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Free Speech Union question why Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt skewered their interview with Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon.
The Free Speech Union
Contributing Organisation
March 31st, 2022

OPINION: It seems that the Human Rights Commission’s Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt can meet with Parliamentary protesters (a position the Free Speech Union defended) and can even meet with - and offer a koha to - Mongrel Mob members (ditto), yet he will draw the line at the nasty ‘ole Free Speech Union. 

So, what is it that makes our organisation more fearsome than the Mighty Mongrel Mob? 

Two weeks ago, Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon agreed to sit down with the Free Speech Union to discuss hate speech laws. Having been a strong proponent of them and having criticised the Government for delays in introducing legislation, we wanted to hear from him directly as to why he believed these laws would make a difference to ethnic minorities. 

After booking a date, he rescheduled with us several times. We completely understood. Commissioner Foon is a busy man. We were patient because the interview would be worth the wait. After a bad poll, the Government had shelved proposed hate speech laws. The Commissioner was quite upset about this and had done the media rounds letting his displeasure be known. He even acknowledged that he had reached out to the Government and was yet to have a response. While we are obviously not sympathetic to Meng Foon’s position on speech restrictions, this does seem poor treatment for a Commissioner. 

But then we received this email:

So, it would appear that Human Right Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt killed our interview.

Let’s be frank now, there was every likelihood that an interview with the Free Speech Union would’ve been a tough day at the office for Meng Foon. Hate speech laws have proved a graveyard where anyone who tries defending them goes to die. The Justice Minister Kris Faafoi, our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, even Paul Hunt himself on Kim Hill’s show in 2019, have all fallen prey to the indefensibility of hate speech laws.  

And judging by his most recent performances, it didn’t look like the Race Relations Commissioner was going to do any better. 

Dr Bryce Edwards wrote in Labour’s Sensible Taihoa On Hate Speech Laws:

However, the Race Relations Commissioner has also shown he has a very poor grasp of the reforms. He denies that the reforms would impact on people’s rights, and he erroneously says: “It’s not about that. It’s about inciting violence from the speech that people make. That is the threshold”. He has elaborated that, “The bill is to stop incitement of violence and it is to stop another mosque attack like they’ve had”.

In fact, incitement to violence is already illegal, and these proposals are about a very different issue: incitement to hate. This concept has proved very nebulous to define. It caught out Faafoi and Ardern, who couldn’t explain what it meant last year, nor who would be prosecuted by the new law. The infamous example that Faafoi admitted was possible, was it could lead to prosecution of millennials hating boomers for the housing crisis.

Exactly. A steaming Meng Foon had been doing the rounds without even knowing the intention of the new proposed laws.  

Our reply, to the correspondence from the office of the Human Rights Commission cutting our planned interview dead, was on point. If we do say so ourselves.

This is, of course, correct. Meng Foon has been freely discussing the proposed hate speech laws since their inception. Now that the Free Speech Union wanted an interview the commissioners have mutually decided that it is suddenly not Commissioner Foon's place to be discussing them. 

We won’t be needing to employ the services of Hercules Poirot or Sherlock Holmes to solve this mystery. Chief Commissioner Hunt knows that neither Meng Foon, nor he himself, could never foot it against a Free Speech Union representative.

To reference another of cinema’s top cops, Dirty Harry

That’s good (Paul). A man’s got to know his limitations…

The New Zealand Free Speech Union is a registered trade union with a mission to fight for, protect, and expand New Zealanders’ rights for freedom of speech, of conscience, and of intellectual inquiry.