David Seymour’s proposal to abolish the Human Rights Commission reflects widespread suspicion that is has become a taxpayer-funded nest for people plotting to end the freedoms it was established to protect. As Janet Albrechtsen explained last week in The Australian, the same problem afflicts Australia. Instead of defending free speech the Australian Human Rights Commission has been among the institutions trying to punish people who challenge politically correct views.
The Australian is behind a strict pay-wall, so Janet has authorised the Free Speech Coalition to reproduce her article below. Unfortunately we cannot reproduce the long list of comments the article attracted.
Janet is a highly qualified lawyer but is best known for her journalism, having been a published commentator in most of Australia’s quality news media.
Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has been described as a handbook for difficult times. In a week that marks its publication 70 years ago, please open the handbook for some guidance, for these difficult times.
Last week Australian Federal Police officers rifled through the home of a News Corp journalist and the offices of ABC journalists. Nothing flashy, no brown-shirted stormtroopers kicking in doors. Just a team of polite civil servants, ordering sandwiches and coffee while they rummaged through homes and workplaces, armed with slippery words in laws to justify them infringing our freedoms.
Outraged journalists said it was chilling. Alas, many of these same journalists have not been doing their job if they haven’t noticed this is how free speech is silenced today. In the past decade a growing cadre of civil servants, from human rights commissioners to university vie-chancellors, all good mannered, nicely dressed people have used crafty works in laws and other instruments to curb out most fundamental right to speak freely.
Many of the same journalists who, last week, held up signs for the cameras saying that it is not a crime to be a journalist having not raised so much as an eyebrow about other dismally illiberal events. That makes them complicit in a stifling culture that gave rise to last week’s AFP raids. After all, a free press is only one part of our basic right to speak freely. If you don’t defend the latter, expect to lose the former soon enough.
Orwell warned us to watch out for New Speak, Thought Police and the Ministry of Truth; their common denominators is slippery language to control speech in order to control how people think. So it came to pass. More than 10 years ago, the Alberta Human Rights Commission in Canada investigated a complaint brought against commentator Ezra Levant for publishing the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. The complaint was dropped, but not before a bureaucrat questioned Levan about his intention in publishing the cartoons.
Levant described it like this: “No six-foot brown shirt here, no police cell at midnight. Just Shirlene McGovern, an amiable enough bureaucrat, casually asking me about my politcal thoughts, on behalf of the government of Alberta. And she’ll write up a report about is and recommend that the government do this or that to me.
“I had half-expected a combative, missionary-style interrogator. I found, instead, a limp clerk who was just punching the clock … In a way, that’s more terrifying,” he wrote about the process that reminded him of Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil.
While a handful of journalists in Australia recognised the early danger signs, many of those outraged by last week’s AFP raids showed little interest. Even when the same thing happened here a few years later, they fell silent.
In 2011, Andrew Bolt was prosecuted under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act for causing offence by pointing out the foibles of claiming indigenous ancestry. In passing, the judge frowned over the tone of his writing. The Australian Human Rights Commission used the same laws to investigate The Australian’s Bill Leak in 2016 for his powerful cartoon about the complex issues of individual responsibility and the dismal plight of indigenous people. Liberal MP Julian Leeser once said of the UN Human Rights Council: “We read Orwell as a warning; they read Orwell as a textbook.” His observation applies equally to the AHRC: as race commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane encouraged complaints to come forward over Leak’s cartoon.
The AHRC toyed with students from Queensland University of Technology too after they made innocuous comments on Facebook when they were kicked out of an indigenous-only computer lab. One student wrote: “QUT stopping segregation with segregation.” What part of that was untrue? Yet it took two years of complaints, investigations, interviews and mounting legal bills before the complaint was thrown out. And the chilling effect of those laws remains intact.
Some of us have reported extensively on the creeping, and creepy, mission of the AHRC. It needs to be renamed; its name is an insult to genuine human rights. And these dismal events need to be laid out, over and over again, until we defeat an illiberal culture that is strangling freedom of expression, the single most important piece of machinery that drives a robust marketplace of ideas. It is the centrifugal force of Western progress.
