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Editor’s Note: Here below is Dr Bryce Edwards’ New Zealand Political Roundup – which analyses one prominent topic being debated in New Zealand and links to media coverage. You can sign up to NZ Political Roundup for free here.

Political Roundup: Labour’s sensible taihoa on hate speech law reform

The Government has delayed the introduction of its fraught hate speech law reforms, and there’s strong speculation they’ll remain on ice until after the next election. In fact, they may never see the light of day again.

This is a win for those who have argued that the reforms are likely to be counterproductive, impinging on human rights, including political freedoms and speech. Although the Government’s motivation might have been good in wanting to clamp down on what people can legally say, in practice the reforms were badly thought through and would have a chilling impact on political debate.

Famously both the Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern were unable to adequately defend or explain their new rules last year, which gave weight to the argument that they were dangerous and knee-jerk.

Opponents of the Government were easily able to paint a picture of the reforms as epitomising a “woke and authoritarian” impulse by Labour. This created an electoral risk for Ardern’s administration.

The fact that the voices of dissent crossed the political spectrum from left to right, meant Labour had real pause for thought about persisting with the reforms. Although there was very strong enthusiasm for action on hate speech within some sections of the Labour Party, it threatened to bog the Government down in a big culture war over the regulation of speech.

With last week’s 1News opinion poll giving Labour a wakeup call, there is now a clear impetus for Labour to re-evaluate the parts of their reform programme that might be unnecessary and unpopular. Clampdowns on speech and politics were the first to go.

Faafoi announced on Newshub’s The Nation on Saturday that the reforms would be delayed. He sensibly explained: “I think, as you would have seen from the public reaction to that, I think it showed us that much more care needed to be taken to make sure that, you know, I think, the intent is genuine to make sure that those laws land in the right place” and “I want to make sure we get that right”.

The mature stance from Faafoi continued this week, when he further explained the need to taihoa: “when you’re dealing with complex issues, delicate issues, and sensitive issues like this, you should take the appropriate amount of time to do that”. He added: “When you get that amount of feedback, and that kind of response, I think it’s inherent on us to make sure that we move through and with caution.”

In contrast, Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon is very unhappy with this decision, and he has accused the Government of “dragging its heels” on the reforms, saying this would allow hate to fester.

Foon complains that the Government is being too sensitive to political criticism, arguing Labour has delayed the reforms simply because it has been “politically too hard to deal with”. He argues it’s simply not good enough: “Yes, it is political to implement and make laws, but that is the job of the Government – to make difficult decisions.”

His office has always been one of the strongest campaigners for the change. Foon says to ignore the criticism and begin the process of implementing the original proposals. He has said: “Whether they like it or not, they got their feedback, and now it’s time to get on with it and get it on to the debating chamber, or select committee, and go through the process and adopt it, and make it law.”

Does Foon believe that more consultation with the community is necessary, or that the unintended consequences could be ironed out with further consideration? It seems not. He says: “We have had meetings galore; my suggestion is less meeting and more getting on with making Aotearoa a safer place.”

However, the Race Relations Commissioner has also shown he has a very poor grasp of the reforms. He denies that the reforms would impact on people’s rights, and he erroneously says: “It’s not about that. It’s about inciting violence from the speech that people make. That is the threshold”. He has elaborated that, “The bill is to stop incitement of violence and it is to stop another mosque attack like they’ve had”.

In fact, incitement to violence is already illegal, and these proposals are about a very different issue: incitement to hate. This concept has proved very nebulous to define. It caught out Faafoi and Ardern, who couldn’t explain what it meant last year, nor who would be prosecuted by the new law. The infamous example that Faafoi admitted was possible, was it could lead to prosecution of millennials hating boomers for the housing crisis.

It was concerning that a Justice Minister and Prime Minister had such poor understanding of their own legal reforms last year. And it’s worrying that the Race Relations Commission has such little understanding or concern for human rights.

The political parties have used other issues to justify the reforms. For example, this week in Parliament, Green MP Golriz Ghahraman argued on the anniversary of the March 15 Christchurch terrorist atrocity that it was the direct result of the lack of regulation of political speech in New Zealand. She also raised the recent protests outside Parliament as illustrating the need for a clampdown.

For Labour, a big justification for progresing hate speech law reforms has been the stated need to create and maintain “social cohesion”, which is a very worthy goal. However, it has become increasingly clear that the hate speech proposals themselves were a kneejerk reaction that would actually worsen social relations.

Although law reforms might seem like an easy fix for a government wanting runs on the board for progressive transformation of society, there is no getting around the fact that social cohesion arises more from the economic and material position of the citizenry. When public policy leads to inequality, poverty, homelessness, educational and health inadequacy, this drives the conditions for social division and conflict. It’s these areas Labour needs to urgently turn to.

