The government's three-year-long battle to alter the wording in 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act came apart on Thursday when the Senate knocked back the proposed changes.
In a late vote on Thursday night, the bid to make it lawful to offend, insult and intimidate others on the basis of race was shut down by Labor, the Greens and a mixed-bag of crossbenchers, 31-28.
Attorney-General George Brandis described the defeat as a "sad day", telling the chamber the debate had become more serious and "sinister" since Labor had extended 18C's provisions to include sexuality, disability and age.
"This is not primarily a debate about race. It is a debate about free speech. Not a single country in the entire world has a section 18C," Brandis said.
Senator Brandis further added that he found it "deeply offensive and insulting" for Labor and the Greens to say his campaign for the changes to race hate laws had something to do with him being a white man.
Liberal senator James Paterson said he expected Parliament would be back debating 18C when "the next QUT students or Bill Leak case occurs".
"And that will be their fault," Paterson told Fairfax Media, referencing those who voted against the proposal.
"Section 18C, which they claim to believe in, will be further discredited, and the pressure to fix it will be even greater than it is now."
Along with the Labor and Greens senators to vote against the amendments had been Senators Nick Xenophon and Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie.
Voting in favour of the changes with the Coalition were Cory Bernardi, David Leyonhjelm, One Nation senators and Derryn Hinch.