Last year, physics professor Peter Ridd was sacked by James Cook University for raising questions about the quality of climate research by some of his colleagues. The university used a code of conduct and claims of “collegial behavior” to get him off campus. ABC HQ showed no interest in asking why the university didn’t encourage a debate about Ridd’s claims or even why it shut him down.
During the federal election, the ABC’s senior journalists showed no interest when Greens leader Richard Di Natale said he wanted hate speech laws to regulate the media to hold the likes of Bolt, Alan Jones and Chris Kenny to account. This proposal would kill a free, independent media in Australia. Hate speech, as defined by the like of Di Natale, will be defined by the media they hate. Orwell warned us about this, too. The ABC gave Di Natale a free pass.
There was no ABC outrage, only nonchalance, when the Gillard government proposed an Orwellian regime of government oversight to make the media “balanced” and “accountable”. As James Paterson, now a Liberal senator, wrote then: “The last time that media outlets were subject to press licensing in the English-speaking world was 1693. What was too tyrannical for the English in the time of William and Mary is apparently acceptable in 21st-century Australia.”
Note the manipulation of subjective language to curb free speech: the AFP relies on “national security” to search a journalist’s underwear drawer, the Gillard government wanted to legislate for a “balance” and “accountable” media, 18C prohibits people saying things that “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate”, the Greens want to outlaw “hate speech”, and a university relied on “collegial behavior”.
It is critical that we constantly check where society, governments and bureaucracies draw lines to restrict free speech. Journalists want buffer zones around themselves to protect a free press. Fair enough. But where the heck they been when it comes to defending the rights of other Australians to speak freely?
High-profile hosts at the ABC paid taxpayers to report and comment on this country should be been at the frontline, championing out rights to speak, to draw and to debate freely. As Canadian commentator Mark Steyn famously said about free speech, it is not a left-right thing. It is a free-unfree thing. And therein lies the curse of the modern left: a pusillanimous attitude towards a core piece of intellectual machinery necessary in a healthy democracy.
By Janet Albrechtsen
Opinion columnist for the Australian
With permission from Stuff's editors --
Selected parts of an Opinion piece by Damien Grant, contributor to Stuff and supporter of the Free Speech Coalition
"If you need evidence of why governments should not be trusted with regulating social media companies you only need to flick through the twenty four page advertorial masquerading as a report produced by the freshly minted Helen Clark Foundation last week."
"It isn't a long read, being mostly stock photos and images of Clark and Ardern, but its message is clear: new regulations are needed to prevent online hate speech in order to combat terrorism."
"Which may strike some readers as odd, as the west has been subjected to decades of terrorism that wasn't instigated by Neo-Nazis nor transphobes."
"Last year, Mark Zuckerberg outlined his view before the US Congress. "I think part of the challenge with regulation in general is that when you add more rules that companies need to follow, that's something that a larger company like ours inherently just has the resources to go do, and that might just be harder for a smaller company getting started to be able to comply with."
"The Facebook chief executive is exactly right. Regulation provides barriers to entry. Once the new rules are in place no one will be starting a new social media company in their dorm room."
You can read the whole of the article on Stuff.
By Dane Giraud
It seems incredible now but there was a time when nearly every New Zealand suburb had a beautiful movie theatre. They could be rather baroque affairs too, with mezzanine levels and carpet on the walls. My locals were “The Starlight” in Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe, where I saw “Jaws”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (in possibly the greatest double-feature ever), “Rocky’s 2, 3 & 4” and “Return of The Jedi”. The first “Rocky” I saw at the “Orpheus” on Station Rd, Otahuhu, on a rare day out with my father.
The majestic Orpheus became a porn cinema in its waning years on the way to its final insult – an evangelical church. My friends and I, aged about 13 and wanting in on the action, purchased tweed jackets from the local Salvation Army store that, for some reason, we thought would suitably age us. We needn’t have made the effort. The old man working the ticket stall took one look at me and the moth-eaten sleeves extending well beyond my pointer finger, before taking my $5 and making me promise aloud I’d “shut my eyes during all the dirty bits”.
