He had wanted to repeal section 18C of the legislation, which currently makes it unlawful to “insult, offend and humiliate” a person or group “because of their race or ethnicity”, but speaking at a media conference on Tuesday said the government has backtracked to preserve “national unity” as it looks to expand terrorism laws.

“Leadership is about preserving national unity on the essentials and that is why I have taken this position,” he said, adding it was a “complication” in the current environment and “we’re just not going to proceed with it”.

Mr Abbott said that he was a “passionate supporter of free speech” but wanted “the communities of the country to be our friend not our critic.”

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