Duncan Garner: Free speech is vital

Opinion 30/04/2019

The Government has quietly, through an opinion column by Justice Minister Andrew Little, revealed it's reviewing our hate speech laws in New Zealand.

Apparently so we can protect our proud tradition of free speech in NZ.

No fanfare, no big media announcement, just a soft launch of the fact Little's ordered the Ministry of Justice to work with the Human Rights Commission to examine whether our laws properly balance the issues of freedom of speech and hate speech.

This is a re-examination of one of our long-held fundamental rights

Reviewing a key feature of our Bill of Rights - what we can and cannot say.

The backdrop to this is, of course, the Christchurch mosque attacks and what is posted on social media sites, the incitment of violence, the anti-Muslim rhetoric.

In New Zealand we have sanctions against speech which incites racial disharmony but nothing restricting speech on religion.

It seems pretty clear that the loophole will now be closed.

This Government is desperate to be seen to be doing something to assist the Muslim community.

We must proceed with caution

Even a discussion around limiting free speech or beefing up hate speech laws makes me nervous.

There's always some prude who wants to ban everything, and we must retain the right to speak openly and freely, it's democracy after all.

It's only when you lose it do you realise what you had

Free speech is vital in a free society. Yes, target those who incite terrorism and violence but keep it that specific and narrow.

We must still have the right to call out sects and cults and weirdo groups acting under the guise of religion.

We must always have the right to be critical and open in our language and questions and opinions and viewpoints.

If we must review hate speech, let's not allow this to gain a life of its own and go to places we'll regret.

We stand by for more information, but I hope New Zealanders also stand ready to fight any unwarranted or unjustified limitations. Watch for the knee-jerk overreactions, and get ready to push back on the do-gooders.

Duncan Garner is host of The AM Show.