Tuesday 22 November 2022

The Most Pertinent Question.

Why Now? As Rebecca Wright pointed out to Justice Minister, Kiritapu Allan, on Newshub Nation, a great deal of political travail could have been avoided by the Labour Government if they’d simply accepted the Royal Commission’s recommendation to extend the already existing legal protections against the incitement of racial hatred to include religious communities. In the evil shadow of the Christchurch Mosque Attacks, most New Zealanders would not have objected.

THE LABOUR GOVERNMENT’S wholesale retreat from its dangerously exposed positions on “Hate Speech” should be applauded. Had it remained committed to the hardline definitions it trailed before the public a year or so ago, Jacinda Ardern’s ministry would have been condemning itself to a battle it did not need to fight – and could not win. The truth of the matter is that Labour’s dangerous dalliance with the Woke variant of Hate Speech has served no one but the Act Party, whose staunch defence of Freedom of Expression accounts for much of its impressive increase in electoral support.

One of the most pertinent questions put to Kiritapu Allan, the Cabinet Minister in whose name the watered-down legislation will be introduced, came from Newshub Nation’s Rebecca Wright. What was it, she wanted to know, that prevented the Labour Government from implementing these measures when they were originally recommended by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch Mosque Shootings almost exactly two years ago?

As Wright pointed out, a great deal of political travail could have been avoided by the Labour Government if they’d simply accepted the Royal Commission’s recommendation to extend the already existing legal protections against the incitement of racial hatred to include religious communities. In the evil shadow of the Mosque Attacks, most New Zealanders would not have objected to proscribing the sort of language contained in the writings of the Norwegian mass killer, Anders Breivik, and his Australian disciple, Brenton Tarrant.

Like the legislation outlawing semi-automatic weapons, the protection of religious communities from verbal incitement to inflict serious bodily harm would likely have passed through Parliament swiftly and with a minimum of debate. An issue fraught with all manner of risky political and cultural side-bars could thus have been resolved: the legislated solution being generally perceived by New Zealanders as morally congruent to the problem which called it forth.

The Royal Commission’s recommendations regarding the current hate speech laws were as follows:

1. sharpening the focus of the statutory language;

2. adding religion to the list of protected characteristics;

3. including electronic communications in the types of publication covered;

4. including the offence in the Crimes Act rather than the Human Rights Act;

5. increasing the maximum penalty from three months’ imprisonment to up to three years’ imprisonment; and

6. adding “racial superiority, racial hatred and racial discrimination” to the list of grounds for classifying a publication as objectionable under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993.

With the obvious exceptions of recommendations 5 and 6, the Royal Commission’s suggestions were admirably moderate. After so many false starts, inept attempts at explaining the Labour Government’s thinking, and frightening proposals advanced by some of the more extreme actors in this drama, Minister Allan’s response is no less measured:

Currently, under the Human Rights Act 1993, it is illegal to publish or distribute threatening, abusive, or insulting words likely to ‘excite hostility against’ or ‘bring into contempt’ any group on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origins. Those grounds will now be extended, in both the civil (section 61) and criminal (section 131) provisions, to cover religious belief.

Unfortunately, Ms Allan’s Royal Commission-inspired “solution” is unlikely to be as well-received in 2022/23 as it would have been in 2020. Closer to the tragedy, the manifold problems associated with exciting “hostility or ill-will against”, or, “bringing into contempt or ridicule” any group of persons living in New Zealand on account of their religious beliefs, would undoubtedly have been easier to overlook. Two years on, however, it will not be so easy.

While the average New Zealander might accept the criminalisation of language or behaviour which is intended to – and does – “threaten” faith communities, it is much less likely that they would accept people being criminally sanctioned for “abusing” and/or “insulting” people for their religious beliefs.

It is important to bear in mind as the debate rages over the Government’s proposed changes to the Human Rights Act, that the historical context out of which the demand for individual freedom of expression arose was first and foremost a religious one. It is one of the most problematic aspects of religious belief that it not only lays down strict rules for one’s own conduct, but also, almost invariably, the conduct of others. When the prize at stake is one’s immortal soul, being required to conform to some other person’s religious beliefs quickly assumes the character of an existential threat. People will kill their fellow human-beings for a whole lot less than their billet in eternity.

How would New Zealanders respond to the news that the state legislatures in the USA had passed laws making it illegal to excite hostility against or ridicule of the Christian religion? Would they consider that a necessary legal protection? Or would they condemn such a law as an outrageous curtailment of Americans’ freedom of expression? Unhappy with hypotheticals? Well then, what is the response of most New Zealanders to the sentences of death imposed upon those who insult the Prophet Mohammed in Muslim countries? (Or, in the case of Salman Rushdie, from well outside Muslim countries?)

On the questions of how best to save one’s soul, the liberal-democratic state has learned, usually by the hardest of ways, to take itself out of the conversation. It willingly grants its citizens the right to believe in all manner of deities, with all manner of strict rules and regulations concerning their worship, but it does not attempt to enforce the exemption of those same citizens from all manner of criticism, insult, and ridicule. Although the New Zealand state had not prosecuted anybody for a very long time for the crime of blasphemous libel, it nevertheless thought it appropriate to remove the offence entirely from its statutes. By what curious logic, therefore, does it now propose to reintroduce it under the cover of the Human Rights Act?