On the second level, entering the mezz, there was wall to wall posters of past films that had screened at the cinema. An “A Clockwork Orange” poster, with the iconic design of chief Droog Alex stepping through the “A” leading with a blade, struck me as instantly iconic, but what really intrigued me was the “R20” label at the bottom of it. As soon as I had identified the film as a forbidden fruit, my young mind seized on it.
I had to see it.
I developed an obsession, the first of many I would have, with censored material. I read every scrap of information on both the film and Kubrick I could find, staring at publicity stills in books for library hours, hoping they’d suddenly come to life and reveal the film’s delights.
I finally saw the film and it didn’t disappoint. It also didn’t seem to impact me negatively. At least, not in the way “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” did. I could smell the death in that film emanating off the Beta-tape. The character of “Leatherface” was so grotesque and troubling that he and his saw visited me every night for close on a year. The film traumatized me to the point that I thought I may even be having a nervous breakdown. And then I did it to myself all over again with the “Friday the 13th“ series.
The odd thing about horror films is that they are an adult product that targets children. This is where their impact is maximized, in the minds of people who could buy the possibility of a Freddy Kruger. As for the harm they can inflict upon young eyes, what if I wanted to be harmed? What if that was the point? What if I wanted to be pushed to my limit by the confronting imagery? What if I wanted to stare into the abyss? From memory, something like 6 or 8 murders happened in my small community (Otahuhu) growing up, including the murder-suicide of a solo mother and her two beautiful children I went to school with. Horror was real, and all around us in economically-deprived South Auckland. We couldn’t avoid it, so why not stare it down? A horror film, in this context, seemed the safest environment to train ourselves for the inevitable. A censor’s label, therefore, remains for me a bit of a head-scratch, as it was often the sole reason my friends and I would select, rather than avoid, a magazine or film.
There’s no doubt an evolutionary and developmental component to getting around censorship. To assert one’s independence can mean assuming the identity you know your parents, or wider society, will disapprove of the most. Shep Gordon, the long-time manager of “Alice Cooper” spent years seeking out the gimmick that would make parents hate his client. Being hated by the old was to be loved by the young, and, in this context, to be censored was a coup. On a state level, what power deems intolerable is instantly made more attractive to certain quarters of society, simply by the decree.
Censorship is an enticement, always has been, and always will be. We imbue art and politics with a magnetism they often don’t deserve when we ban them, making their pursuit irresistible, a rite of passage even, for the young.
Knowing this, would the stain on humanity responsible for the atrocity in Christchurch be disappointed to know his manifesto is now banned in NZ?
Or would he consider the NZ government in his employ?
Since at least 2017, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission has sought to broaden the definition of hate speech, seeing that existing laws had been "unable to be utilized in respect of religious hate speech directed at Muslim New Zealanders, who, for the most part, belong to a variety of ethnic minority communities in New Zealand”.
In the wake of the Christchurch terror attacks, Justice Minister Andrew Little has now pledged to work alongside the HRC to “fast-track” (a term you never want to hear when freedoms are at stake) a widespread review that would include deciding if hate speech (including the aforementioned religious hate speech) should be established as its own separate offense.
It was interesting (and potentially telling, regarding the HRC’s unhelpful ideological bent) that Jews weren’t mentioned in the 2017 HRC text considering how vulnerable we currently are to demonization from both the Hard-Left and Right. Internationally, more than 50% of the hate crimes recorded against a religious group are directed at Jews, who often make up less than 1% of a country’s population.Read more
By Dane Giraud -
The anti-speech mob ignore a simple fact; there is incredible diversity within minority groups. Therefore, we must keep society as open and as liberal as possible. The idea that our right to free speech must be tested against “competing rights” comes out of a worldview that minority rights conflict with that of the majority, when the most contentious battles far often happen within minority groups.
The UN Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) preamble recognizes that humans have an “inherent dignity” (women who sleep with me being a notable exception) and “equal and inalienable rights”. So, what’s with the bunk peddled by so many now that “rights” aren’t inalienable and that some rights are more equal than others?
