Hate speech laws are back in the headlines after Justice Minister Kiritapu Allan promised to have them passed before next year’s election - but it hasn’t been welcome news for everyone.

Strengthening Aotearoa’s hate speech laws was recommended two years ago, following the March 15 attacks. 

But proposed changes to those laws were stalled and still cause debate whenever they pop up in political discussions.

So, why the delays? And why all the tension? Re: News looks at the ins and outs of legislating hate speech. 

Why are hate speech laws being developed?

New hate speech laws were a recommendation from the Royal Commission into the Christchurch terror attack

The report said New Zealand’s current laws don’t provide ways to deal with hate speech and needed “fit for purpose laws and policies” for addressing hate speech and hate crimes.

The Government accepted those recommendations and said it would consult the public and other political parties about changing the laws.

What did the Government propose?

The Government released six proposals around new hate speech laws in June last year. 

These included:

  • Adjusting the language in the Human Rights Act to protect more people from hatred
  • Creating a new criminal offence under the Crimes Act regarding inciting hatred against a group
  • Introducing harsher penalties for hate speech, with a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

What did everybody think about that?

People had opinions.

Some said the proposed laws were a threat to free speech. 

Others said proving somebody intended to incite hatred is quite difficult

The Government itself seemed confused at times about what the proposed laws actually meant. 

Then-Justice Minister Kris Faafoi couldn’t say if millennials could be prosecuted over saying hateful things about baby boomers and house prices.

Then-National party leader Judith Collins asked Twitter if calling a middle-aged white woman a “Karen” would become a crime under the new law. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said no, the laws would not protect Collins from being called a “Karen”. Then constitutional lawyer and former Act MP Stephen Franks said calling somebody a “Karen” could fall under the hate speech proposals.

The proposed laws then appeared to stall following “strong” feedback during the consultation period.

So, why are the proposed laws back in the news now?

New-ish Justice Minister Kiritapu Allan reignited debate around hate speech laws when she told Q+A last Sunday she planned to announce further details about them before the end of 2022.

“I guarantee that I will be introducing a [hate speech] law that I intend to have concluded and put into law by the next election,” she said.

Her predecessor, Kris Faafoi, previously wouldn’t commit to passing the laws during the current Parliamentary term.

What does everybody think about that?

People still have opinions. 

ACT Party leader David Seymour immediately pledged to repeal any hate speech laws if elected to the next government.

National leader Christopher Luxon says his party doesn’t see a need for hate speech laws

What might the Government propose now?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she hopes to get broad support across Parliament for the proposed hate speech laws. 

Given the lively debate around the issue before, this suggests the proposals may look a little different to those originally floated last year. 

Ardern says the Government is “working on solutions to try and factor in the many different views” around the laws. 

But whatever comes of them, communities remain worried that hate speech is on the rise online. 

The country’s second hui on countering violent extremism took place in Auckland last week, with groups asking the Government to tackle that hate speech.

Chairperson of the Federation of Islamic Associations, Abdur Razzaq, says New Zealand Muslims are still experiencing extreme hatred.

He says: “Hate speech is a national security issue and we cannot turn it into political football.”

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