Former prime minister John Howard has defended a controversial cartoon by Bill Leak during a speech at the National Gallery in London.
The cartoon, published in The Australian, depicts a young Aboriginal child being held by the neck by a police officer and handed to an Aboriginal man holding a can of beer.
The police officer tells the man, “You’ll have to sit down and talk to your son about personal responsibility.” The Aboriginal man, who is holding a beer, replies, “Yeah righto what’s his name then?”
The cartoon was published on National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children's Day and labelled "racist" by members of the Indigenous community.
John Howard described the cartoon as "brilliant" and said the attacks on Leak were a "terrible assault on free speech".
Howard was speaking at the National Gallery in London, where he was awarded the Edmund Burke Award by the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe and described as the "greatest living conservative".
"It was a brilliant perspective cartoon that made the point," the ABC reports he said.
"We do live in an age of creeping political correctness that is restricting free speech."
Howard also expressed concern that Leak could face questioning by the Human Rights Commission over the cartoon.
"That is a terrible assault on free speech, a terrible assault on free speech."
Howard has previously called on prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to water down the Racial Discrimination Act to protect free speech.
He told Sky News in September he was sorry the Abbott government took removing the words "offend" and "insult" from Section 18c off the table, adding he didn't amend the act while he was PM because it was "dormant" and "didn't seem to matter".
"Once the Andrew Bolt case came about we knew the thing had potency," he said. "At some stage I'd like to see the thing revisited.
"It's not the most important issue, but to use the old saying: You can walk and chew gum at the same time."
There has been a reignited push by Coalition backbenchers calling for the changes, and while the prime minister says there are worthy arguments for amending the law, he has no plans to do so at the moment.