Justice Minister Kris Faafoi to crackdown on 'hate-motivated activity' in wake of Christchurch terror attack

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi has confirmed the Government's intention to crackdown on "hate-motivated activity" in the wake of the 2019 Christchurch terror attack.

"Speech which is abusive or threatening and incites hostility towards a group or person can cause significant harm," Faafoi said on Tuesday. 

"In line with the Royal Commission of Inquiry's recommendations, Cabinet has agreed to a number of measures to improve provisions in the Human Rights Act 1993 relating to incitement."

Faafoi said the Government intends to establish an engagement process with community groups to discuss these changes.

"New Zealand is a diverse country, and that diversity is a source of our strength. Our society is full of insights, skills and opportunities because of the many different people who call New Zealand home."

The Royal Commission's report contains 44 recommendations relating to the counter-terrorism effort and the Government has accepted all of them, including a suggestion to amend legislation to create hate-motivated offences.

The Royal Commission also suggests 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 suggests adding hate-motivated offences to the Crimes Act that correspond with the existing offences of assaults, arson and intentional damage.

The Royal Commission recommends repealing section 131 of the Human Rights Act around racial disharmony and beefing up consequences for it by inserting a provision in the Crimes Act for an offence of inciting racial or religious disharmony.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed the Government will act on the recommendations and go further to protect the LGBTQIA community - including transgender, gender diverse and intersex people - from discrimination.

"It won't just relate to findings from March 15," Ardern said.

The Prime Minister said many people do not record what they experience day-to-day in terms of hate crimes and the Government is committed to creating an environment where people feel comfortable to do so.

Police have been told to revise the way in which they record complaints of criminal conduct to capture systemically hate-motivations for offending and train frontline staff in identifying bias so they can identify potential hate crimes.

The Government believes that adding hate motivated-crimes to the Crimes Act such as assault with a hateful motive will allow for better recording of crimes committed in hatred.

"We will be undertaking consultation with community groups and parties from right across Parliament to test these proposals before bringing forward legislative change," Ardern said.

"I do want to emphasise though, these are issues that are longstanding, they predate March 15, and they effect many members of the community, including our LGBTIQ community, and different and diverse religions. We will take the time to get it right."

The Prime Minister has already signalled her intention to beef up hate speech laws in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack.

The Government fast-tracked a review of hate speech legislation in the wake of the terror attack and following that review the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights Commission presented former Justice Minister Andrew Little with options.

In March he said they were "working their way through Cabinet". 

But Little confirmed in June that Labour was still in talks with its Government partners about the options and said the legislation would probably have to wait until after the election. It's understood NZ First had some concerns.

Ardern then confirmed in the lead-up to the election that Labour was keen to progress hate speech laws if it won another term.

"Yes we did because of course that's been something that the Human Rights Commission has recommended for some time. March 15 has again identified there are gaps currently," Ardern told reporters on Monday. 

"We do already have provisions but they just don't cover everyone in the sense that you don't, for instance, have religion covered and of course there are members of our LGBTQIA community who have also raised the gaps in our existing legislation."

The Bill of Rights Act currently gives everyone in New Zealand the right to freedom of expression, including the "freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form", but New Zealanders are prohibited under the Human Rights Act from inciting racial disharmony.

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."