David Seymour faces backlash over Freedom to Speak Bill

David Seymour faces backlash from civil liberties groups after he reignited the hate speech debate.

The ACT Party leader is proposing a Freedom to Speak Bill, which would prevent the state from punishing people for saying something that was offensive or insulting.

However his proposals are already raising concerns.

"I think it could be a dangerous approach because there's a lot of speech out there which is very harmful for people, and when we look at laws around changing that we need to worry about the harm as well as the freedom of expression," says Thomas Beagle, chairperson of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties.

Seymour would like to repeal two parts of the Human Rights Act on racial disharmony aimed at preventing 'abusive' or 'insulting' speech.

He's is also calling for the abolition of the Human Rights Commission, wants to amend the Summary Offences Act so it's no longer a crime to behaving offensively in public, and change the Harmful Digital Communications Act so it only applies to under-18s.

Appearing on Newshub Nation on Saturday, Seymour said debate was important so "bad ideas" could be thrown out.

"In the long-term, state punishment of expression hasn't protected people from harms at all. It's the places where the state can punish you for your opinion that you're in most danger," he argued.

"Once you have mob rule and you allow the state to punish you for unpopular opinions, that is a dangerous place to go."

When asked by host Tova O'Brien if that means he'd be happy with Nazis performing 'seig heil' salutes on the grounds of Parliament or walking down the street using the N-word, Seymour said no.

"That's completely offensive and I think there would be a whole lot of sanctions form that form the wider society, but I don't think the state should be there trying to punish people," he explained.

"I think those people are complete idiots. It is freedom of expression, but it will get exactly what it deserves - which is total contempt and ridicule from all of New Zealand society."

But Beagle says that won't work.

"The problem we're seeing these days is that people are using speech to stop other people speaking, they're using it to suppress certain groups," he says.

Civil liberties groups do think there's room for a wider debate around the issue but say that has to be aimed at improving freedom of expression rather than simply allowing people to say what they like.

As a Member's Bill, Seymour's proposed changes will go into the ballot, and will only be discussed in Parliament if they're randomly drawn.