Muslim group questions whether MPs should be allowed to spread hate 'under the cloak of Parliamentary privilege'

An organisation representing the Kiwi Muslim community has questioned whether politicians should retain the privilege to say whatever they like in Parliament, without consequence. 

The Government is proposing an overhaul of our hate speech laws, in line with recommendations made by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch terror attack. It's been a messy process, with accusations from the Opposition the proposals are an overreach and ministers struggling to explain how they'll work in practice. 

The Federation of Islamic Associations (FIANZ) weighed in on Thursday, saying while it applauds the Government's intentions, engagement with affected communities so far has been "dysfunctional", and its explanations of how the new laws would work in practice, unclear.

Spokesperson Abdur Razzaq says the pace the Government is moving at "shows that they're serious", but they need to slow down. 

"We applaud [Justice Minister Kris] Faafoi and [Minister for Ethnic Communities Priyanca] Radhakrishnan for going at Lisa Carrington speed, but you know, we also have to get into the same canoe," Razzaq told The AM Show, referring to the triple-Tokyo Olympics gold medal-winning Kiwi canoeist

He said FIANZ - a volunteer organisation - had been asked to attend focus groups on aspects of the proposals with just two days' notice, and some of those meetings were scheduled to be held during the "very important Eid festival". 

Razzaq expressed frustration that officials haven't given examples of what kind of speech would constitute a crime under the proposed legislation.

"We wanted examples of what is hate speech which will be criminalised and what isn't - otherwise you're going to have a lot of confusion, and already you see a lot of confusion out there," he told Newshub in a separate interview. 

He also said it was wrong that the legislation's exact wording wouldn't be revealed until after consultation had concluded. 

"People are becoming a bit apprehensive. Are we going to be presented with a fait accompli?"

FIANZ's submission, released on Thursday - with one day to spare before submissions closed - said the process had been "disheartening and insensitive", since it was an attack on Muslims that sparked the royal commission which led to the proposals. 

"The core of this is that we do need change because we've got rising hate speech... there's a direct connection between hate speech and hate crime."

Abdur Razzaq.
Abdur Razzaq. Photo credit: The AM Show

And that includes in Parliament, he said - not just in the public sphere.

"It should be everywhere. We now have a global rise where elected officials and extreme hate speech, there's a synergy, a nexus between the two. They use parliamentary privilege or the privileges of being in the legislative chambers to talk all sorts of nonsense. This actually becomes a divisive force and we're seeing this in many countries, and after a while it becomes normalised."

Parliamentary privilege lets politicians say almost anything they want while they're in the House so " so that they are able to speak freely" without fear of prosecution, according to the Chief Ombudsman

"Put very simply, this means that parliamentary proceedings cannot be ‘impeached’ (made subject to liability in civil or criminal proceedings) or ‘questioned’ (examined critically) in a court or tribunal," a 2019 document reads. 

But FIANZ's submission calls it a "loophole" the proposed legislation doesn't even try to fix. 

"Divergent political views make for a healthy social tapestry, but on occasion some of these politicians either unweave the social tapestry stitch by stitch or attempt to set fire to the entire national fabric of social cohesion… This is a loophole which has been exploited by these extreme politicians to maximize their sound-bite media-fueled popularity. It is a popularity based on conspiracy theories devoid of facts and vitriolic finger-pointing against vulnerable communities...

"The rationale of the separation of the judiciary and the legislature is however a loophole which needs to be discussed and debated in light of what has been happening overseas with the rise of [right-wing extremism] and their extreme hatemongering under the cloak of Parliamentary privilege or similar.

"In New Zealand there have been several examples of such excesses by politicians with respect to Islamophobia and other hatemongering."

The submission cited a Stuff article on the recent Government apology for the historic dawn raids, noting "several speeches" were given in Parliament to "enable some of what has taken place against Pasifika people"; and that "over the past two weeks, there has been racist propaganda and rhetoric towards tangata whenua", quoting Maori Party leader Rawiri Waititi in May

"Politicians, we respect them, but civil society, vulnerable groups - whether you're LGBTQI, disabled, tangata whenua, Jews and Muslims, we live with the daily reality of hate speech," said Razzaq. 

"We want to raise the issue - whether it's hate speech or parliamentary privilege... whether this is an area where there needs to be further debate. So those are the things - we want to have an all-of-society approach, and Parliament is part of this societal structure." 

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