The Government has scrapped plans to ban violent threats against women and rainbow and disabled communities, Marc Daalder reports

The Government has drastically watered down its hate speech reforms, Justice Minister Kiri Allan said on Saturday.

Proposed last year in response to the March 15 terror attack and the Royal Commission report that followed, the reforms were due to expand protections to women, religious groups and rainbow and disabled communities, among others. As it stands, only hate speech on the basis of race, skin colour or national origin is prohibited.

The reforms were also going to increase the maximum sentence for hate speech and raise the legal threshold for what might be considered hate speech so that only a narrower band of violent and threatening expression would be banned. The law currently forbids speech that is intended to “incite ill-will” against a group while the Government’s proposals would have raised that bar to inciting “hatred”.

However, Allan said, the scope of the reforms is now severely curtailed. Only religion will be added to the list of protected grounds and no further changes will be made to hate speech law.

Last year’s proposals would have banned threats of violence against many groups of people, like LGBT or disabled people. The 2017 case of homophobic threats by Auckland pastor Logan Robertson, in which he said he was “not against [gay people] getting married as long as a bullet goes through their head the moment they kiss”, was cited as the sort of language that would be prohibited.

Under the changes revealed by Allan on Saturday, that statement would still be legal.

A related programme to reform hate crimes, which are offences like assault or vandalism committed with a hateful motive, has also stalled. Hate crime reforms were another recommendation from the Royal Commission, which the Government accepted in principle in 2020.

Expanding further hate speech protections, creating hate-motivated offences and the hate speech threshold will be considered in a new review by the Law Commission, Allan said.

“These issues are complicated and the review will ensure any further changes to the incitement provisions meet society’s expectations and needs,” she said.

The review comes nearly four years after the Government launched its own review of hate speech laws in the aftermath of the March 15 terror attack.

Allan said she hoped other parties in Parliament would back the reforms, but National’s justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said his party still opposed them. The Green Party, which supported the initial proposal, is also likely to disagree with the watered down version.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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