We must give up the right to freedom of opinion and expression, because, for example, the “right to dignity” is more important (never mind that dignity is not a UNDHR right). If we allow for this “trade-off” we’re giving the state the power, not just to take away our freedoms and a fundamental right to express ourselves, but to “define” minority groups by deciding upon limits on how we can and can’t be spoken about, even potentially by ourselves! What constitutes a suitably “Jewish” Jew could end up defined by the state. You don’t believe me? Follow a few liberal Muslim reformers on Twitter, then imagine their detractors, many of whom are non-Muslim, having free rein to write speech laws.
But free speech can erode the right to “life, liberty and security”? Security and its synonym, “safety”, have developed into somewhat nebulous and politicized terms today, and their usage has often proven brazenly hypocritical. When Far-Right political activist Lauren Southern and Racial IQ peddler Stefan Molyneux came to New Zealand to give some public talks, many were concerned about the potential violence they would encourage against members of our Muslim community. Yet, anti-Israel protests are often completely gratuitous displays, full of racist dog whistles and thoroughly dodgy rhetoric. Hezbollah flags flew in Aotea square only weeks before Auckland Mayor Phil Goff helped create the furor around Southern and Molyneux. Hezbollah is a group that openly calls for genocide, yet this didn’t seem to register as a safety issue for many of the prominent commentators voicing concern over the Canadian speakers. Why are calls for genocide against Jews not as outrageous as anti-Muslim speech? The fact is many calling for speech restrictions also have a dog in the anti-Israel fight (An Alsatian perhaps?) meaning free speech is the only way to guarantee any sort of consistency.
Not that I would be happy to see such protests suppressed. While I don’t share their views, some Jews are anti-Israel. Vehemently so at times. And while the anti-Israel movement often points to these Jews as a type of proof for their own legitimacy, their inclusion doesn’t say much beyond the fact that Jews, like all groups, minority or otherwise, are incredibly diverse.
If you accept this fact, why should we indulge the idea of a contest where free expression is pitted against other “rights” when we couldn’t possibly hope to fairly determine unified interests without first dismissing a range of voices within minority communities? Nor, for that matter, could we even properly settle on interpretations of these “rights” within groups. At my shul we’re yet to settle on how to best set up the picnic tables!
Experts, I hear you say. Experts will decide for us!
The idea that any contest between free speech and competing rights would be a cool-headed and mature process is fanciful. We cannot ignore that we are only even talking about speech restrictions again, not due to any spikes in racism or attacks on minority groups, but because a new illiberal fringe seeks to censor those they view as the opposition. If we could guarantee that identitarians would have no place at the table, that might be somewhat consoling.
But this is their crisis.
It’s their table.
Here is the problem — the inescapable and irredeemable problem — of contemporary identity politics: it is fitting groups around a series of narratives to create a singular vision of our people-hood's. And while individual groups have common historical events and upheavals and issues unique to their experience, it hasn’t meant that the people themselves have homogenized into a cohesive single organism.
No group does.
No group can.
For me the focus on minority rights should start with a sensitivity to the struggles of minorities within minority groups. For these groups protection relies on freedom of expression. It’s conservative voices within minority groups that tend to lobby for speech restrictions, and not out of fear, but to establish their views as what the majority should consider mainstream.
Allowing the government to define what can and can’t be said about us is an illiberal imposition that denies members of minority groups our individualism, and would instantly throw minorities within minorities, some of the most vulnerable people in our societies, under the bus.
This opinion piece appeared on Medium.com
By Chris Trotter -
HOW SHOULD New Zealand respond to the Christchurch Mosque Shootings? What should the Government do? A powerful consensus has formed behind the Prime Minister’s call for gun control. Subsequent initiatives may not, however, be so universally affirmed. Voices are already being raised in favour of restricting the public expression of “harmful” ideas. Clearly, the question of what does, and does not, constitute “harm” is going to be hotly contested. The national unity forged out of shock, grief, compassion and solidarity, is unlikely to survive any attempt to aggressively limit free speech in New Zealand.
