Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Seymour welcomes report Government will honour vote

ACT Leader David Seymour is welcoming reports that Justice Minister Andrew Little will not seek to overturn a vote favouring free speech.

“It would have been a terrible thing to go backwards by criminalising speech just as we went forward by taking abortion out of the Crimes Act.

“I am a strong supporter of abortion law reform, and have said the liberalisation does not go far enough. I have little time for the odious ogres who protest abortion clinics, but free speech means defending the rights of people you disagree with.

“I didn’t come to Parliament to make laws where a Minister can decide to suspend freedom of expression in a given area, even for noble purposes. The Government, and people in favour of these so-called safe zones, did not, in my view, think hard enough about the precedent they were setting.

“The so-called safe areas promoted the idea that we should be able to shut down people we don’t want to hear from, going beyond existing laws against harassment. Had the bill passed with this amendment, it would doubtlessly have been used as a justification for preventing protest in other areas.

“Farmers could point to the vilification of the sector by protestors and the mental health impacts it has had. They might in future ask for laws against protesting them, citing this legislation.

“Oil and gas companies could point to the health and safety implications of protests, and ask for new powers to suppress protests, citing this legislation. If these examples seem far-fetched, it is only because we don’t have such laws suppressing speech in New Zealand. We must keep it that way.

“To impair free speech in this way requires a serious justification. On the face of it, the harm caused to women in such a vulnerable position faced with such odious people might justify impairing free speech. However, the only recent methodical enquiry into the matter, by the Law Commission, said:

'The Commission has not seen any clear evidence that the existing laws around intimidating and anti-social behaviour are inadequate, as would be required to justify the introduction of safe access zones.'

“Rejecting so-called safe zones in favour of protecting free speech was the right thing to do, and I’m glad the Government is not trying to revote this.”