Speaking freely

Simon Bridges
National Party MP

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right that has been preserved in New Zealand and liberal democracies worldwide.

Sadly, this could be about to change, with Labour proposing to regulate our free speech laws.

While the government itself isn’t clear about how these laws will work in practice - with the Prime Minister and Justice Minister giving conflicting messages and unable to give hypothetical examples - what we do know is the bar for prosecuting hate speech will be lowered to capture speech that stirs up or normalises hatred by being insulting.

It’s also proposed increased penalties for hate speech, with the maximum fine to go from $7000 to $50,000, while the maximum length of imprisonment will go from three months to three years. Three years imprisonment for hate speech is longer than the punishment for assaulting a child.

Speech that incites violence is already, quite rightly, illegal in New Zealand, but the Prime Minister is claiming these draconian law changes will fill a void in this area.

National condemns vile speech intended to insult, but there’s a huge leap from condemning it to criminalising it.

This is more about control than anything else. Labour claims the changes are in response to the horrific events of March 15, 2019 in Christchurch, but there’s no evidence to show these laws would’ve prevented the massacre.

All these laws will do is turn New Zealand into a country where Kiwis won’t voice their opinions for fear of prosecution. This is not the kind of country I want to live in.

National has always supported free speech, open debate and discussion. Our view is 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 every facet of our lives - from what cars we can drive through to what we can say.

I encourage you to read the six proposals for yourselves, because these laws reach much further than these.


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