Christchurch shooting: Changes in wake of mosque attack inquiry will be made carefully - Andrew Little

Andrew Little says reform in the wake of a report into the Christchurch mosque attack will be a balancing act.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry report into the attack was made public on Tuesday and made 44 recommendations, including establishing a clear line between freedom and hate speech.

Little, who's been appointed the Minister in charge of the Mosque Attack Response, says changes will be made carefully.

"Freedom of speech is absolutely vital in our democracy - we can't compromise that but, equally, there are minority communities who are, daily, the target of some pretty egregious stuff that they shouldn't be," the Labour MP told The AM Show on Wednesday.

The Government has committed to implementing all recommendations made in the report, which also included establishing a Ministry for Ethnic Communities. Little said the Government was committed to reform.

"Laws will change to sharpen up the stuff we've got around stuff we've already got around hate speech in the Human Rights Act - we are going to have to sharpen that up.

"The information that the Royal Commission heard was pretty demeaning."

It was recommended by the Commission that the Human Rights Act be repealed to  "insert a provision … for an offence of inciting racial or religious disharmony, based on an intent to stir up, maintain or normalise hatred, through threatening, abusive or insulting communications with protected characteristics that include religions affiliation".

Little told The AM Show repeal would allow the likes of frontline police officers to be familiar with hate speech laws. 

"Saying something that is threatening and intimidating, and it has a racial or religious or even sexuality-based motive - actually, that's not acceptable and the law will intervene."

He said he trusts the police to exercise discretion.

"One of the tools they need to have available to them is; people who go out and make threats and intimidate people, just because of who they are and their characteristics as a person that they don't to control, that's actually what the Royal Commission says we've got to change the landscape on."

Andrew Little.
Andrew Little. Photo credit: Newshub.

How the repeal would work

The Royal Commission has suggested creating hate-motivated offences in the Summary Offences Act that correspond with the existing crimes of offensive behaviour or language, assault, wilful damage, and intimidation.

It also recommended adding hate-motivated offences to the Crimes Act that correspond with the existing offences of assaults, arson, and intentional damage.

"We do have laws of discrimination [now] and that's in our Human Rights Act but in terms of the kind of stuff the terrorist, in this case, was buying into - actually there is a line there," Little said.

"This is the debate we have to have - this is why the Royal Commission made their recommendation and, as a Government, we're up for that debate - we're going to have that debate and it will be difficult, and it will be difficult to define the lines. I get that." 

Little said online hate speech also had to be dealt with. The Royal Commission report found the terrorist's "thinking was affected by what was said in far-right online communities and other far-right material he found on the internet".

"They are online and they're on Facebook and others, and they say things and you've got to assess - 'is this person going to carry through on the things they say?' And then there are those and they're capable; they say stuff that is about physically threatening other people," said Little.

"You do have to deal with that and it might not be just race-based, of course. It'll be other things as well.

"We do need to draw a line and our law needs to clearly reflect that - that's what the Royal Commission is saying they heard from the thousands of people spoke to." 

ACT leader David Seymour is concerned hate speech law changes will take away people's freedom of expression.

"Hate speech laws are divisive and dangerous, turning debate into a popularity contest where the majority can silence unpopular views using the power of the state."

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt said the report into the mosque attack forces the country to face hard truths.

"In Aotearoa; there is racism, there is Islamaphobia, there is anti-semitism. We have to confront that."