Pages tagged "Human Rights Commission"

  • Appointment Of Chief Executive At Human Rights Commission An Opportunity For Reset

    25 January 2023


    The Free Speech Union notes the appointment of Meg de Ronde as the new Chief Executive of the Human Rights Commission, the first ever to hold this role, and welcomes the opportunity for a reset towards core human rights at the Commission, says Jonathan Ayling, spokesperson for the Free Speech Union.

    'Free speech is the foundational human right, on which our freedoms of thought, assembly, press, protest, and many others are founded.

    'Yet, under Paul Hunt, the Human Rights Commission has failed to operate as the bulwark of free speech that it is supposed to be. Instead, it has supported calls for censorship and justified the stifling of debate and speech. A reset is needed.

    ‘Ms. de Ronde has a broad range of experience fighting for human rights, and we look forward to working with her to fight for the speech rights of all Kiwis.

    With her previous work with Amnesty International, an organisation founded primarily to defend those imprisoned for their speech, we call on her to continue the important work of defending free speech in New Zealand. 

    'Without the freedom to engage without fear in robust debate, our country will continue down a divided path that is unable to address the complex issues we face. With Ms. de Ronde's appointment, we call on the Human Rights Commission to return to its primary mandate: championing the core human rights of New Zealanders.'

  • Chief Human Rights Commissioner Should Stay In His Lane


    24 June 2021


    Chief Human Rights Commissioner Should Stay In His Lane

    The Free Speech Union says that Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt wasn’t hired to tell artists what work they can and can’t produce. He should start defending human rights, not stand against freedom of expression.

    A spokesperson for the Union, Stephen Franks says “The Commissioner calls for a proposed film of the March 15th atrocity to be cancelled due to its potential to upset members of the Muslim community. A petition to have the production cancelled has garnered 70,000 signatures but whether a film is made, or how it is made is absolutely none of Paul Hunt’s business.”

    “Both Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and National party leader Judith Collins expressed their own reservations about the taste and timing of the film, but both also said that it was not their place to tell the filmmakers they should cancel the project.”

    “They were respecting freedom of speech. Yet Hunt thinks he has the right to call for a piece of art to be stopped.”

    “Hunt is quoted as saying ‘As a country, we have a responsibility to do all we can to ensure that Muslim New Zealanders are represented accurately in stories’. We have no such responsibility to effectively police artworks. The opposite is true. Hunt wouldn’t even know the script and intentions of the filmmakers. His stance recalls members of the Evangelical Right who protested outside screenings of Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ while proudly admitting they hadn’t seen the film, had no intention of seeing the film, yet still demanded that it be banned.”

    “It is telling that Hunt would release this statement, but when a feminist group was banned from several council-run venues only a week ago, an openly discriminatory and unlawful act in clear breach of our bill of rights, his office was silent.”

    “Hunt is perfectly entitled to the view that a film representing the attacks is premature, has the potential to upset victims, and that it should not be made. But this is a personal view. I happen to share it. But in his capacity as Chief Commissioner he should take care to reinforce, not undermine freedom of expression. He’s a disgrace to his office, acting in complete opposition to what he is paid to do."

  • The speech censors given a free media pass

    David Seymour’s proposal to abolish the Human Rights Commission reflects widespread suspicion that is has become a taxpayer-funded nest for people plotting to end the freedoms it was established to protect. As Janet Albrechtsen explained last week in The Australian, the same problem afflicts Australia. Instead of defending free speech the Australian Human Rights Commission has been among the institutions trying to punish people who challenge politically correct views.

    The Australian is behind a strict pay-wall, so Janet has authorised the Free Speech Coalition to reproduce her article below. Unfortunately we cannot reproduce the long list of comments the article attracted.

    Janet is a highly qualified lawyer but is best known for her journalism, having been a published commentator in most of Australia’s quality news media.

    Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has been described as a handbook for difficult times. In a week that marks its publication 70 years ago, please open the handbook for some guidance, for these difficult times.

    Last week Australian Federal Police officers rifled through the home of a News Corp journalist and the offices of ABC journalists. Nothing flashy, no brown-shirted stormtroopers kicking in doors. Just a team of polite civil servants, ordering sandwiches and coffee while they rummaged through homes and workplaces, armed with slippery words in laws to justify them infringing our freedoms.

    Outraged journalists said it was chilling. Alas, many of these same journalists have not been doing their job if they haven’t noticed this is how free speech is silenced today. In the past decade a growing cadre of civil servants, from human rights commissioners to university vie-chancellors, all good mannered, nicely dressed people have used crafty works in laws and other instruments to curb out most fundamental right to speak freely.

