Paul Hunt of the HRC — last year ACT leader David Seymour demanded he be sacked.

by Karl du Fresne

The Human Rights Commission says it’s “very disappointing” that the government isn’t going ahead with law changes that would curb New Zealanders’ right to free speech.

Let me repeat that, just in case you didn’t get the irony. An agency ostensibly set up to protect our rights is upset that the government isn’t introducing new laws that would restrict them. What better evidence could there be of the commission’s highly selective interpretation – you might say perversion – of its own name?

The commission says it’s frustrated that planned amendments to the Human Rights Act won’t go as far as it would like. As it stands, the law quite properly makes it unlawful to incite ill-will or hostility against people on the basis of their race, colour, or national or ethnic origins. The commission wanted these protections extended to “other groups who are vulnerable to harmful speech, such as women, disabled people, and the rainbow community”.

Women? Really?? They make up half the population. There are now more of them in Parliament than there are men. They occupy the three most powerful positions in the country. Does the HRC really expect us to believe they are so vulnerable to “harmful” speech that they warrant special statutory protection? Come to that, couldn’t the same argument be made in respect of men – especially those who feel picked on by being disparaged as male, stale and pale? If so, don’t the two cancel each other out?

And note the “such as” in the commission’s statement. This leaves room for other groups – transgender people, for argument’s sake, though for the life of me I can’t imagine why I would choose them as an example – to also be protected against statements that might offend them. Who knows where the list of protected groups could end? It could be extended ad infinitum as political whim dictates. But Justice Minister Kiri Allan, pulling back from Labour’s original sweeping but vaguely defined proposals (and no doubt taking note of mounting public opposition), now says protection will be extended only to religious groups.

This is a nod to the royal commission that investigated the Christchurch mosque massacres and recommended tougher hate speech laws, no doubt with a view to protecting Muslims – a worthy aim but an ineffectual one, given there’s no evidence that the absence of such laws was a factor in the atrocity.

The government’s retreat from its original intention is clearly a blow and a setback to the HRC, which is so obsessed with identity politics and the supposed menace of hate speech that it completely ignores its bigger responsibility to protect New Zealanders’ freedom of expression. The commission is silent on this most crucial of democratic rights, despite it being enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ratified by New Zealand in 1978) and our own Bill of Rights Act. 

You’d think the commission’s own name was a bit of a giveaway, but no; its interpretation of the phrase “human rights” is selective, self-serving and unfailingly woke. Rather than concern itself with upholding and promoting New Zealanders’ rights generally, it directs its energies toward protecting us from racism, islamophobia, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia and white supremacy. These endanger all of us, according to chief human rights pooh-bah Paul Hunt, arguably the most useless bureaucrat on the government’s payroll (in fact worse than useless, since the effect of his job, if not its purpose, is to promote a sense of division and drive wedges into the community).

To put it another way, the commission thinks it’s okay in a democracy to sacrifice the free-speech rights of the majority in order to protect supposedly vulnerable minority groups. It justifies this by arguing that restrictions on speech are needed to counter “violent extremism”. This is worryingly similar to the spurious pretexts – such as public order and public safety – routinely cited by authoritarian regimes that want to control what people think and say. Iran and Xi Jinping’s China come to mind.

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