Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Karl du Fresne: The enemies of free speech have seized the moment

Changes to the gun control laws are a mere trifle compared with what else might come down the legislative pipeline following the Christchurch mosque massacres.

There are an estimated 250,000 New Zealanders with a firearms licence. Of those, we can assume only a small proportion of gun enthusiasts will be directly affected by proposed changes covering military-style semi-automatic weapons.

Changes to what we can say, write, read and hear, on the other hand, could threaten the essential nature and quality of our democracy. Ultimately they would affect everyone. That’s why we should all be extremely uneasy about the pending review of laws governing so-called “hate speech”.
A review was due this year anyway, but Justice Minister Andrew Little says it will be fast-tracked following the Christchurch atrocities.

I don’t believe that Little is necessarily an enemy of free speech, but no one should be in any doubt that the climate is perversely ripe for a crackdown on freedom of expression.

Authoritarian ideologues on the far Left know that if there’s ever going to be a moment when New Zealanders can be persuaded to accept restrictions on what we can say, it’s now, when the country is looking for ways to atone for the appalling atrocities – although they were not perpetrated by us – on March 15.

Before that happens, we should insist on answers to some crucial questions. Here are a few:

■ In what way are existing “hate speech” laws inadequate? Respected legal academics point out that we already have laws that prohibit statements inciting racial disharmony or hostility against minorities. There is nothing to indicate these laws have failed. In fact they are rarely used, which suggests the problem is not as pressing as hate-speech lobbyists claim.

The Human Rights Commission is concerned that current laws cover race, colour and ethnicity but not religion, which means they don’t protect Muslims or other religious minorities. But that should be easily fixed without imposing wider restrictions on speech.  

■ How would tougher speech laws have prevented the killings? That isn’t clear. They might limit the rights of ordinary New Zealanders while having no effect on fanatics like the Christchurch shooter (who, we shouldn’t forget, was Australian). And they would risk driving potentially dangerous opinions underground, where they are harder to counter.

This latter point was made to me last year by Professor Paul Spoonley when I interviewed him for an article on “hate speech” in The Listener. Spoonley, an authority on extremism, questioned the need for tougher laws and described himself as an ardent proponent of free speech. He now seems to have had a change of heart – as he’s entitled to do, although it seems a sharp about-turn.

■ How is hate speech to be defined, especially when one person’s hate speech is another’s legitimate expression of opinion? And crucially, who will do the defining?

One person who can be expected to wield influence over the review is the Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Paul Hunt.

Never heard of him? No, many New Zealanders haven’t. He was appointed last October as part of a cleanout that followed a sexual harassment scandal at the Human Rights Commission.

Hunt was recruited from Britain. He is an academic, a human rights careerist and an activist whose adulatory entry in Wikipedia makes much of his work with the United Nations. He is also aligned with the Corbynite socialist Left of the British Labour Party.

Is he someone we should entrust with the job of influencing what New Zealanders can be permitted to read, hear and say? I don’t think so. Not for a moment.

■ Could a review result in police being given power to launch what would effectively be political prosecutions against people for saying the wrong things, as happens in Britain? That would be a radical extension of police powers and one that New Zealanders must oppose.

■ Most important, how is the notion of hate speech to be reconciled with freedom of expression – a fundamental tenet of democracy, and a right guaranteed to New Zealanders under the Bill of Rights Act?

New Zealand is internationally admired as a liberal, open democracy. We pride ourselves on respecting freedom of religion, and never more so than in the weeks since the Christchurch shootings.

Freedom of speech is part of the same bundle of rights, but paradoxically we are now being told that one freedom must be restricted to protect another. It doesn’t add up.

The enemies of free speech want to contain political debate within narrow parameters dictated by them, and are prepared to exploit a tragedy to achieve that goal. They must not be allowed to get away with it. 

Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of the Dominion-Post. He blogs at First published in The Dominion Post and on


Brian Arrandale said...

“Give me liberty, or give me death”
“ Patrick Henry 1736-1799” Governor of Virginia.
Is this cry of passion to echo throughout New Zealand should a law of Hate Speech become legal? If so, it will become a part of exercising total control over those who do not agree with the rabid political ideals and policies that now form part of the present Government Green/Labour coalition.
Karl has done us all a great service by fully covering the implications of such a serious instrument that will be placed at the disposal of the Neo Marxists
With Anzac Day just around the corner, those who fought in the Second World War, in Korea, Malaysia, Viet Nam and recently Afghanistan will be wondering why they did.
To institute such a statute within the framework of our laws is to deny all those who have fought down the long centuries; a fight against oppression, and the right and liberty of the individual to express his or her opposite viewpoint or opinion.
But most of all, it will undermine the very foundations of our Democracy itself.

Unknown said...

Totally agree with your comments
We must not allow the left to dictate what we can or cannot say.

Anonymous said...

can you imagine these lunatics wanting to ban the bible....

Unknown said...

Agree with all you've written here Karl!

TOBY said...

To refer to someone as a "Pommie b*stard" is looked upon as light-hearted banter, a normal NZ approach to life and personal relationships. Would "Paki b*stard" be accepted with the same laissez-faire attitude? No, I thought not! Laws MUST reflect the need for provable facts in defining what is an offence, not the twisted opinions of those with their own hidden interest in imposing their own political will on the populace.

Coker said...

Spot on. But I fear the worst.

Unknown said...

Well 'spoken' Karl. I hope those with a sence of morality take your view point. Norway should be our aspiration - or are we going to emulate a time when Germany got it so wrong???

Unknown said...

You are completely correct Karl .I follow Jordan B Peterson and he comments on the rise of the neo Marxists post modernists through the universities,education and the media.the idea to drive hate speech from the extreme left will begin.I fear that the cultural war has been lost.the nats have a weak leader and the right is being thrashed.the nz Herald is becoming a mouth piece for the is depressing.myself and the wife are looking at selling up and heading to aust. Regards Tim

Trevor said...

I agree with Karl.
I am uncomfortable with becoming part of those spouting the "isms" and "post- whatevers"of modern discourse, but I was acutely aware of an apprehension of venturing an opinion, for fear of the backlash.
How ironic was it that at the same time as we professed our Aroha and Love following the murder of Muslims in the ChCh atrocity we also celebrated the defeat of those murderous beheading Isis Muslims in Syria, and I have yet to see any denunciation from the NZ Muslim community of the suicide bomb murders by Muslims against Muslims in Pakistan.