(First published in The Dominion Post and on Stuff.co.nz, May 2.)
We’ve finally been properly introduced to the man who will shape our human rights policy for the next few years, and who will almost certainly seek to tighten the boundaries around what New Zealanders can legally say.
British academic Paul Hunt was appointed as Chief Human Rights Commissioner last October but to my knowledge, hadn’t been wheeled out for public inspection until Kim Hill interviewed him on RNZ National last Saturday.
It wasn’t a reassuring interview. Hunt’s responses to Hill’s questions served only to confirm suspicions that he will push for tougher hate speech laws that could erode the right to freedom of expression.
He talked at length about wanting a respectful and inclusive debate about free speech, but at the end of the interview many listeners would have been left with the impression that he already had firm ideas about what the outcome should be.
Hunt failed to explain why the Christchurch mosque massacres had suddenly made it imperative that we review the laws governing speech. To put it another way, he didn’t satisfactorily answer Hill’s question about how tougher hate speech laws might have averted the atrocity.
The truth is that they almost certainly wouldn’t have. But the massacres gave human rights activists – and we can include Hunt in that category – a perfect opportunity to generate a moral panic. The objective is to stampede politicians into making changes for which there is no demonstrated need.
The push for tighter hate speech laws should be seen as an opportunistic and ideologically driven exploitation of a tragedy. The momentum is coming not from the Christchurch Muslim community, but from left-wing activists and a politicised, media-savvy faction of New Zealand Muslims who purport to speak for all their co-religionists.
As an aside, you might well wonder why the supposedly liberal Left so fervently champions the interests of a religion that, in its more dogmatic forms, oppresses women and persecutes homosexuals.
Equally contradictory is the neo-Marxist Left’s habit of condemning even the most reasoned criticism of Muslim practice and belief as Islamophobic, while simultaneously seizing every opportunity to deride Christianity (the name Israel Folau comes to mind). Don’t hold your breath waiting for the neo-Marxists to explain these inconsistencies.
But back to Hunt. The question posed in my last column remains: is an English human rights careerist, albeit one who apparently also has New Zealand citizenship, the right person to be in charge of the Human Rights Commission?
Hunt comes from a political and cultural milieu far removed from ours. It grates when I see this newcomer writing about “our” multicultural values, or hear him telling Hill that “we” New Zealanders are very used to striking a balance between competing rights.
Securing a highly influential public position doesn’t make Hunt one of us. It doesn’t magically endow with him an intuitive knowledge of how New Zealand society functions.
On that note, readers may recall that I sought information from Justice Minister Andrew Little on the appointment process. Among other things, I asked who the other applicants were, who was on the interview panel and who made the final decision.
In his reply last week, Little declined to name the other contenders for the job on the basis that applications were made in confidence. Fair enough.
The panel that assessed the applicants consisted of Pauline Winter, former chief executive of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, Sir John Clarke, former chief executive of the Ministry of Maori Affairs, and Al Morrison, then a deputy commissioner with the State Services Commission.
Four candidates were interviewed and Hunt was judged to be the best suited to the job. Little accepted their recommendation.
I also asked Little whether the government was aware of Hunt’s involvement in British politics. (As disclosed in my last column, he was associated with the socialist Corbynite wing of the British Labour Party.) Little replied that he understood this came up in the interviews but was not identified as a conflict of interest or a disqualifying factor. Hmm.
Kim Hill homed in on this aspect too, and in particular, on Hunt’s support for Corbyn – a politician who has been widely and rightly condemned for condoning anti-Semitism. Hill wondered how this squared with Hunt’s championing of human rights. His answer could only be described as highly equivocal.
Oh, and an intriguing sidelight: Little’s letter revealed that Hunt’s appointment was made in line with a United Nations convention called the Paris Principles, which dictates how human rights commissioners should be appointed. New Zealand is a signatory so must comply.
You never heard of the Paris Principles? Me neither, and it raises an interesting question: what other binding UN agreements has New Zealand committed to without parliamentary debate or even public knowledge? So much for autonomy.