30/08/2016 2:05 PM AEST | Updated 30/08/2016 3:00 PM AEST

Cory Bernadi's Push To Change Racial Discrimination Act Backed By 20 Senators

The Liberal senator insists it is not about challenging PM.

Fairfax: Alex Ellinghausen
Cory Bernadi has issued a Notice of Motion to water down Section 18C.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's leadership will be tested as a significant number of Coalition backbenchers in the senate sign a motion to water down the laws of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Turnbull has previously said there will be no changes made to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

This week Liberal senator Cory Bernadi filed a Notice of Motion warning he will introduce a bill to parliament to water down Section 18C, particularly aimed to remove the words "offend" and "insult".

If the bill were to pass, protections against the more serious racial discrimination acts will remain including the words "humiliate", "vilify" and "intimidate".

On Tuesday afternoon Greens leader Richard Di Natale posted a photo of Bernadi's Notice of Motion to Facebook, showing a number of Coalition senators have signed the motion including Eric Abetz and Ian Macdonald.

Senator Bernadi said the push to water down Section 18C was not about challenging the Prime Minister but standing up for free speech.

In all, 13 government senators and 7 crossbenchers have signed the motion.

"A lot of my colleagues feel strongly about this, I'm pleased the Prime Minister is sympathetic to this. This is only about making some reforms to a law where there there are some provisions that are unjust," Bernadi told Fairfax Media.

"This is not about challenging the Prime Minister. I supported it when Tony Abbott was PM, I was disappointed that he dumped it.

"I support it now that Malcolm Turnbull is Prime Minister. He supports it as well... This is not about division."

A number of senate crossbenchers have also supported the bill in-principle including senator-elect Derryn Hinch and One Nation senators Rod Culleton and Malcolm Roberts along with Pauline Hanson.

Nick Xenophon Team senators do not appear on the motion, as Nick Xenophon told The Huffington Post Australia the party does not believe the laws need to be watered down.

"I do not believe, my colleagues don't believe there ought to be changes to section 18C but the Senate will have an opportunity to refer that to a committee for an inquiry," Xenophon said.

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