Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten during the smoking ceremony to mark the opening of the 45th Parliament on Tuesday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Mr Turnbull and Mr Shorten during the welcome to country ceremony on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Meares
Nanjing Night Net

Senator Pauline Hanson during the ecumenical service to mark the opening of the 45th Parliament on Tuesday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Senator Hanson during the opening of the 45th Parliament. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Labor leader Bill Shorten has put Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the spot over Australia’s immigration policy, racial tolerance and reconciliation with indigenous Australians on the first sitting day of the new parliament.

Mr Shorten wrote to Mr Turnbull on Tuesday to seek his support for a motion that would see the Parliament restate its commitment that all Australians enjoy equal rights and deserve equal respect, “regardless of race, colour, creed or origin”.

It also reaffirms the Parliament’s commitment to a non-discriminatory immigration policy, to Australia being a culturally diverse nation and a tolerant and open society and denounces racial intolerance.

The motion is identical to that proposed by former Labor leader Kim Beazley in 1996, which was eventually put forward by former prime minister John Howard and backed by the opposition leader.

Mr Shorten put it to the Parliament on Wednesday morning, soon after the re-election of Tony Smith as Speaker.

The move comes as senator Pauline Hanson returns to the Parliament 20 years after she was first elected – this time with three One Nation colleagues – and amid a growing push from the Coalition backbench for section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act to be watered down.

A growing number of Coalition senators – according to some reports more than 10 – support the move to amend 18c and are prepared to back a private member’s bill being prepared by Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, but Mr Turnbull has stated changing 18c – which makes it illegal to “to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person” – is not a priority for his government.

Labor front bencher Tony Burke on Tuesday called on Mr Turnbull to call Senator Bernardi into line.

“It has not taken long for the right wing of the Coalition to sense weakness and take their advantage. Whether Mr Turnbull stands up to Senator Bernardi, and publicly distances himself from his private member’s bill and the bloc he is leading, will be a true test of his leadership,” he said.

In this context, Mr Shorten has asked Mr Turnbull to back the motion, much as Mr Beazley sought support from Mr Howard in 1996 after the election of Senator Hanson for the first time in the lower house.

Mr Shorten said it is “timely for such a motion to be considered at the very start of the 45th parliament” in his letter to the Prime Minister.

“It is critical that Australians know that our parliament will never condone racism or extremist politics – and that Australians should be treated with equal respect regardless of race, colour, creed or origin,” the Opposition Leader wrote.

“As John Howard did with Kim Beazley in 1996, I urge you to join me in supporting this resolution…However, if you wish to move this important motion, I would be prepared to stand aside and second the motion.” The full text of the motion:

That this House—

(1) reaffirms its commitment to the right of all Australians to enjoy equal rights and be treated with equal respect regardless of race, colour, creed or origin;

(2) reaffirms its commitment to maintaining an immigration policy wholly non-discriminatory on grounds of race, colour, creed or origin;

(3) reaffirms its commitment to the process of reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in the context of redressing their profound social and economic disadvantage;

(4) reaffirms its commitment to maintaining Australia as a culturally diverse, tolerant and open society, united by an overriding commitment to our nation, and its democratic institutions and values; and

(5) denounces racial intolerance in any form as incompatible with the kind of society we are and want to be.

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