The Dom Post editorial:
Police Commissioner Mike Bush wants to see if there is a case for hate-crimes legislation in New Zealand, and is prompted by a horrible incident in Huntly, fortunately filmed by the Muslim woman who was the primary victim. The sight of a woman threatening and abusing a Muslim woman sitting quietly in her car is shocking and dreadful.
However, it is clear that the incident is already covered by the law. A 27-year-old woman has pleaded guilty to assault, assault using a can of alcohol as a weapon, and behaving in an insulting manner likely to cause violence. It seems obvious that the incident that sparked the concern is not a poster for hate-crime legislation.
Bush wants more research to establish whether there is a need for hate-crimes legislation. He is concerned about a rise in reports of hate crimes around the country, but also concedes that the data is limited. “A lot of it is anecdotal.”
Given this, the Government is right to resist the idea of special hate-crimes legislation. Justice Minister Amy Adams says there is a very low level of such behaviour and when it does come up the law is able to deal with it.
That certainly seems to be the case. So far, the xenophobia that is sweeping the United States, Britain and many parts of Europe does not seem to have erupted here. Despite a very large wave of immigration and a high percentage of foreign-born people in our population, no serious trouble has occurred.
In some ways there is less apparent tension than 20 years ago, when there was an outbreak of semi-hysteria about the (absurdly misnamed) “Asian invasion”. That led to a spike in support for New Zealand First. But the populist Winston Peters is failing to make much hay with the subject nowadays.
So it is broadly true, as Police Minister Paula Bennett says, that New Zealanders are in many ways more tolerant of differences than they used to be.
Since that is the case, there seems no obvious reason for hate-crimes legislation. Freedom of speech, after all, is a cornerstone of democracy. This freedom includes the right to be offensive and insulting.
The best way to handle a xenophobe is simply to let them rant and then to dismember their case in moderate and informed speech. Bigotry should always be challenged and rebutted. Freedom of speech allows the bigot to speak but allows sensible people to respond.
The answer to bad speech is good speech, not less speech.