Already, the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, has indicated his intention to resist strongly any attempt to extend the limitations on citizens’ freedom of expression. This should give Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern serious pause. A straight Left/Right battle over “hate speech” would place her principal coalition partner, NZ First, in an impossible position. Already in a parlous situation, poll-wise, aligning itself with what its electoral base would almost certainly construe as weaponised political correctness would undoubtedly compromise still further NZ First’s chances of making it back to Parliament.
Not that the Prime Minister’s worries are located exclusively on the right. Already, she is reported to be casting anxious glances to her left. The radical wing of the Green Party is in the process of staking out an aggressively uncompromising position on hate speech. This has earned them much respect on Twitter, but it is unclear how favourably the hard-line stance of Marama Davidson and Golriz Ghahraman is being be received by the broader electorate. Labour will be keen to avoid the perception that they are being led into the ideological long grass by its “woke” allies.
The Labour Party’s other big concern should be the extent to which a free speech fight will be seized upon by the Far Right as a Hades-sent opportunity to get back in the game. Being seen to take a stand for the nation’s traditional political values will win their more respectable avatars all sorts of useful invitations to join the genuine defenders of liberty on a multitude of respectable media platforms.
As the theme-song from the TV series “The Wire” puts it: “You gotta keep the Devil way down in the hole”. Transforming the free speech issue into a vicious Left/Right knife-fight would be a particularly effective way of hauling the Devil all the way up to the surface.
A less divisive and potentially much more productive course of action would be to put this country’s already existing limitations on hate speech to the test. Section 61 of The Human Rights Act (1993) clearly prohibits: “matter or words likely to excite hostility against or bring into contempt any group of persons in or who may be coming to New Zealand on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins of that group of persons.”
A more proactive Human Rights Commission, by allowing the courts to flesh out the purposes – as well as the limitations – of Section 61 of the Act, could establish with much more clarity what it is – and is not – permissible to communicate about race and identity in New Zealand.
More controversial, but in light of the Christchurch Mosque Shootings, almost certainly worth debating, would be a proposal to prohibit religious vilification. Any such measure would, however, need to be very tightly circumscribed in terms of its scope. Vilification must not, under any circumstances, be construed to mean that any particular system of religious belief can be rendered legally immune from all forms of criticism and/or challenge. Such legislation should restrict its application exclusively to statements and/or images communicated with the clear intention of inflicting emotional pain and humiliation on believers.
The key question posed to New Zealand by the awful events of Friday, 15 March 2019 is the degree to which it is possible to mount an effective defence against terrorist violence.
The proposition being advanced by Davidson, Ghahraman, and many others on the left, is that terrorist acts are the by-products of societies steeped in racism and xenophobia: that they constitute merely the awful apex of a much larger pyramid of prejudice. By discouraging the expression of the milder prejudices embedded at the base of this grim pyramid, they argue, their transmission upwards to damaged individuals like the Christchurch shooter can be interrupted, and lives saved.
The problem with this argument is that the level of intervention in the lives of casual racists and xenophobes required to make such a regime effective would, almost certainly, engender considerably more resentment and hatred than it was intended to suppress. Not only would racism and xenophobia not disappear, but the promoters and enforcers of the state’s anti-racist and anti-xenophobic policies would find themselves added to the terrorists’ target list. It should not be forgotten that the Norwegian white supremacist terrorist, Anders Breivik, did not target Muslim immigrants directly, but the young Labour Party members he held responsible for Norway’s multicultural policies.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to accept about societies such as our own is that there is within them an irreducible quantum of malicious prejudice. No matter how much energy is devoted to persuading our fellow citizens to embrace their fellow citizens, there will always be some for whom the messages of love and respect are interpreted perversely as threats to themselves and their culture.
To stem the flow of reinforcing information to such individuals, we would not only have to censor the news media and shut down the Internet, but also close every library in the country. Anders Breivik and the Christchurch shooter drew their inspiration from the annals of Western history: from the Crusades and the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into southern and eastern Europe. History itself would have to be suppressed – along with huge chunks of the Western cultural canon. The game is simply not worth the candle.
