Hate speech law stalled until after election – no support yet from NZ First

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President of the Manawatu Muslim Association Riyaz Rahman says there is still work to be done on curbing hate speech.

A proposal that could make hate speech a criminal offence, as it is in the United Kingdom, has been stalled and is unlikely to pass before the election.

The Government fast-tracked a review of hate speech legislation in the wake of the March 15 Christchurch terror attack last year. Justice Minister Andrew Little declared existing legislation on the issue “woefully inadequate”.

Following the review, the Justice Ministry and Human Rights Commission presented Little with options. In March, he said these were “working their way through” the cabinet process, and that he expected an announcement within weeks.

But on Tuesday, he told Stuff Labour was still in talks with its government partners and confirmed the legislation would likely not go to Cabinet until after the election.

However, some NZ First MPs claim the party is yet to see any policy and indicated it was unlikely to support the law.

Little said hate speech legislation was subject to ongoing discussions between coalition partners and was in the policy development stage when the country went into lockdown.

There had been discussions about setting the policy, in terms of what the government might do, he said.

“We haven’t progressed much further than that.”

“We don’t have any draft or amending legislation but the ideas and thoughts about what we can do, and what might change, are the subject of discussions between partners,” Little said.

Christel Yardley/Stuff
Justice Minister Andrew Little said hate speech legislation would not go to Cabinet until after the election.

He said his office had sent papers to NZ First.

“I can’t account for what they have or have not done. But I do know there has been a circulation of policy or principles papers, and we have had feedback from some ministers.”

But Deputy Prime Minister and NZ First leader Winston Peters said he had yet to see anything on hate speech come across his desk.

“This is a matter we have got to consider. It is one thing to lay out a prognosis of what you are going to do but let’s look at the substance and detail and see how it affects the values and freedoms of our society.”

Hagen Hopkins/Getty-Images
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said hate speech laws had yet to be considered by his party.

NZ First supported freedom for people and would stand by that, Peters said.

Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin, a NZ First MP, said she had not seen any documents about hate speech legislation.

She had not been asked to consult on it politically or as a minister.

“I’m part of the ministerial consultation process, I’m part of the political consultation process and I haven’t seen any of that.”

When NZ First’s justice spokesman Darroch Ball was asked on Tuesday about the proposed laws, he said he believed it was at the Cabinet process level.

But when informed that Little had confirmed it was not with Cabinet, he said there was nothing much more he could add. “It’s just following the normal process of discussions.”

Late on Wednesday, after Stuff revealed the law had been stalled, he sent a statement to say: “NZ First received the proposal before the Covid lockdown, and is following the normal process of discussions”.

ACT leader David Seymour said it was wrong for the Government to use the nation’s tragedy in Christchurch to try to shut down speech and debate.

ACT had always said that freedom of expression was essential to a free society and must be protected.

“Of course, threatening or inciting violence should be offences, but people shouldn’t be punished simply for expressing an opinion.

“We already see people try to use claims of ‘hate speech’ as a weapon against their political opponents. It’s deeply divisive and would only get worse with tougher hate speech laws.”

In January, Netsafe and minority groups called for better recording on the front lines of hate crimes.

It came as 15 per cent of Kiwi adults reported having been personally targeted with online hate speech in the last 12 months, up four percentage points on the previous year, according to Netsafe’s second survey on the subject.

The Justice Ministry has looked at relevant aspects of the Human Rights Act, the Harmful Digital Communications Act, and sections of the Crimes Act to see what laws need to be changed or added. It also consulted with affected communities and reported back to Little before Christmas, with the expectation an announcement would be made shortly after.

Justice Ministry chief executive Andrew Kibblewhite told Stuff earlier this year that hate speech was a “tricky thing” to navigate.

The Human Rights Commission had led some work with the ministry as they wanted some conversation to happen away from the political fray, given it could easily be derailed with so many strongly held views, he said.

“In reality you want to have a conversation with New Zealanders about what is the right balance between the Government politicians and officials. We want society to have a conversation about this and avoid protests. You’ve got to think quite deeply and thoughtfully about it.”