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An Australian Senator is Suing Over Being Called an 'Angry White Male'

Crossbench senator David Leyonhjelm has made a formal complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission saying a Fairfax columnist racially abused him.
August 15, 2016, 12:00am

Crossbench senator David Leyonhjelm has made a formal complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission, claiming Fairfax columnist Mark Kenny racially abused him by calling the New South Wales senator an "angry white male."

"The comments are reasonably likely in all the circumstances to offend or insult some white males," Leyonhjelm told The Daily Telegraph. "My colour was one of the reasons the comments were made."

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Kenny's original column, which criticised both Leyonhjelm and One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts, argued that "neither of these self-promoting misanthropes would have the first idea about entrenched discrimination. Yet both are experts."

Leyonhjelm's expertise of discrimination will be tested with this case, given his complaint falls under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Apparently his is the first complaint of its kind lodged. The senator is openly saying this is a test case to undermine the Act, which he is a vocal opponent of.

"I'm seeking to have 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act repealed, so part of the process of highlighting why it should be repealed is to use it," he told reporters. "I'm only insulted or offended by people I respect, so it didn't make me feel anything."

Section 18C makes it "unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group."

Last week, Leyonhjelm announced he would be introducing a private members' bill into Parliament, attempting to entirely abolish 18C from the Act. Family First senator Bob Day also announced he'd be challenging the clause, with a bill to remove the words "insult" and "offend."

Over the weekend, the West Australian Liberal Party voted in support of this amendment, only backing down from abolishing it entirely after pleas from Indigenous frontbencher Ken Wyatt.

In the Senate, powerbroker Nick Xenophon has said he won't support either bill. However, One Nation politicians and Derryn Hinch have backed the changes. Former prime minister Tony Abbott also criticised the section last week, labelling it a "troubling law" at a speech in Adelaide. "At its worst, it limits free speech merely to prevent hurt feelings," he said.

Abbott attempted to repeal the law in 2014, after NewsCorp columnist Andrew Bolt was successfully prosecuted under the Act. The debate sparked Attorney-General George Brandis' now infamous "people do have the right to be bigots" comments. However, in the end Abbott had to back down from the changes because of strong opposition within the Senate and his own party.

The Human Rights Commission is yet to make a comment about Leyonhjelm's complaint. The senator's Twitter bio still warns he "blocks ad hom [personal] abusers."