What we can do, is use the legislation already on the statute books to curtail the expression of sentiments intended to inflict harm. New Zealanders can thus be made more clearly aware of the distinctions to be drawn between the fair and reasonable expression of political and religious opinion, and communication intended to achieve no higher purpose than gratuitous vilification and insult.
Will a proactive Human Rights Commission, dedicated to enforcing Section 61 of the Human Rights Act, prevent another massacre? Sadly, no, it won’t. Will it make New Zealand a better country to live in? Yes, it will.
So, let’s do that.
Next week, New Zealand is expected to sign the United Nations’ Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. While it is non-binding, the protocol could still damage New Zealanders’ right to free speech and debate.
The Free Speech Coalition is indifferent on immigration policy matters; reasonable people can agree to disagree. However, the Government should not be signing an agreement that says it will seek to restrict free speech on immigration matters.
Objective 17 of the Compact looks to prevent critical speech of immigration policies in an attempt to combat xenophobia and racism. The problem with this is that many legitimate and genuine concerns about immigration are framed as ‘racist’ by some people. The Compact says that governments should defund media which report “intolerant” views. It goes further and says they should be denied “support”, which seems to mean the government should interfere with private funding. Almost any unwelcome truth can be termed “intolerant”, so the Compact will be a tool to suppress New Zealanders speaking their minds.
The Compact encourages signatory nations to "enact, implement or maintain legislation that penalizes hate crimes...". The problem here is there is that common definitions of "hate crime" may extend to so called "hate speech" which can often mean "hearing truths we hate". The Compact will therefore support interpretations of existing law that give authorities the power to suppress unpopular opinions and be used to claim that we must get new law to restrict unwelcome discussion of politically awkward or embarrassing information. The Compact will be used to claim that we must have such law to retain international respectability
Probably well-intentioned hate speech laws have been implemented in Sweden, Britain, and France. As they have worked out citizens have been prosecuted for merely speaking their mind or highlighting issues the authorities would rather not debate, or have debated.
FSC supports out traditional law against incitement of violence. The Compact says we must seek to go much further. FSC says New Zealand must remain free to have open frank debate about immigration. The Compact says the state should strongly promote one side of the argument and gag the other.
It is claimed that we should not worry because the Compact is not binding, only aspirational. It should not be an aspiration of New Zealand to align with forces that threaten free speech. Immigration is a core issue for nation states. In democracies like ours, there is a legitimate expectation that all sides can be heard on this complicated issue. This agreement says the state’s powers and resources should weigh in on one side, against the other.
The compact threatens the independence of our fourth estate. The Compact says the state must encourage ‘independent’ and ‘objective reporting’ on migration issues. It is easy to fear the opposite intention in a country where the media are presently independent without any coercive restrictions on objectivity. The Compact seems to mean the opposite. It calls for ‘sensitising’ and ‘educating’ reporters on terminology and appropriate message. State sanitising the fourth estate is dangerous to democracy, and not compatible with a free society.
The provisions seems to seek deplatforming of views inconsistent with the Compact’s view of objectivity, by defunding outlets which convey them. Given the pervasive role of government in our society, if the Compact justifies discrimination by all state connected advertisers against outlets that convey the side of a debate that the government considers to be not objective or helpful or tolerant, that could dramatically affect New Zealanders’ practical ability to seek and to impart views and information. Our current broadcasting regulations require “balance”. Will they be amended or reinterpreted to reflect a view that it need not extend to views unwelcome to the United Nations on immigration and immigrants?
The compact is legally non-binding but that does not mean it has no effect. The New Zealand judiciary often interprets New Zealand laws in light the non-binding treaties our Government has signed. We should not sign up to agreements if we do not intend to honour their spirit. And this compact includes provision for stifling free expression.
Twenty countries have already rejected the Compact, including Australia and the United States. The New Zealand Government should do the same.
Patrick Corish is a coordinator at the Free Speech Coalition - a bipartisan group protecting and promoting the rights of free speech in New Zealand.
Here is a good analysis written by the Free Speech Coalition's own David Farrar on Stuart McCutcheon's comments on the principles of free speech in the university environment in New Zealand.