Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledges the Government could have done a better job communicating the changes being proposed to hate speech laws.
At the end of last month, the Government released the Ministry of Justice’s “discussion document” about its proposals against “incitement of hatred and discrimination”.
It was met with widespread confusion, including criticism that the Government “has not been clear about what it thinks the law will actually ban”. Others noted the reforms would actually make it harder to make hate speech prosecutions.
When asked what types of speech would be included under the proposals which aren't already banned, Ardern said, at the moment, harmful speech against people on the basis of religion wasn’t covered.
Protection would also be added for transgender, gender diverse and intersex people in the Human Rights Act.
“First and foremost, our proposal is to expand who would be covered. And, we’re asking people’s opinion on that,” Ardern told Breakfast.
She said the second major change would be to change the current terms used in law — “hostility”, “ill-will”, “contempt” and “ridicule” — would be replaced by “hatred”.
This wording was suggested by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch terrorist attack.
“In their view, it’s clearer. But, they also believe it narrows it,” Ardern said.
The discussion document also notes: “The Government has agreed in-principle to all of the proposals listed below. In-principle agreement means a broad general agreement to the proposals but not on detailed specific changes.”
It continues: “Under this proposal, more groups would be protected by the law if hatred was incited against them due to a characteristic that they have. This may include some or all of the other grounds in the Human Rights Act.”
Section 21 of the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the grounds of political opinion.
When asked if the hate speech proposals would, therefore, include political opinion, Ardern said Cabinet didn’t agree with including that in particular.
“The question we’ve asked is ‘If we’re adding to hate speech religious grounds and sexual orientation, should we just lift the list we have in the Human Rights Act and apply hate speech to that list?’”
Ministers then had a discussion about each item on the list, and were “uncomfortable” with the inclusion of political opinion under hate speech laws, Ardern said.
“We thought it safer that it not be included. So, we removed some of the references to it [political opinion] in the discussion document.
“But, what I’ll agree with you on is that there are general references to [Section 21] of the Human Rights Act that don’t make it as clear as I would have liked,” she said.
“I want to hear New Zealanders’ views.”