Jacinda Ardern not ruling out political opinion in hate speech laws, but promises bar would 'remain high'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is not ruling out including political opinion in hate speech law changes, but promises the bar for prosecution would "remain high". 

The Government last week published a discussion document which outlines plans to include religious groups and rainbow communities in beefed up hate speech legislation.  

The proposals also include a new criminal offence in the Crimes Act for inciting violence against listed groups, and a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Ardern came under fire earlier this week after she told The AM Show that Newshub Nation was wrong to suggest political opinion would be included in the hate speech proposals. 

"In the interview from the Nation, they implied that political opinion was included - it is not," Ardern told The AM Show on Monday.

But the discussion document calls for all grounds of prohibited discrimination under the Human Rights Act to be brought into the new law, which includes political opinion. 

"How does she reconcile that statement?" ACT leader David Seymour asked in Parliament on Tuesday, to which Ardern replied: "Quite simply."

"The Government considers that other groups could also be protected by the law and we're interested in those views," she said.

"Political opinion was previously included in the list. Cabinet removed it from that list and instead wanted the open question of the public of which groups should be included.

"But again, we have no qualms around the public sharing their opinion on this. There will be some who believe perhaps that we should have protections for political opinion.

"We come at it from a New Zealand perspective. We feel that by and large political opinion is well protected. But we also want to make sure that we're seen to preserve the freedom of speech around political opinion, so our starting point was not to include it.

"There are some in this country who have had a very different experience, perhaps refugees who have experienced persecution for political opinion. These are all things we hope will come through in the discussion document. We're very open-minded on it, but our starting point was no."

Seymour asked if that meant the Government was open to including political opinion in prohibited grounds under hate speech law. Ardern did not rule it out, but nonetheless promised the bar would remain high. 

"We had a starting point not to include political opinion, but if the public have a different view, they are free to put it to us. But again, the bar is still very high when it comes to meeting the threshold for what would be considered extreme speech or what others might call hate speech."

Ardern said the proposed hate speech law changes were heavily influenced by recommendations from the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the March 15, 2019 Christchurch terror attacks. 

"The language around the provisions in the law come directly from the Royal Commission and you can see that because it is essentially the exact proposals they have made that are in the wording of the discussion document."

Seymour says Ardern has failed to communicate the proposals clearly. 

"The proposed laws are a confusing mess. Both Ardern and Justice Minister Kris Faafoi have been roundly criticised by media and the public for how they've handled the proposals. Thank God we still have free speech for them to receive the criticism they deserve."

National leader Judith Collins is urging Ardern to bin the proposals.

"In the absence of any clarity from the Government, I am calling for the Prime Minister to scrap her confusing hate speech proposals. They are a complete overreach and New Zealanders don’t want them."