Government Claims 'It's OK To Be White' Vote Was A Mistake

"Administrative error" was to blame for supporting a white nationalist motion put up by Pauline Hanson, the government says.

Hanson's motion, which was briefly debated on Monday afternoon, asked the  Senate to acknowledge "the deplorable rise of anti-white racism and attacks on Western civilisation" and that "it is OK to be white."

The phrase is a favourite of the alt-right movement, and has been supported by Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke and other white nationalists.

On Tuesday, government Senate leader Mathias Cormann -- who did not vote in Monday's motion -- was forced into the embarrassing claim that the government did not actually support the motion, but that they were confused about what they were voting for.

"As a result of an administrative process failure, the government senators in the chamber ended up on advice voting in support of the motion. As leader of the government in the Senate, I take responsibility for that error and I'm sorry that that happened," Cormann said.

"It is indeed regrettable... it slipped through. It shouldn't have."

Hanson's motion had been originally raised several weeks ago and had been on the Senate notice paper for some time.

The back-down comes after several government members, including Cormann himself, appeared to back the motion in tweets on Monday night.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale told parliament it had "a long history in the white supremacist movement" but that didn't stop the government from supporting Hanson's motion.

The motion was defeated 28-31, but the government was slammed after nearly two dozen members of the National and Liberal parties voted alongside Hanson and Fraser Anning.

In August Anning made headlines when he invoked the phrase "final solution" -- a term used by the Nazi regime to describe its extermination of Jewish people -- during his highly controversial maiden speech to parliament in August.

In response to questions on Tuesday morning, Cormann repeatedly said it was an "error" and that the government had meant to vote against Hanson's motion.

He said there were "50 to 60 motions" every week that were voted on, and that the systems to determine how the government voted had simply broken down.

"There are administrative processes in place to ensure that as a team we make the right decisions and on this occasion the process failed and I take responsibility for that," Cormann said.

"We made a decision to oppose this motion in September. That is a decision that should have been carried through into the vote yesterday. It wasn't."

Attorney-General Christian Porter -- who sits in the lower house and therefore did not vote in Monday's Senate motion, but who tweeted his support of it on Monday night -- issued a statement on Tuesday saying his office had also suffered an "error".

He claimed the motion "was interpreted in my office as a motion opposing racism", rather than anyone noticing the racist connotations and history of the phrase.

"The associations of the language were not picked up. Had it been raised directly with me those issues would have been identified," he said.

Senator Derryn Hinch, who voted against the motion and said it "could have been written on a piece of toilet paper", wasn't having it.

He called the move a "stunt", and said government explanations about the vote were "bulldust."

Government senator Lucy Gichuhi, who had tweeted her support of the motion, also deleted that tweet on Tuesday.

However, not every member of the government walked back their support of the motion.

Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz told Fairfax on Monday that he was "comfortable voting today to condemn racism against white people".

A closer examination of the audio captured in the Senate chamber during the vote has picked up a government senator seemingly bragging that he didn't know what he was voting for.

"It's all I need when I come in, I don't look for the whip, I look for you people [Labor]," the government senator said, in an exchange captured clearly by the Senate microphones.