Friday, May 3, 2019

New Zealand, meet Paul Hunt - the man who will shape our human rights policy

(First published in The Dominion Post and on, 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.


Odysseus said...

Paul Hunt would seem to be well known to the New Zealand Labour Party. In 1999 he was put forward by the Clark government for a position on the UN committee that deals with "economic, cultural and social rights". Was he shoulder tapped for the Human Rights Commissioner role? The appointment process raises a number of questions. The panel doesn't seem to have had any particular expertise on the Human Rights Act 1993 or our Bill of Rights Act, in particular the guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Nor did the panel reflect New Zealand's diversity today. Was the panel aware of Hunt's former membership of a foreign political party that has been widely condemned for anti-Semitism? His own refusal to condemn Jeremy Corbyn's record on that score in the interview with Kim Hill was alarming. Now he seems to be embarking on a project to drastically curtail freedom of speech in New Zealand. He needs to be challenged.

Odysseus said...

PS: The Paris Principles were adopted by a General Assembly resolution in 1993. GA resolutions are not binding. It seems to me they are being used here as a smokescreen to suggest the appointment process for Hunt met an international standard. But did it meet New Zealand standards?

Karl du Fresne said...

You make an important point, Odysseus. The names of Winter and Clarke are unfamiliar to me, but it seems significant that they both come backgrounds in which they would logically have been expected to advance the interests of minority groups. It's entirely possible that would predispose them to favour a candidate who is likely to share the view that minorities are at risk from the exercise of free speech. Perhaps Al Morrison was appointed to the panel to provide the balancing factor of a wider perspective. But although Al is a former journalistic colleague of mine, and someone with whom I always got on well, his left-wing sympathies were well known and I couldn't say that I would have confidence in him to back an applicant who could be relied on to champion freedom of expression. We're left to conclude that the only reason the government didn't appoint a neutral lawyer with human rights cred to sit on the panel is that it didn't want one.

Trev1 said...

Hi Karl, according to the Paris Principles members of government departments should participate only in an advisory capacity in such processes. So I imagine that was Al Morrison's brief as a senior SSC official.

David said...

I like Al Morrison and have engaged with him many times over the years. I would describe him as gentle, earnest left. He is a very kind man.

He once wrote an article in the Evening Post IIRC (I don't think it was the Dom but may have been) that has stayed in my mind, about the origins of the term "politically correct." He said that this was a contraction of "politically correct and ideologically sound" which came from Mao's Little Red Book and was adopted by the Marxist Left of the West. It later became a perjorative used against earnest left-wingers, though I have long described myself (being fairly consistently mild left) as proudly politically correct.

These days the in-word is "woke" and is used by green, vegan social justice warriors to describe themselves. The people who use it about themselves have also hijacked the words "liberal" and "progressive" to describe themselves and their beliefs, but I would argue there is nothing liberal or progressive about such people, who as a body are authoritarian conservative hard-leftists.

A large Marxist cell of the militant wing of them took over Auckland's Pride movement and destroyed the recent Pride parade, to the astonishment of the (largely male) mainstay of the gay movement who had fought long and bravely for gay law reform and suddenly found themselves ostracised as "pale, male and stale" by a rent-a-crowd of straight Marxist activists who joined Pride in numbers great enough to outvote the actually gay people who ran this gay organisation.

I don't think Al would describe himself as woke, but I shall ask him when I next see him.

Thanks for your article on Paul Hunt, Karl, and thanks for your equally eye-opening comments about his background, Odysseus. I only noted his appointment in passing and really only became aware of him when he suddenly loomed dangerously recently demanding the removal of the freedom of expression guaranteed (but not legally entrenched) by the Bill of Rights Act.

"Know thy enemy" comes to mind.

Karl du Fresne said...

Incidentally, there was a long-ish letter in the Dom Post yesterday attacking my column and defending Paul Hunt. The writer, Ced Simpson, is another human rights careerist, like Hunt – but of course his letter didn’t acknowledge that.

Trev1 said...

Norway's response to the Anders Breivik evil was, "more democracy, more openness, more humanity". I fear we are heading in the opposite direction. The Chrichurch massacre is being exploited by Marxists for their own hate-filled purposes.

Rory said...

Hello Karl,
Yes i saw the letter from Ced Simpson. What i found interesting was not his reply but the length of it and the detail in it. I thought, this man was given a lot of space whereas in other peoples replies to other postings which might be slightly leaning to the left or perhaps tilted the individuals seldom get such generosity of space. ( abridged usually is the word given ) nice way of putting it from Stuff. enough said.