A Muslim community leader says the hate speech legislation is too important to rush through, and has welcomed the government’s decision to refer it to the Law Commission.
However, he said the legislation was not thoroughly discussed in the public arena and was hijacked by political motives.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins yesterday announced the government’s watered-down hate speech legislation would be dropped as part of his purge of policies aimed at refocusing the government on cost-of-living pressures.
The minor amendment would have expanded protection from incitement under the Human Rights Act to religious groups.
Justice Minister Kiri Allan had already referred the other more ambitious aspects of hate speech law recommendations to the Law Commission, and Hipkins yesterday said this specific part would be joining it.
Federation of Islamic Associations spokesperson Abdur Razzaq said the smaller amendment would have been merely a tick-box exercise and was not fit for purpose.
“Too important a legislation to rush through, so we actually have agreed with this and we’ve consistently said that this should be looked at more thoroughly,” he said.
“The consensus approach is actually the right way to go but if we don’t have consensus in the political area the priority should be the national security and safety of our communities.
“In that respect the legislation has to go through – so the prime minister has not abandoned it, what he has done is actually make sure it’s fit for purpose in keeping with what the royal commission has recommended.”
The initial proposals were a result of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the March 15 terrorist attacks. The assault had left 51 people dead at the hands of one man targeting mosques in Christchurch.
Then-Justice Minister Andrew Little ordered the inquiry after correspondence from people detailing their experiences of abuse after the shootings. Gender identity, sexual orientation, religion and disability were not protected under the Act.
Nearly five years on from the attacks however, exciting hostility or bringing people into contempt on the grounds of their colour, race or ethnicity remains the only hate-related offence under the law.
Coalition partner New Zealand First had halted progress in the previous term of government.
Razzaq said the debate had been derailed.
“It was hijacked as a political football, which we think detracts from the whole purpose of what the royal commission was all about,” he said.
“This is a hate speech debate but some people turned it into a free speech debate for their own political purpose.
“Free speech is protected – we have the Human Rights Act and we also have the Bill of Rights – what we don’t have is a robust Act looking at the hate speech.”
He quoted the Royal Commission’s finding the current legislation was not practically enforceable – it has only seen one successful prosecution since it was introduced in 1993 – and the watered-down amendment would have been subject to the same limitations.
“The Royal Commission talked about putting it in the Crimes Act, which is far more appropriate.”
He said other groups beyond religion also needed protection, and the law also needed to be modernised to cover things like social media. He was hopeful yesterday’s decision would mean a better chance at more robust debate and change.
“This is so important, the Royal Commission said there’s a direct link between hate speech and hate crime, and they referred to studies done by Netsafe and others – and this is also borne [out] through by meta studies overseas.
“If you’re going to address hate crime, you have to address hate speech, and this fundamental aspect of the debate was missed by many politicians and also many people in the media.
“I’m sure all political parties will agree that there must be some limits placed on those who espouse hate speech and incite violence. Those kind of things I think in any type of democracy should not be allowed.
“We’ve seen this kind of legislation in every country that we know of – whether it works or not is another matter. In New Zealand it has been missing.”
He said it was frustrating to have such legislation delayed once again however – and ironic the already thoroughly researched and evaluated proposals, backed up through consultation with Law Commissions overseas, were being sent back to the Law Commission.
“People didn’t read in detail the 800 page report, it’s all there … the Royal Commission thought it was so important that they put out a special supplement on hate speech.”
“The Law Commission themselves said the highest review body is the Royal Commission, and the Law Commission themselves made a submission to the Royal Commission on this matter – and now we’ve got the Law Commission looking at what the Royal Commission already looked at.
“At least we’re going to have a much more informed debate because legislations like this are only effective if people understand why they have come in, people understand what are the consequences of it, and finally keeping in mind what type of society we are aiming for – a socially cohesive society where we don’t have the tragedies that we had on March 15th.”
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz