Liberal senator Cory Bernardi. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Senator David Leyonhjelm is challenging an article published by Fairfax. Photo: Peter Rae

Left-wing “social warriors” will be exposed by David Leyonhjelm’s complaint to the Human Rights commission (HRC) over an article labelling him an “angry white man,” conservative Senator Cory Bernardi says.

Senator Leyonhjelm, of the Liberal Democrats, says he is not offended by the opinion piece written by Fairfax’s chief political correspondent Mark Kenny who called him an “angry white male.”

“I have lodged a complaint against his column under Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) because its unlawful,” Senator Leyonhjelm told Melbourne radio 3AW. 

“What I’m attempting to show is how stupid it is when the boot is on the other foot.”

Senator Leyonhjelm wants the section repealed because it allows for someone to claim they are “insulted” or “offended” on the basis of their race and ethnicity.

“I don’t think hurt feelings should be a matter for the law, but under 18C the law does get involved in feelings,”  he said.

The Human Rights Commission’s Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane has campaigned for section 18C to be retained but declined to comment on Senator Leyonhjelm’s case.

“If anyone believes they have experienced racial vilification they can consider lodging a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission,” he said.

“Every complaint is assessed on its merits. The President of the Commission is responsible for investigating and conciliating complaints.”

A source familiar with the Human Rights Commission’s processes predicted the commission would dismiss the complaint, ruling white people can’t be offended.

Senator Bernardi on Tuesday backed Senator Leyonhjelm’s tactic and predicted it would expose the “social justice warriors” as “racists, bigots and hypocrites.”

“David Leyonhjelm is making a very important point – if you replace the word ‘white’ with any other colour, the social justice warriors would be up in arms,” Senator Bernardi said.

“They are themselves, racists, bigots and hypocrites and Senator Leyonhjelm’s complaint will establish this beyond all doubt.”

Senator Bernardi is the most prominent Liberal MP pushing for reform to the Racial Discrimination Act after it was dropped by the former coalition government led by deposed prime minister Tony Abbott.

While Senator Leyonhjelm is proposing more radical change – repealing sections 18C and D altogether – Senator Bernardi is backing a more moderate proposal that would remove the words ‘insult’ and ‘offend’.

This compromise position was first put forward by Family First Senator Bob Day in the last parliament. The bill would mean it would still be an offence to intimidate or harass a person on the basis of their race. It was co-sponsored by Senator Bernardi and the West Australian Liberal Senator Dean Smith.

The government has no plans to proceed with any change to section 18c despite promising to repeal it at the 2013 election. However Senator Bernardi expressed hope that change could occur in the new parliament.

“The very modest reform of 18c that me and many of my senate colleagues are proposing is gaining support and I’m hopeful that we can actually remove the words ‘insult’ and ‘offend’ from Section 18c in this term of parliament,” he said.

Federal Labor MP Linda Burney said she doubted any changes would get through parliament because both Labor and the prime minister were opposed to change.

“As an Aboriginal person, I can assure you that that sort of speech is hurtful, and it’s ridiculous – absolutely ridiculous – to say, ‘oh well, you can only be offended if you allow yourself to be offended’,” she said.

Ms Burney pinpointed a cartoon recently published by News Corp’s Bill Leak, which depicted a drunk Aboriginal father not knowing his son, as an example of speech that was “unacceptable.”

“I don’t believe there is a need for that sort of stereotypical depiction of Aboriginal people in the media, that cartoon really upset me, it made me feel quite ill,” she said.

Former cabinet minister Eric Abetz, who has been a frequent critic of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull since being dumped from the frontbench after the leadership spill, also backed Senator Leyonhjelm.

“It seems passing strange that in our society you can use that sort of racist terminology and it doesn’t seem to excite the interest of the HRC at all,” Senator Abetz told Sky News.

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