Freedom to Speak

ACT’s plan to protect freedom of expression

ACT will:

  • Remove restrictions on freedom of expression which make ‘insulting’, ‘abusive’ and ‘offensive’ speech unlawful
  • Specify that the Harmful Digital Communications Act only applies to complainants under the age of 18
  • Abolish the Human Rights Commission.

Freedom of expression is the basis of all freedoms. It has an inherent value. We each experience life in a unique way and should be free to share that experience with others. It also has a practical value. Feminists or anti-Springbok tour protestors alike would not have been as successful as they were without having the ability to make unpopular statements.

Hate speech laws punish people on the basis of opinion. Usually opinion is met by opinion, but under hate speech laws opinion is met by the power of the state. Distinguishing hate speech from genuine criticism on any objective basis is impossible. We now regularly see people try to use claims of ‘hate speech’ as a weapon against their political opponents. This is deeply divisive.

As the Government considers further restricting speech, we risk following other countries into censorship, where elites decide what we can and can’t say. ACT stands staunchly in favour of freedom of expression. We need to remove restrictions on freedom of expression and make it clear that it is a critical value for New Zealand.

ACT’s Freedom to Speak Bill will remove parts of the Human Rights Act and the Summary Offences Act which make ‘insulting’, ‘abusive’ and ‘offensive’ speech unlawful. ACT believes that, while it should be a crime to incite or threaten violence, nobody should ever be punished for their opinion.

The Freedom to Speak Bill will also specify that the Harmful Digital Communications Act only applies to complainants under the age of 18. Online bullying of children is a major problem. It is important that there is an agency and a set of guidelines for resolving bullying of children online. However, doing so also restricts the right of free expression. While this may be tolerable in the case of children, or those communicating with children, adults should not be able to use hate speech sanctions to silence critics.

Already under the Harmful Digital Communications Act we have seen complaints attempting to suppress reporting by the media. It is important for freedom of speech that nobody can have their freedom of expression suppressed by the state on the basis of subjective opinion, as the Harmful Digital Communications Act allows.

ACT will also abolish the Human Rights Commission. The HRC has become completely irrelevant when it cannot defend our most basic human right. The current Chief Human Rights Commissioner has been silent on the importance of free speech and has pushed for new hate speech laws. The Human Rights Commission has also become politicised, with the Disability Rights Commissioner actively opposing the End of Life Choice Bill even when members of the disability community have a range of views on the Bill. At other times, Commissioners have entered into political debate, denouncing particular politicians even when those politicians are expressing honestly-held views for the voters to decide on.