PM's confusion over hate speech law deeply worrying

Sun, 01 Dec, 2019

“Jacinda Ardern’s confusion over hate speech law should be deeply worrying to anyone concerned with protecting freedom of expression”, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

Asked this morning about new hate speech laws, Ardern said there were gaps in the current law and ‘threats to people based on their religion’ is was not covered. She’s wrong. Threatening a person is already illegal under the Crimes Act.

Earlier this year on the AM Show, Ardern said her Government was focussed on restricting speech that would likely lead to harm or violence against others. But inciting a person to commit violence is also already an offence.

“In that same interview, she went on to say the Government would target ‘examples where when you see it, you know it’. This is the danger of hate speech legislation: it is deeply subjective.

“Threatening people or inciting violence should absolutely be illegal. But using tests as subjective as ‘insulting’ or ‘offensive’ to criminalise speech is dangerous.

“The Justice Minister is on record as saying he wants to add new ‘protected categories’ to the Human Rights Act, strengthen its enforcement, and follow the UK’s lead on hate speech law. Andrew Little has also said our hate speech law is seldom used, which means he has two options: give it teeth or get rid of it.

“No person has been prosecuted under the ‘racial disharmony’ provisions of the Human Rights Act since 1979. Section 61 is ineffectual as it is, so the Government wants to strengthen it. In other words, we would end up with a true hate speech law. We would find ourselves in a similar position to the UK. In that country, people are being detained for tweeting unpopular opinions.

“ACT believes a strengthened Human Rights Act would be dangerous, and we should therefore get rid of our hate speech laws completely.

“Freedom of expression is a critically important value. We cannot solve our most pressing problems if we are not able to try new ideas, discard those that don’t work, and seek out better ones. That can only be achieved in an open society in which free thought and open enquiry are encouraged.”