Freedom after Speech?



by Amy Brooke


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I recall a very fine lawyer, New Zealand’s most highly regarded QC, once saying that no law should ever be passed unless it was absolutely necessary. Apparently nobody has pointed this out to Jacinda Ardern. In the minds now of many, the plethora of legislation already passed under her leadership and the proposed inflictions she feels impelled to add to these, point in a very obvious direction. So overwhelmingly damaging will be her legacy that the government which succeeds her coalition will find it virtually impossible to reverse much of the harm caused to this once-democracy. That she is unaware of this is highly unlikely.

It’s long been recognised that leaders of a socialist or communist government prioritise their allegiance to the movement, rather than to the citizens of a country. The history of the 20th century alone reminds us how often – in the name of ‘the people’ – people were put up against a wall and shot. Pol Pot, North Korea, China – and what is now happening in Hong Kong – warn us how much it has been the leaders throughout history, their damaging agenda, their one-eyed devotion to ‘the cause’ – which have wreaked incalculable damage on their people.

The flashback to a statement of our present virtual ruler in March 2020, before the lockdowns, gives a disturbing insight into Ardern’s thinking when commenting on supposed conspiracy theories on social media. Her messianic message to the public, ‘We will continue to be your single source of truth’, even raised questions about her mental health. It reminded many of an answer given over two thousand years ago by someone with a far superior claim to be the single source of truth – one that resonates down through the centuries.

Possible delusions of infallibility held by our Prime Minister would explain a lot, as she aims to bulldoze through an ongoing series of laws waging virtual war against the conservative majority in this country, our long established democratic practices, and our very freedoms. In 2020, her government hastily passed the Covid-19 Public Health Response allowing police to search private property without a warrant if it was believed people were breaching Covid restrictions. The Covid-19 Response Minister suggested the government would have to ‘go out and find’ any New Zealanders who were unvaccinated. We recall Ardern’s protégé, Nahnia Mahuta, disgracefully presiding over the attack on ratepayers’ established rights to mount referenda to prevent councils establishing racist Maori wards. Labour abused the process of urgency in parliament to get the law changed.

On it goes, with the ominous attack on our freedoms of speech – the new proposed hate speech legislation – an ill-defined crime. A correspondent rightly points out that punishments will be harsher than for 80 per cent of the violent crimes committed in New Zealand. Because there is no real definition of hate speech, it has also been pointed out that if one of the ever-present groups of those queueing to be offended, or to take umbrage at others’ opinions, launches a complaint against an individual, his or her life could then be made ‘a costly misery’. Months, even years could pass while the police decide whether or not to prosecute. Further months or years might well pass before the defendant reaches the courts. The problem is compounded by the fact we now have perceivedly activist judges. Moreover, the government plans to drastically increase punishments for breaches of this new law. Three months in prison and a $7,000 fine would change to three years in prison – and a fine of $50,000.

This is Orwellian territory, an open sesame for grudge-bearing activists to complain, to simply make trouble for personal enemies, or individuals and media commentators that they dislike. It is underpinned by a strong intent to very much stifle free speech, and, essentially, freedom of thought. Its anti-democratic intent is to contribute to a cowed and intimidated society.

Self-censorship is on the way. And given that those behind the move to ‘reform’ our present hate speech legislation routinely use the inauthentic Aotearoa to replace our time-honoured name, and cannot be unaware that New Zealanders have overwhelmingly rejected this proposal, there is little doubt of the politicised agenda behind all this.

What is envisaged is for a complaint to be made to the Human Rights Commission when an individual thinks someone has done something that section 61 says is against the law. The person complaining about any speech will not need to belong to the group it was aimed towards. What fun this is going to be for the disaffected, even if the bars are supposedly set high to discourage frivolous accusations. Proposed new grounds of discrimination in the Human Rights Act will embrace trans, gender-diverse and intersex people.

In 2017, the police reportedly decided not to prosecute an Auckland pastor for what were described as extreme anti-gay remarks. If similar comments are made once the law is changed, he could conceivably face prosecution. But what about undoubtedly biological males claiming to be women? Will they not be able to be prevented from using women’s and girls’ changing rooms at a swimming pool, for example? Could complaining about behaviour which could intimidate women, offend against their sense of modesty and disturb or shock young children now be claimed as discriminatory? Obviously, yes.

And what about what could end up being an own goal for Ardern’s government? It will now be against the law ‘to use, publish, broadcast or distribute written matter or use words… likely to incite hostility or bring into contempt any group on the basis of their colour, race, or ethnic or national origins’. However, her government’s now ongoing racially divisive legislation and its promotion of superior rights and funding for those of part-Maori inheritance is certainly promoting discrimination – and inevitably inciting hostility.

So much for our hard-won freedoms. But what about the reminder from another once-leader?

‘There is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech.’ – Idi Amin

Amy Brooke is a contributor to elocal Magazine.


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