Opinion: National Party believes that freedom of speech is a fundamental right. It’s central to our pluralistic liberal democracy and it means having to tolerate the expression of diverse views. We may not always agree with one another, but we should have the ability to say our opinions without fear of being prosecuted. Sadly, this could be about to change.
Labour is proposing to regulate our free speech laws. It claims the changes are in response to the horrific acts of March 15, but there’s no evidence to support the idea that these hate speech laws would have prevented this massacre. In any case, we expect any changes to be closely scrutinised with all New Zealanders brought into the discussion. Unfortunately though, the Government has been misleading the public and shutting down the debate.
Speech that incites violence is already, quite rightly, illegal in New Zealand. But the Prime Minister has claimed her Government’s draconian law changes will fill a void in this area.
National Party condemns vile speech that is intended to insult, but there is a big leap from condemning it to criminalising it.
This is more about control. Labour is making sure only approved opinions are allowed and making questioning those opinions criminal. When questioned about what hatred looks like or what the threshold of punishment would be, the Justice Minister couldn’t answer. The Prime Minister’s answers were similarly muddled. So not only do New Zealanders not know how this law would work in practice, but neither does the Government.
The bar for persecuting hate speech will be lowered such that someone who intentionally stirs up or normalises hatred by being insulting would break the law. Increased penalties for hate speech have also been proposed, with the maximum fine to go from $7000 to $50,000, and the maximum length of imprisonment from three months to three years. Three years in prison for hate speech is longer than the punishment for assaulting a child.
These hate speech laws will turn New Zealand into a country where Kiwis won’t voice their opinions for fear of prosecution. That is not the type of country I want to live in.
Govt. has recently released for public consultation plan to change laws governing hate speech, making it a criminal offence. National and ACT parties are opposing this move. As a robust debate is healthy in any democracy, NewsViews initiated & approached National MP & Spokesperson for Justice, Simon Bridges to outline his party’s stand on this issue.
National Party encourages open debate and discussion as this leads to people being better informed and able to form their own opinions. Democracy relies on the ability of people to speak freely and in turn others are, of course, free to disagree.
This Government, unable to deliver on much else, appears to want to regulate New Zealanders in every facet of our lives. Not content with just telling us what car we are allowed to drive, they want to restrict and regulate the words that come out of our mouths.
I encourage all New Zealanders to read the six proposals for themselves because these laws reach much further than that.
Simon Bridges, National Party MP for Tauranga, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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