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New bill will protect freedom of expression

“A new member’s bill announced this morning will strengthen protections for our most basic freedom”, ACT Leader David Seymour says.

“Freedom of expression is the basis of all our freedoms. But it is under attack. The Government, urged on by the Greens, is planning to further restrict what New Zealanders are lawfully allowed to say through tougher hate speech laws. The Human Rights Commission has completely failed to defend our most basic human right and has even supported extending restrictions on speech. The media and other parts of the establishment have been silent. ACT has stood alone in defence of our most basic freedom.

“Hate speech laws punish people on the basis of their opinions. Normally, opinion is met by opinion. But under hate speech laws, opinion is met by the power of the state. We now regularly see people attempting to use the law as a weapon against their political opponents. This is deeply divisive.

“ACT’s Freedom to Speak Bill will repeal parts of the Human Rights Act and the Summary Offences Act which make insulting and offensive speech unlawful. ACT believes that, while it should be a crime to incite or threaten violence, nobody should ever be punished for insulting or offensive speech. Distinguishing hate speech from genuine criticism is impossible.

“The Freedom to Speak Bill will also specify that the Harmful Digital Communications Act only applies to complainants under the age of 18. Online bullying of children is a major problem. It is important that there is an agency and a set of guidelines for resolving bullying of children online. However, doing so also restricts the right of free expression. While this may be tolerable in the case of children, or those communicating with children, adults should not be able to use hate speech sanctions to silence critics.

“As I warned at the time ACT voted against the National Government’s Harmful Digital Communications Bill, the legislation is now being used to attempt to suppress reporting by the media.

Revenge porn will remain an offence regardless of the age of the complainant.

“ACT will also abolish the Human Rights Commission. The Commission has become completely irrelevant when it cannot defend our most basic human right. The current Chief Human Rights Commissioner has been silent on the importance of free speech and has even pushed for new hate speech laws. The Human Rights Commission has also become politicised. Commissioners have entered into political debate and denounced particular politicians even when those politicians are simply expressing honestly held views for voters to decide on.

“As the Government considers further restricting speech, we risk following other countries into censorship, where elites decide what we can and can’t say. ACT stands staunchly in favour of freedom of expression. We need to remove restrictions on free speech and make it clear that it is a critical value for New Zealand.”


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