    Many of the same journalists who, last week, held up signs for the cameras saying that it is not a crime to be a journalist having not raised so much as an eyebrow about other dismally illiberal events. That makes them complicit in a stifling culture that gave rise to last week’s AFP raids. After all, a free press is only one part of our basic right to speak freely. If you don’t defend the latter, expect to lose the former soon enough.

    Orwell warned us to watch out for New Speak, Thought Police and the Ministry of Truth; their common denominators is slippery language to control speech in order to control how people think. So it came to pass. More than 10 years ago, the Alberta Human Rights Commission in Canada investigated a complaint brought against commentator Ezra Levant for publishing the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. The complaint was dropped, but not before a bureaucrat questioned Levan about his intention in publishing the cartoons.

    Levant described it like this: “No six-foot brown shirt here, no police cell at midnight. Just Shirlene McGovern, an amiable enough bureaucrat, casually asking me about my politcal thoughts, on behalf of the government of Alberta. And she’ll write up a report about is and recommend that the government do this or that to me.

    “I had half-expected a combative, missionary-style interrogator. I found, instead, a limp clerk who was just punching the clock … In a way, that’s more terrifying,” he wrote about the process that reminded him of Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil.

    While a handful of journalists in Australia recognised the early danger signs, many of those outraged by last week’s AFP raids showed little interest. Even when the same thing happened here a few years later, they fell silent.

    In 2011, Andrew Bolt was prosecuted under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act for causing offence by pointing out the foibles of claiming indigenous ancestry. In passing, the judge frowned over the tone of his writing. The Australian Human Rights Commission used the same laws to investigate The Australian’s Bill Leak in 2016 for his powerful cartoon about the complex issues of individual responsibility and the dismal plight of indigenous people. Liberal MP Julian Leeser once said of the UN Human Rights Council: “We read Orwell as a warning; they read Orwell as a textbook.” His observation applies equally to the AHRC: as race commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane encouraged complaints to come forward over Leak’s cartoon.

    The AHRC toyed with students from Queensland University of Technology too after they made innocuous comments on Facebook when they were kicked out of an indigenous-only computer lab. One student wrote: “QUT stopping segregation with segregation.” What part of that was untrue? Yet it took two years of complaints, investigations, interviews and mounting legal bills before the complaint was thrown out. And the chilling effect of those laws remains intact.

    Some of us have reported extensively on the creeping, and creepy, mission of the AHRC. It needs to be renamed; its name is an insult to genuine human rights. And these dismal events need to be laid out, over and over again, until we defeat an illiberal culture that is strangling freedom of expression, the single most important piece of machinery that drives a robust marketplace of ideas. It is the centrifugal force of Western progress.

    Last year, physics professor Peter Ridd was sacked by James Cook University for raising questions about the quality of climate research by some of his colleagues. The university used a code of conduct and claims of “collegial behavior” to get him off campus. ABC HQ showed no interest in asking why the university didn’t encourage a debate about Ridd’s claims or even why it shut him down.

    During the federal election, the ABC’s senior journalists showed no interest when Greens leader Richard Di Natale said he wanted hate speech laws to regulate the media to hold the likes of Bolt, Alan Jones and Chris Kenny to account. This proposal would kill a free, independent media in Australia. Hate speech, as defined by the like of Di Natale, will be defined by the media they hate. Orwell warned us about this, too. The ABC gave Di Natale a free pass.

    There was no ABC outrage, only nonchalance, when the Gillard government proposed an Orwellian regime of government oversight to make the media “balanced” and “accountable”. As James Paterson, now a Liberal senator, wrote then: “The last time that media outlets were subject to press licensing in the English-speaking world was 1693. What was too tyrannical for the English in the time of William and Mary is apparently acceptable in 21st-century Australia.”

    Note the manipulation of subjective language to curb free speech: the AFP relies on “national security” to search a journalist’s underwear drawer, the Gillard government wanted to legislate for a “balance” and “accountable” media, 18C prohibits people saying things that “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate”, the Greens want to outlaw “hate speech”, and a university relied on “collegial behavior”.

    It is critical that we constantly check where society, governments and bureaucracies draw lines to restrict free speech. Journalists want buffer zones around themselves to protect a free press. Fair enough. But where the heck they been when it comes to defending the rights of other Australians to speak freely?

    High-profile hosts at the ABC paid taxpayers to report and comment on this country should be been at the frontline, championing out rights to speak, to draw and to debate freely. As Canadian commentator Mark Steyn famously said about free speech, it is not a left-right thing. It is a free-unfree thing. And therein lies the curse of the modern left: a pusillanimous attitude towards a core piece of intellectual machinery necessary in a healthy democracy.

    By Janet Albrechtsen

    Opinion columnist for the Australian

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