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Feedback sought on sweeping hate speech proposals

The Government is seeking feedback on sweeping proposals to alter New Zealand's hate speech law in the wake of recommendations from the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the March 15 attack. 

New Zealand's Parliament buildings. Source: istock.com

Changes to hate speech law and a proposal to make it illegal to incite others to discriminate against a protected group are on the cards. 

The Ministry of Justice is looking for feedback on six areas:

- Altering language so more groups targeted by hateful speech are protected in the Human Rights Act. 
- Replace the criminal provision in the Human Rights Act to a new offence in the Crimes Act, proposing outlawing intentionally stirring up, maintaining or normalising hatred by being threatening, abusive or insulting or by inciting violence against a protected group. 
- Increase the punishment for criminal offending. 
- Change the language of the civil incitement provision and to change the civil provision to make 'incitement to discriminate' illegal. This would be in terms of inciting others to discriminate against a protected group. 
- Add protections for discrimination against trans, gender diverse and intersex people in the Human Rights Act. 

Fifty-one people were killed in the 2019 terrorist attack in Christchurch. 

Speech inciting racial disharmony and discrimination against a person because of an identity feature is already prohibited in the Human Rights Act. However, the Government believe current laws are unclear and could go further to protect those who are targets of those inciting hatred. 

Under the proposals, the penalty for inciting hatred could see three years in prison and a $50,000 fine. Faafoi said that was determined based on comparisons with other offences. 

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Transgender woman Lexie Matheson says the proposed hate speech law is “immensely important”. Source: 1 NEWS

The Government launched consultation today on proposals to "strengthen protections against speech that incites hatred and discrimination; and seeking New Zealanders’ views about how they would make Aotearoa New Zealand more socially cohesive".

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said that abusive or threatening speech that incites hostility "can cause significant harm and divide communities".

"Building social cohesion, inclusion and valuing diversity can also be a powerful means of countering the actions of those who seek to spread or entrench discrimination and hatred.

"Abusive or threatening speech that incites hostility can cause significant harm and divide communities."

He said protection freedom of expression "while balancing that right with protections against ‘hate speech’ is something that requires careful consideration and a wide range of input". 

Diversity and Inclusion Minister Priyanca Radhakrishnan said New Zealand was stronger as a nation because of diversity, "but to maximise that strength, we need to create a society where our diverse communities are able to access opportunities, and express differences of opinion in a way that is safe".

"The context for creating a socially cohesive society in Aotearoa New Zealand is underpinned by Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Te Ao Māori perspectives and the Māori-Crown relationship."

ACT's David Seymour described the proposals as a "huge win for cancel culture and will create an even more divided society".

"The only people who win from today’s announcement are the Twitter mob and the perpetually offended."

When asked today if the proposals would apply to actions such as that conducted by the March 15 terrorist on online message boards, Faafoi said that "the lens the proposal looks through is that there has to be intent to incite hatred, communicating that to other by any means".

"That could be the written word, it could be spoken, it could be on online platforms. If you meet all those thresholds, then the proposals could possibly come into force."

Faafoi said he believed the freedom of expression rights in the Bill of Rights would still be protected under the proposals. 

Labour promised tougher hate speech laws last year prior to being re-elected, after coming up against NZ First roadblocks within Government last term. 

Ardern said if re-elected, Labour would plan to include religion under legislation that deals with hate speech and discrimination.

Ardern said she believed New Zealanders rejected the idea "that anyone should be discriminated for who they are, their religion, their cultural or ethnic background".

"It's just not okay and so I would have thought we'd have wide support for that."

National leader Judith Collins said at the time the Government needed to be "really careful" about implementing new hate speech laws.

"It’s a pretty contentious issue and we’d have to look very carefully at that," Collins said.

"You can’t legislate people's thoughts — that’s really clear — and we wouldn’t want to drive underground thoughts or statements that could then lead to actual violence," she said.

A review on hate speech was sparked after the 2019 attack, but the Government could not find consensus on making changes. 

Al Noor Mosque Imam Gamal Fouda said last September an aspect to achieving justice after the March 15 Christchurch terrorist attack was for New Zealand to "lead the world in enacting clear legislation that draws a clear line between the freedom of speech and hate speech". 

The Government signalled changes to strengthen laws around hate-motivated activity and inciting hatred against an individual or group, after key recommendations in the Royal Commission into the March 15 terrorist attack in December. 

"Speech which is abusive or threatening and incites hostility towards a group or person can cause significant harm,” Faafoi said at the time.

It was also planning changes to the Human Rights Act, which will also see protections for trans, gender diverse and intersex people.

Submissions close on August 6.