BACKGROUND READING:

Bryce Edwards: Political Roundup – Progressive opposition will help kill off hate speech proposals
Bryce Edwards: Political Roundup – The confusing and concerning hate speech reforms
Graham Adams: Will Ardern back away from new “hate speech” laws?
Further reading on hate speech law reform

Thomas Manch (Stuff): Justice Minister Kris Faafoi won’t commit to passing hate speech and crime laws before election
Scott Palmer (Newshub): Justice Minister Kris Faafoi admits Government’s proposed hate speech laws are still not ready
Michael Neilson (Herald): Hate speech laws: Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon calls out Government over delays three years after March 15 attacks
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Thank you baby Jesus! Labour folds on passing Hate Speech fiasco this term
Johnny Blades (RNZ): More work needed on hate speech, as Parliament marks mosque attacks anniversary
RNZ: Race Relations Commissioner wants more done on hate speech
Laura Walters (Stuff): The internet is no safer three years on from the Christchurch terror attack
Martyn Bradbury: The Nation – Faafoi’s Hate Speech Law will end Labour
Free Speech Union (The Platform): Hypocrisy intolerable from those who champion Hate Speech laws
Other items of interest and importance today

David Farrar (Patreon): Exclusive: Kiwis wants Russian Ambassador expelled (paywalled)
A poll by Curia shows that 59% of New Zealanders support the notion (being pushed by National’s Gerry Brownlee) of expelling the Russian Ambassador to New Zealand due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

John Anthony (Stuff): Russian embassy’s Ukraine posts spark call for ambassador’s expulsion
Facebook posts by the local Russian Embassy about the war in Ukraine are fuelling stronger arguments about the need for the Government to get tough on the local Ambassador.

Peter Dunne: National’s new finance spokesperson
The former Cabinet Minister argues that the choice of Nicola Willis is an excellent one.

William Hewett (Newshub): Greens co-leader James Shaw doesn’t rule out working with National, says relationship with Christopher Luxon is ‘good’
The Green co-leader gives his verdict on the new National Party leader, noting that “he did a lot of work when he was in the private sector on climate change so we hope that work continues”.

Henry Cooke (Stuff): Green MP Elizabeth Kerekere upset with media release apology over breaking Covid-19 rules
There are tensions in the Green Party caucus, with conflict over how the party dealt with MP Elizabeth Kerekere recently breaking the Covid isolation rules. After the party had put out a media statement announcing her resignation as Covid spokesperson, she threatened to go to the media with her side of the story.

Oliver Lewis (BusinessDesk): Who says there’s no such thing as a free bus (paywalled)
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1News: ‘Extraordinary’ living costs rise not going away soon – economist
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Shane Te Pou (Herald): Proposed tax changes suggest National is out of ideas (paywalled)
Arguing against National’s tax cut proposal, Labour-aligned Te Pou argues for an alternative: “For around the same money that National plans to spend on major tax changes, they could give everyone a $7000 tax-free zone that would put a flat $735 a year in every worker’s pocket. Or a one-off cost-of-living payment of $500 to anyone earning less than $100,000”

Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Inland Revenue to make it harder for wealthy to sidestep 39 per cent top tax rate
“Dividend stripping” by the wealthy to avoid tax is in the sights of the IRD. Research has also shown that the richest 350 New Zealanders “used or controlled a total of 8468 companies and 1867 trusts.”

Daniel Smith (Stuff): ‘Party’s over’ says ANZ chief economist Sharon Zollner
A leading bank economist has given a warning of a grim economic forecast for the year ahead.

Georgina Campbell (Herald): A Capital Letter: The Covid elimination strategy is like a bad breakup we need to get over (paywalled)
The Herald’s Wellington correspondent sparked a social media debate and backlash yesterday for this column looking at the impact of Covid on hospitality in the Capital.

Peter Dunne (Newsroom): This Labour government has been neither aspirational nor transformative (paywalled)
According to Peter Dunne, “This is New Zealand’s most conservative government of recent times. Not so much in terms of its political ideology, but more in the way it does things.” And this doesn’t appear likely to change – its reforms in media, housing, transparency of government – are barely even aspirational.

Herald: Editorial: Three Waters co-governance still to be properly explained (paywalled)
The Herald calls for debate on the proposal that iwi take half the control of water entities, arguing “There may be a compelling case to extend these [Treaty] principles into control of our water supply and disposal but we simply haven’t seen it.”

Robert Hamlin (The Conversation): Turning supermarkets into public utilities could be the solution to New Zealand’s grocery problem
A University of Otago marketing expert argues that a “fairer supermarket sector could be achieved if the industry power players were governed as regulated public utilities, much like power and water”.

John Minto (Daily Blog): When will the Palestinian and West Papuan flags fly over New Zealand’s Parliament?
A decision has been made to fly the Ukraine flag at Parliament, but what about the flags of other nations under siege?

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