ATTORNEY-GENERAL Nicola Roxon has accused Tony Abbott of ''dog whistling'' by pledging to repeal Australia's racial vilification law.
During a radio appearance with shadow treasurer Joe Hockey, Ms Roxon said yesterday that the provision had been there for the entire time that he and Mr Abbott had been in government ''and they didn't think it needed to be changed then''.
''They are using it in a more political way now,'' she said. ''I think we can legitimately ask if this is being pursued more for some dog-whistle purpose.''
Mr Hockey made it clear the opposition's stand had been driven by the case in which News Ltd columnist Andrew Bolt was found to have breached the anti-vilification section of the Racial Discrimination Act after he wrote that some ''fair-skinned Aboriginals'' choose to identify as Aboriginal for personal gain.
Mr Hockey said that while the legislation was there when the Coalition was in government, the courts had never interpreted it as they did in the Bolt case. ''I do not recall a similar case where the court went so deep into an interpretation that the act has closed down, effectively, free speech.''
But he said the Coalition wanted to make sure people did not engage in racial discrimination. Ms Roxon conceded that ''people can argue the toss about whether Andrew Bolt's particular example should have been covered''. But the law was there ''so in serious cases people can complain and can actually get a remedy''.