Tess McClure, The Guardian, June 24, 2021
New Zealand is looking to toughen its hate speech laws, introducing much harsher penalties for those who incite or “normalise” discrimination or hatred.
The changes come after a royal commission of inquiry into the Christchurch mosque terror attacks, in which a white supremacist killed 51 people.
Currently, the maximum penalties for hate speech in New Zealand are a $7,000 fine and maximum of three months’ imprisonment. The proposed changes would increase that maximum to three years’ imprisonment and a $50,000 fine.
For now, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or disability aren’t specifically protected under New Zealand’s hate speech regulations – it is only an offence to use speech that will “excite hostility” or “bring into contempt” a person or group on the grounds of their colour, race or ethnicity.
“Sitting back and allowing people to continue to spread hatred by any means needs to be stamped out, otherwise … more things like the March 15 attacks could happen,” said minister of justice Kris Faafoi. He said moving the offence to the Crimes Act – it is now under the Human Rights Act – “reflects the seriousness of the offence” and that the government was “taking the crime of hate speech … much more seriously”.
The government has a majority in parliament, so can push through the changes if it satisfied with the next round of consultation. But the proposals are likely to be highly contested, with opposition political parties raising concerns about freedom of speech and expression.
David Seymour, leader of the rightwing ACT party, said in a written release that the proposed laws “will take away basic rights to free speech, it will shut down debate and make people too afraid to express valid opinions,” he said. “Police will face pressure to prosecute people with unpopular views.” The new laws “will put cancel culture on steroids,” he said.
Faafoi said the government was undertaking another round of public consultation on the proposed changes to get feedback from the community. “Protecting our right to freedom of expression while balancing that right with protections against ‘hate speech’ is something that requires careful consideration and a wide range of input,” Faafoi said.
“There are very strong opinions about freedom of speech and expression, that we want to make sure we give people the opportunity to engage again.”
The proposed changes would cover written and spoken word, or online platforms, and cover speech that intentionally incites hatred on the basis of sex, marital status, religious belief, ethical belief (meaning the lack of a religious belief), colour, race, ethnic or national origins, disability, age, political opinion, employment status, family status, or sexual orientation. They would make it a crime to “intentionally incite/stir up, maintain or normalise hatred”.
Faafoi also faced questions on whether the terms “normalising hatred” was too subjective for police to enforce. He provided the following definition: “Normalising hatred means that, if I were to try and convince you to hate someone, and you didn’t already hold that feeling, then I have changed your opinion. [Or] you may already hold that opinion and I may want to reinforce that opinion with you, and that is normalising,” Faafoi said.
When asked by reporters if the test for normalising hatred was “highly subjective” Faafoi agreed but argued there was a clear distinction in the law between insulting individuals and hate speech.
“People will say stupid things … Nasty things are one thing, inciting hatred against a group is another thing.”