A University of Wollongong academic has called on the federal government to examine evidence that does not support its proposed amendments to racial discrimination laws.
Law professor Luke McNamara said his four years of research into how Australia's hate speech laws worked in practice had revealed the importance of the current Racial Discrimination Act.
Prof McNamara said people should put aside politics and opinion and examine the evidence.
"People have strong personal and philosophical views about free speech and racism," he said. "But sometimes the debate becomes overheated and becomes too much about opinions and not about facts."
According to his research, claims racial discrimination laws constrained free speech could not be supported.
"Consequences are reasonably modest, no-one is being labelled a criminal, no-one is going to jail," he said.
From 1990 to 2010, fewer than 4000 formal complaints were lodged invoking hate speech laws, with an average of 200 complaints a year.
Prof McNamara compared this number with the number of convictions, 12,000, by NSW police in 2012 for offensive language or conduct in a public place.
"Only about four matters every year across the country go to a tribunal and half of those are successful," he said. "All they order is an apology or public statement.
"This is not a wide scale assault on free speech."
At present, under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, it is unlawful for someone to do or say something that is reasonably likely to "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" someone because of their race or ethnicity.
The government wants to amend the act to remove the words "offend, insult, humiliate", leave "intimidate" and add "vilify".
"Changing it will convey the message that it's okay to express racist views," Prof McNamara said in response to comments earlier this year by Attorney-General George Brandis.
Senator Brandis told Parliament: "People do have a right to be bigots, you know.
"In a free country, people do have rights to say things that other people find offensive, insulting or bigoted."
A spokesman for Senator Brandis told the Mercury the Attorney-General was currently reviewing submissions from the public on the proposed amendment.
"The government recognises there's a large range of views and they are being considered," the spokesman said.
A draft bill was being created and would be put forward in the coming weeks.
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