Malcolm Turnbull's hopes of changing race-hate laws appear doomed with Senate crossbenchers giving them the thumbs-down.
Attorney-General George Brandis will bring to parliament later this week changes to the Racial Discrimination Act to replace the words 'offend, insult and humiliate' with 'harass and intimidate', making it harder to successfully make claims.
The Australian Human Rights Commission will also get the power to head off frivolous claims at an early stage.
The prime minister says the changes will protect Australians from racial vilification while strengthening free speech.
Labor and the Greens say the government is seeking to water down the laws and make it harder to successfully complain about racism and religious intolerance.
The federal opposition favours changing the way the AHRC operates, but not amending the Racial Discrimination Act.
Shadow Employment Services Minister Ed Husic told Sky News the government is making it easier to divide communities.
'The test for us a parliamentarians is to find ways to bring the country together.
'What we've got now is a government that's committed to making it harder to take action against hate speech, making it easier to divide communities,' he said.
Independent senator Jacqui Lambie said she would not be supporting the changes.
'Tasmania is worried about jobs and how they to put food on the table - not how they can get away with offending someone,' she said.
The Nick Xenophon Team, which has three senators, also signalled it won't back the amendments.
'But we do support sensible changes to the process involved in the handling of such complaints so the process does not become the punishment,' Senator Xenophon said.
However, crossbencher DerrynHinch says it's a good step by the government.
The Coalition, which has 29 senators, needs nine out of 11 crossbenchers to pass laws.
Egyptian-born Labor MP Anne Aly told parliament she faced racism while she was growing up 'and even in my life now'.
'What exactly does the prime minister want people to be able to say that they cannot say now?' she asked Mr Turnbull.
At least four coalition MPs expressed misgivings about the Act changes when they were debated in a party room meeting on Tuesday, but they are not expected to cross the floor on the issue.