Jacinda Ardern

The Prime Minister yesterday added more confusion to what was contained within the Government’s discussion document on hate speech.

It quite clearly proposes that inciting hatred or hostility against a group on the basis of its political opinion would be grounds for prosecution.

 A successful conviction could result in up to three years jail or a $50,000 fine.

However, Jacinda Ardern claimed at her post Cabinet press conference yesterday that the Government had removed political opinion as grounds for prosecution.

“When the discussion document was brought to us as a cabinet in the discussion document on page number one, proposal one, it explicitly did reference political opinion,” she said.

“You can see how it sees groups experiencing hateful speech based on other grounds as well, including these six, gender, including gender identity, religious belief, disability or sexual orientation.

“And it did include political opinion in that section.

“We removed political opinion.

“Our view was that if people recommended it be included, they could do so.”

Ardern is talking about page 17 of the discussion document, which sets out the questions that they want feedback on.

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It lists the groups to which the new legislation might be extended: “sex, gender (including gender identity), religious belief, disability, or sexual orientation.”

The Prime Minister is correct; it does not include “political opinion” on this page though she at least conceded that it could be included if public opinion wanted it.

“The Government considers that other groups that experience hateful speech could also be protected by the law, and is interested in views on the groups that should be protected by this change,” it says.

But the confusion comes right at the top of the document,  on page four, where there is a summary of the Government’s proposals which it says it has agreed to “in principle”.

“Under this proposal, more groups would be protected by the law if hatred was incited against them due to a characteristic that they have. This may include some or all of the other grounds in the Human Rights Act. These grounds are listed in section 21 of the Act, which is included in Appendix One.”

That section has a long list of grounds that could be invoked, but critically it says in Section 21 (j), “political opinion, which includes the lack of a particular political opinion or any political opinion.”

And herein lies the confusion; the Prime Minister was clearly talking about page 17 while seeming to not know about what was in the summary on page four.

“We removed it as an example,” she said. (a reference to page 17)

But then she said the Government was still allowing people who might wish to offer up that it should be included.

“Keep in mind, our human rights legislation already says that you shouldn’t be discriminated based on your political opinion,” she said in reference to Section 21 (j). (page four)

“The question we’re asking is, should that be included in extreme hate legislation as well?

“And the reason for that is there are some countries where people are discriminated against for their political opinion.

“They may, for instance, seek refugee status in New Zealand, and they may be good grounds to make sure that they see within our laws that the things they’ve been previously discriminated against are included.

“We haven’t used that as a starting point for some of the reasons you would probably expect.

“In our view, it wasn’t really the most common concern in New Zealand, so we chose not to include it as a starting question.”

So though one part of the discussion document has had “political opinion”, another part includes it.

Not surprisingly, the Prime Minister is getting considerable criticism for her apparent confusion on the issue.

The NZ Herald Senior Political Correspondent, Audrey Young, in a comment yesterday, said  that “in the four days since the Government outlined changes to “hate speech” law, it has become obvious from comments by the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, that she does not understand them.”

Ardern’s political opponents were emphatic.

National Leader, Judith Collins, said: “New Zealanders are entitled to a truthful accounting of the facts and that includes honesty around why Labour has chosen to enact speech restrictions when they wouldn’t have stopped the Christchurch terrorist while ignoring other suggestions in the Royal Commission Report.”

ACT Leader, David Seymour, said Ardern said political opinion would not be a “protected group.

”Wrong. The discussion document and cabinet paper say they’ll expand to all the categories in Section 21 of the Human Rights Act. That includes political opinion (s21(j)),” he said.

“She also said she’s doing this because of the Royal Commission into Christchurch, despite us being specifically told these laws would not have prevented those attacks. The Government decided to change our hate speech laws immediately after 15 March 2019. The Royal Commission didn’t report back until November 2020.

“And then she said this is just a discussion document. Wrong again. The Government has been crystal clear since 2019: it is going to change the law no matter what New Zealanders say. It’s already made up its mind and is not acting in good faith.

“Every statement she made was wrong.”

And even on the left, criticism was harsh.

Martyn Bradbury on “The Daily Blog”, a left-wing website, wrote: “This Government needs to spend far more time on housing, child poverty, education, welfare, infrastructure, climate change and inequality and far, far, far less time on social engineering vanity projects to criminalise you for word crimes!

“If Government wants to make NZ more ‘socially cohesive’ they should build more houses, use a wider range of taxes against corporations and fully fund mental health, education and public health – They shouldn’t strangle off free speech with poorly thought out knee jerk legislation.

“If Labour proceeds with this, the backlash will cost them the 2023 election.”

The next instalment in this saga is likely to come during Parliament’s Question Time today.