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Australia's race discrimination reforms spark debate

Opponents fear law change will embolden bigots in multicultural nation

MELBOURNE -- A bid by Australia's center-right prime minister to scale back race-hate laws that have been blamed for stifling expression has reignited a sensitive and long-simmering debate on the balance between free speech and tolerance in a pluralistic society.

Malcolm Turnbull on March 21 announced plans to shift the pendulum toward freer expression by amending Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it unlawful to "offend," "insult," "humiliate" or "intimidate" a person on racial or ethnic grounds.

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