“ACT will repeal Labour’s deeply offensive hate speech law if it is part of the next Government," says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Free speech is a bedrock of modern New Zealand. That means sometimes hearing words and ideas that challenge us. If we sacrifice such a fundamental principle, we are losing something precious. Freedom of expression is central to who we are as Kiwis.

“The Government repealed New Zealand’s blasphemous libel law in 2019 because it wasn’t being used and because it was offensive to the principle of freedom of expression. Then-Justice Minister Andrew Little said: ‘The offence of blasphemous libel has not been prosecuted in New Zealand since 1922, and raises potential Bill of Rights Act concerns. This obsolete provision has no place in a modern society which protects freedom of expression.’

“The same could be said of the Human Rights (Incitement on Ground of Religious Belief) Amendment Bill.

“Labour says on the one hand that almost no one will be prosecuted under this law but on the other that it will protect religious groups from hate speech. You can’t have it both ways. Either the law is going to punish people, or it’s not.

“The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch terrorist attack pointed out that there is a strong tradition in New Zealand that religious belief systems are open to vigorous debate. The likes of Brian Tamaki shouldn’t be able to hide behind this neo-blasphemy law.

“The Government has dithered for almost four years on hate speech. It’s come up with a tokenistic law, but one that is going to have a chilling effect on free speech.

“Crown Law, in its section 7 report, says that ‘civil and criminal sanctions on speech have the potential to create a chilling effect on expression.’ The law may ‘impact the freedom of expression of those whose speech would have fallen short of contravening those provisions but who elected not to express themselves in that way so as to avoid the possible reach of civil and criminal sanction.’

“Hate speech laws are divisive and dangerous, turning debate into a popularity contest where the majority can silence unpopular views using the power of the state.

“Jacinda Ardern previously described hate speech as, ‘when you see it, you know it’. This is the danger of hate speech legislation: it’s deeply subjective.

“The Royal Commission observed that hate speech is not a precise term and the difference between legally criminalised hate speech and the vigorous exercise of the right to express opinions is not easy to identify.

“Threatening others or inciting violence should be illegal, but tests as subjective as ‘offensive’ or ‘insulting’ should never be used to prosecute offences.

“Freedom of expression is one of the most important values our society has. We can only solve our most pressing problems in an open society in which free thought and open enquiry are encouraged.

“ACT will continue to defend the critical principle that nobody should ever be punished on the basis of opinion.

“National’s Justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith refused to commit to repealing the laws when directly asked three times on Newshub Nation. ACT is clear that we will repeal it.”

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