Significantly, the National Party has signalled its unwillingness to accept the extension of the Human Rights Act’s protections to include religious belief. Their argument, like Act’s, is that such an extension would constitute an unwarranted curtailment of New Zealanders’ freedom of expression. Labour faces a united Right on this issue, and with it the guarantee that the Free Speech versus Hate Speech debate will feature prominently in the run-up to the 2023 General Election.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Labour also faces a year of angry protest from its left. Woke New Zealand (among whom we must now include the leading lights of the Human Rights Commission) is outraged that Minister Allan and her colleagues have not extended the protection of the Human Rights Act to women, the LGBTQI community, and the disabled.

Contemplating the coming months of rancour and rebuke, Rebecca Wright’s question about why the Prime Minister and her government didn’t strike this particular wedge of iron when it was still red hot, only grows more pertinent – and the Government’s answer, all the more puzzling.

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday, 21 November 2022.


CXH said...

'most New Zealanders would not have objected to proscribing the sort of language contained in the writings of the Norwegian mass killer, Anders Breivik, and his Australian disciple, Brenton Tarrant.'

I find it interesting that you have been able to read the writings of Tarrant, they are banned for most of us. Comments from some overseas that have read them, seem to indicate the choice of victim was more to do with the outcry he knew would ensue. More so than a direct dislike of Muslims in general.

However we will never know, we will only know what the Podium of Truth tells us. Once more we are treated as children, to fragile to be exposed to other people and ideas.

DS said...

New Zealand did have prohibitions against religious Hate Speech, in the form of Blasphemous Libel... which was only repealed from the Crimes Act in 2019.

The Barron said...

The curious thing here is the exclusion of disability in the protections.

In the 2017 Briefing for Incoming Disability Minister, in New Zealand 1.1 million people (24 percent of the population) have some form of long-lasting impairment. This is a significant group, but poorly organized and represented. The vulnerability of this group is obvious, and public empathy is clear and obvious. Few would object if there was a legislative overhaul of protection to extend to language - "likely to ‘excite hostility against’ or ‘bring into contempt’ any group on the grounds of disability".

Yet, this is excluded. Why?

I think we must look at Labour wishing to avoid fighting National, ACT and NZ First on culture wars. If sexual orientation, practice and identity, and especially gender identity went forward in the Bill, Labour knows the calls of 'woke' are coming and this could sidetrack election debates. The disabled are sacrificed because Labour could not be seen only excluding gender and sexuality.

The Most Pertinent Question? It is not what is included, but who is excluded for political convenience.

chrisprudence said...

Greg Watene a ngati whatua kaumatua or matua to his friends explained to me this afternoon over a cigarette that the rights position is one of ignorance where there should be respect.

Chris Trotter said...


I know no more of Tarrant's thinking than has been in the public domain since he committed the atrocity. But, such information as has been made available since 15/3/2019 contradicts your assertions. Anyone who paints the names and dates of centuries-old battles between Christians and Muslims on his weapons, would appear to have more than mere headline-grabbing in mind.

CXH said...

That is my problem with this sad episode. Your claim is based purely on the dribbles of information we have been allowed to see. We are expected to just accept that reading Tarrant's writings would turn us all into Muslim haters. That we are to simple of mind to be trusted with the ravings of a deranged mind.

I really have no great interest in reading his stuff, but I should have a choice. It should not be a case of simply accepting the word from the podium of Truth.

Odysseus said...

I'm sure a law protecting religious communities will be welcomed in many quarters. It should, for example, put a stop to the continued denigration of Christianity by all manner of Woke activists as well as those with the more sinister agenda of replacing ancient faiths with the millenarian cult of climate catastrophism. I look forward to the first successful prosecutions.

David George said...

Chris: "How would New Zealanders respond to the news that the state legislatures in the USA had passed laws making it illegal to excite hostility against or ridicule of the Christian religion?"

I trust (hope) "our" proposed speech laws are not specific to any religion, it therefore follows that criticism of, say, Gloriavale would be covered. Presumably the ongoing legacy media campaign against their beliefs and practices would be illegal. Bethlehem College and destiny Church likewise? I can imagine the likes of Brian Tamaki relishing the prospect of laying hate speech complaints against his many critics.

This has been heavily promoted by the notoriously thin skinned Muslims and their apologists, they even made up a word (Islamophobic) to help deflect from genuine criticism. I guess they have their reasons, fifty one bodies for a start, but we already have laws against threats and incitement to violence. Perhaps they just need to harden up and learn to take criticism like the rest of us.

Kyle Reese said...

I read Tarrant's "manifesto" (it wasn't) before it was banned.

It was uninspired, cobbled together, infantile. It was designed with a mind to appealing to online edgelords and stirring up the culture war.

