Sunday, November 20, 2022

ACT should make abolition of the Human Rights Commission a bottom line

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.

Reconciling free speech with the interests of minority groups calls for a balancing act, but the commission doesn’t even attempt it. It solves the problem by simply ignoring the free speech side of the equation altogether.

All this adds up to a compelling case for abolishing the commission, as urged last year by David Seymour. It has been captured by ideologues and morphed into an extravagant travesty, endlessly haranguing and seeking to shame the public that funds it. Even Meng Foon, who as mayor of Gisborne seemed sensible and grounded, comes across as a tiresome, shouty nag in his role as Race Relations Commissioner.

The commission is a $13 million-plus per annum deadweight on the economy – money that could be redirected to any number of more worthy projects. Teaching dogs to ride bikes, for example. 

Seymour called for the commission's abolition after it was revealed that Hunt, a refugee from the barmy socialist Corbynista wing of the British Labour Party, made a $200 donation to the Waikato chapter of the Mongrel Mob as koha for his attendance at a gang hui.

The ACT leader should now go further and insist that the axing of the HRC will be a bottom line in any coalition negotiations with National after next year’s elections. It would be better still if National decided for itself that the HRC has outlived whatever usefulness it ever had, but the party of Christopher Luxon would run in fright from anything so bold and radical.

National, after all, is the party that signed us up to the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and was in the process of appointing an Indigenous Rights Commissioner when the Labour-NZ First coalition took office in 2017. Far from resisting the advance of wokery, it has enabled the process.

In any case, half-baked, rinse-and-repeat policies bereft of imagination or political courage (army boot camps for teenage offenders come to mind) are more National’s style.


LNF said...

Seriously who in their right mind when interviewing Mr Hunt would employ him.

Anonymous said...

Paul Hunt was another Marxist university activist academic. He needs to go. I don't agree with HRC's abolition but with draining its swamp, cleaning house and getting it back to its core rights purpose. My experience of the HRC and its mediators was woeful. But I was MP & S.

Birdman said...

While the HRC and race relations commissioner must be at the top of the list of govt bodies 'not needed anymore in their current guise', the general over-reach and politicisation of many arms of the bureaucracy is alarming. Any new govt must move decisively in this area but to date you are right to point out Karl that only David Seymour has shown the courage to speak out - just think the police, the reserve bank and more recently the office of the censor to name just a few of real concern.

One of the only stuff contributors on a Sunday worth reading is Damien Grant IMHO. His column today on why Luxon is already looking like loosing the unlosable election sums it up well. The earlier description of him, by a commenter on this blog, as an invertebrate is very apt.

rouppe said...

Rather than lead with "abolish the human rights commission" which can be easily manipulated to a chase you tail game of ruling in our out various departments ACT could insist on leading a committee on reviewing the efficacy of all the ministries and commissions with a view to find out which ones contribute positively to NZ society.

The committee should have the authority to abolish any said ministry or commission, or order changes, whether it be personnel, or contractual focus, or both.

Thus half a dozen ministries could be dumped, and the staff redeployed to say immigration processing. The HRC could be abolished, or have its remit focused on outcomes that enhance society, not outcomes that restrict, bind or threaten society.

No come backs, no appeals, just like all those that routinely get made redundant in December.

rouppe said...


That is a good opinion piece.

Short version: harden up. Stop being fake

Odysseus said...

LNF: Hunt was appointed from the University of Essex (and membership of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party) by Andrew Little in 2018 after a pro forma interview by a panel comprising a senior State Services Commission officer and invited Maori, if I recall correctly. I say "pro forma" because Hunt has long been a favourite of Labour's radical chic elite. Helen Clark's government put him forward for the UN's Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1998, when he was teaching at Waikato. At the UN, he showed particular interest in Palestinian rights and has been photographed wearing the keffiyeh, the symbol of Palestinian "revolutionary struggle", a la Yasser Arafat.

I agree the Commission should be disbanded as it seems to spend much of its time these days plotting how to subvert New Zealanders' human rights rather than protecting and enhancing our freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom from discrimination.

ihcpcoro said...

I believe that we currently have an openly racist Race Relations Commissioner - Monty Python stuff.

Anonymous said...

I haven't heard one pronouncement from Mr Hunt that is worthy of consideration, nor that in anyway justifies the existence of his office. I agree Karl, for $13M, it's money that could better spent on almost anything.

R Arlidge

Bryce W said...

Here is one expert assessment of the problems with the NZ HR Act

david said...

While I can understand your and Birdman's comments about Luxon, I wish you wouldn't. The important thing is to get rid of the current government and to repair the damage. Luxon needs all the support we can give him to do that. He has said National will rescind much of the legislation currently being pushed through - lets congratulate him for that. If he gets in but doesn't deliver, that's the time to roll him. Not now. Not when Labour is digging its own hole. The public is gradually coming to its senses and turning against Jacinda and her mob. Leave this process well alone - criticism from National is more likely to have her past supporters leap to her defense than to sway them. Let them get disillusioned by themselves.