zed Seselja said although he had concerns about the proposed bill, he did not think it should have had to be junked altogether.

''I supported the principle of the policy and I would have liked to have seen us improve it rather than dump it but I accept that was the political reality,'' he said.

But Victorian Liberal MP Jason Wood defended Senator Brandis and said he held him in ''very high regard''.

Senator Brandis said he had no regrets. ''It's the obligation of politicians to speak the truth and to sometimes speak the truth brutally. I'm not the sort of politician who is the creature of spin doctors and who talks in talking points or mantras, what I said was correct.''

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The story Liberals blame Brandis' bigots comment for race law failure first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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