Online edgelords who can mostly tell the difference between reality and fantasy, unlike Tarrant. Who, in their channels, do not admire him nor distribute his "manifesto" despite it not being banned everywhere abroad. It is not seen as being cogent nor containing any original thought by the sort of people, for multiple reasons, who enjoy reading extremist manifestos.

As a cultural weapon devised to stir up the culture war it is ineffective. It is no "Industrial Society and Its Future," the chilling manifesto of Ted Kaczynski aka the Unabomber, a manifesto that is still quietly admired by many, including by many who didn't approve of Kaczynski's tactics.

Tarrant's diatribe is utter pap. It is pathetic where it aims to sound brave. It is cold and humourless when it grasps at (second-hand) humour. it is the work of an empty, soulless individual gathering around himself a thin hotchpotch of justification from what he found online, as he spun like a forgotten astronaut from one of his beloved videogames and tried to disguise the gaping void of himself.

It would be better that this document should be allowed to circulate, such is its quality and the quality of the author, which is minus to nil.

Anonymous said...

Is this Labour retreat (soft pedal on Hate Speech) the first of many?

In formula terms.

Where X ... is No; of Political retreats by labour is directly proportional to Y ... the proximity of an election.

Brendan McNeill said...

The idea that God's reputation needs to be defended by the State is laughable, or at least it should be. I'm aware that some religions appear to lack a sense of humour, but that hardly justifies the re-introduction of blasphemy laws.

Being criticised or made an object of public ridicule is the price we pay to live in a liberal democracy. Some may argue that the price is too high, but the alternative is considerably worse, as we will find out if the Government pushes ahead with yet more virtue signalling identity group legislation.

chrisprudence said...

Lloyd Burr off the drive show on today fm described chris finlaysons rate of settling treaty claims as alarming.

chrisprudence said...

It's sometimes wrongly imagined that cosmologists and evolutionists must be serenely unconcerned about tomorrow next week and next year.I conclude with a cosmic perspective.The stupendous time spans of the evolutionary past are now a part of our culture.Most people regard humans as the apex of the evolutionary ladder.But our sun only has six billion years left until the fuel runs out and vapourises earth.Any creatures not as fully human and altered by a distant futurity will become extinct.The present century however may be a defining moment as its the first time in our planet earths history where one species ours has lifes future in its own hands.

John Hurley said...

The problem here is that in 1984 Labour began a process of creating "a truly multi-racial society" based on the thinking of people like Benedict Anderson, who posit that nation is a modern construct of the printing press, etc.
Primoidial theorist, would go back to the theories of evolutionary psychology, that when humans became apex predators they evolved ethnic behaviours, such as recognising appearances and culture.
The human assesses age, sex and ally by default and "other" can become ally, but can whole layers of "other" become ally?
One thing that strikes me is that dezpite the call for infrastructure, we are seeing a capture of space ( miniturisation). Despite the poo-bah left arguing that it will all come out looking like Paris. Have you seen where Hayden Donnel lives (oh the bouganvillias)? He laments the rise of Nazis throughout the world.
Clearly the payback is to elite left and the John Keys.
Where it matters is the unrewarded loose status. The best they can expect is not be called racist. Within society status is like love. It's no wonder we have ram-raidd: no social contract?

Anonymous said...

I drive a school bus and I can tell you the countrieside is anything but empty.
Yesterday flown down to Queestown had a couple of lawyers behind me "she's got a beautiful house overlooking the lake" and "think of all the mo ey they must have made.
Meanwhile the rest of us are just appendages to be kept silent and not get near any mass media.
TVNZ really jumped the shark with Grimes and Spoonley claiming NZ used to be dealy dull and boring. Of course the liars know better than that.

OlderChas said...

If the new law means that I cannot ridicule the self-appointed, self-aggrandising, self-enriching "Bishop" Tamaki - then I'm against it!

Anonymous said...

I read it and wish I'd kept it for the sake of the argument.
I couldn't find justification for killing Muslims and if people like him aren't driven underground they might be persuaded not to carry out their plan.
As Areo wrote: Is and ought The Wide Mile Between Brenton Tarrant and Douglas Murray.

sumsuch said...

Why are the far Right and free speech locked together? What would you have done differently bout Fox News? Why is freedom the calling card of rich-rule? Tucker Carlson questioning, but for truth.

ACT is an acronym for CRAP. They're a free hit, which we don't hit. Cos we got too clever for our own good. Unlike Sanders. Though I'm recommending much more aggression than him.

sumsuch said...

I forgot the spewing anti-rational antidemocratic bullsh of social media which has undermined and captured those with no interest in abstract ideas but the usual human dissatisfaction. And is a clear and present danger, in my view, to our democracy weakened by nineteen eight-four's 'trust the rich, sure can'.

Free speech comes from democracy, it is secondary to that. My 'learnings' from our rich-rulers these ... several decades.

I have to say all this pride and fire between Left and Right is funny, over the three hundred years of industrialism. No, no, two hundred and seventy-two. On that basis the desperate come first, and then our, laugh out loud, 'future'.