Sedition Submission

I’ve just done my submission on the Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill which I’ve included below. Submission close at the end of Tuesday. I’d encourage others to submit – my two pager took half an hour only and one can file them electronically.

  1. I write in support of the Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill.
  1. Generally speaking people should only go to jail for what they do, not for what they say. Of course this is not an absolute as you want to be able to restrict direct threats to individuals for example, but the current law is cast too wide.
  1. The existing Section 81(1) defines seditious intention as the intention:
    1. To bring into hatred or contempt, or to excite disaffection, against Her Majesty, or the Government of New Zealand or the administration of justice.
  1. This section especially is very wide ranging. I excite disaffection against both Her Majesty (as a National Councilor of the Republican Movement) and the Government on a regular basis. I could be judged to excite disaffection against the administration of justice – as arguably could be the National Justice Spokesperson also. There are defences in Section 81(2) but these are not absolute.
  1. One can argue that the Police would use discretion and only prosecute case where someone is clearly trying to (for example) illegally overthrow the Government. Alas, the history of prosecutions has shown that this is not the case. Most recently it was used in relation to a Dunedin bar owner having a competition for a petrol soaked couch. This clearly shows the Police will use such laws, even for trivial or dare I say trifling matters.
  1. In 2006 Tim Selwyn was convicted of sedition. His actions in smashing the window of the Prime Minister’s electorate office were deplorable and his actions in encouraging others to do the same were wrong. However these are a long way from needing a sedition law. His prosecution on other offences showed that the sedition charge was unnecessary as he was also convicted on the crime of conspiracy to commit criminal damage
  1. The blogger Idiot/Savant from No Right Turn has documented the historical uses of the sedition laws, and how these have been used and abused over our history. His archive is at http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2005/08/sedition-by-example-index.html and I recommend it as an excellent resource. Former PM Walter Nash is amongst those who have been found guilty of seditious offences.
  1. There are many other sections of the Crimes Act which can handle actions which are injurious to the public good, without the need of the sedition sections. They are:
    1. Treason s73
    2. Attempted Treason s74
    3. Inciting Mutiny s77
    4. Sabotage s79
    5. Unlawful Assembly s86
    6. Riot s87
    7. Criminal Nuisance s145
    8. Threatening to destroy property s307
    9. Threats of harm to people or property s307a
    10. Threatening act s308
    11. Conspiring to prevent collection of rates or taxes s309
  1. The existing criminal code has numerous, more appropriate, alternatives to the sedition laws.
  1. Also sections of other Acts also cover certain undesirable behaviors such as
    1. s131 of the Human Rights Act 1993
    2. s5 of the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002
    3. s3-s8 of the Summary Offences Act 1981
  1. In summary I agree with both the Law Commission’s report and the Bill before the Committee that the sedition laws should be repealed as:
    1. The meaning of sedition has changed over time and the definition in the Act is very broad and uncertain
    2. It is an infringement on free speech
    3. The current law could be used to restrict speech critical of the Government
    4. Other laws more are better suited to cover undesirable behaviour of a criminal nature
  1. I urge the Justice and Electoral Committee to support the Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill, and to recommend its passage to the House.

David Farrar
16 July 2007

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