Hansard and Journals

Hansard (debates)

Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill — Second Reading

[Sitting date: 10 October 2007. Volume:642;Page:12275. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]

Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

  • Debate resumed from 9 October.

CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (National) : I am delighted to take the call. It may not take the 9 minutes I have remaining, but there are three points that I want to make tonight. Firstly, I want to take a brief look at the current law; secondly, I want to go through the various reasons for its repeal; and, thirdly, I will make brief reference to evidence given by the police force.

Part 5 of the Crimes Act deals with offences against public order, and sections 80 to 85 deal with the category of seditious offences. It is proposed by this bill that sections 81 to 85 be repealed. Section 80 will remain. It deals with an offence that I have never thought was a seditious offence—that is, the crime of persuading someone to take an oath to commit an offence, and there are various categories of that. [Interruption] It does not come within seditious offences—I can hear Dr Mapp interjecting on me—but, rather, it is a stand-alone offence and it will be retained after this legislation passes.

At the moment seditious offences are defined in section 81. The most well-known one is a seditious intention to bring into hatred or contempt Her Majesty, Her Majesty’s Government, or the administration of justice. But when one looks at section 81(1)(d) one sees that the terminology of what is a seditious intention is very vague because it includes inciting, procuring, or encouraging the commission of any offence that is prejudicial to public safety or the maintenance of public order.

Indeed, in the 20th century a large number of charges were brought against a variety of people under that subcategory of section 81 as a means of trying to shut them up. An obvious example would be the Roman Catholic Bishop of Auckland, Bishop Liston, and various members of the Labour Party. In the 19th century, of course, as I said in my first reading speech, the victims of the sedition charges were Māori. The other sections deal with seditious conspiracies, seditious statements, and the publication of seditious documents. Section 85 refers to the use of an apparatus for the making of seditious documents or statements. That is the current law, and it is proposed that it all be swept away.

The rationale for the repeal emerged strongly from submissions heard by the Justice and Electoral Committee, to which I referred last night. I will briefly refer to them. Essentially, there are five reasons why the Government introduced this legislation and five reasons why submissions in favour of repeal said that these sections of the Crimes Act should be repealed. The first one—and it emerged from, for example, section 81(1)(d), which I have read out to members—is that the legal profile of the offence is very broad, variable, and uncertain, and the meaning of sedition has changed over time. As I said a little earlier, in the 20th century it was used against Roman Catholic bishops. Of course, it is used by Labour Party members these days against those who speak out against the Labour Government.

The second reason—and it is an important matter of policy—is that the present law invades the democratic value of free speech for no adequate reason. We should be able to debate issues not only in this place but in the community, and stand by our words. If our words are not good enough, we will be defeated, but democratic debate should not be shut down by seditious offences, and it is good to see that the Government recognises that, in relation to the repeal of seditious offences. However, it is not quite so strong on that issue, is it, I say to Dr Mapp, when it comes to the Electoral Finance Bill, because it certainly intends to shut down debate when it comes to that legislation.

Another very interesting reason advanced in the course of submissions, and also referred to in the bill itself, is that the present law falls foul of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. We know that this Government is very good at referring to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act when it suits it. So on occasion we have the Attorney-General making reports to this House under section 7 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, but he singularly omitted to provide a section 7 report on the Electoral Finance Bill—the most egregious example of legislation that falls foul of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Does Mr Chauvel care? No, he does not.

CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Mr Chauvel does not care, because, like all Labour Party members, he invokes the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act when it suits him, then falls silent when it suits him, because that is the sort of person he is.

The next category I want to refer to is that seditious offences can be inappropriately used to impose a form of political censorship. Time and time again through the 20th century, that is exactly how the seditious offences regime was used—to shut down public debate. Even poor old Walter Nash got done for possessing a pamphlet that was later found to be in the Parliamentary Library. So who needs sedition law these days with the Electoral Finance Bill on its way, because the Government will use that for the same end.

Finally, the law is not needed, because those elements of it that should be retained are more appropriately covered by other offences. That is certainly the case in the post - September 11 world we live in, with, for example, specialist Acts dealing with terrorism offences. So sedition is a crime that has outlived its usefulness, and it is time to move on. The rationale came through all the submissions, which, as I said last night, were overwhelmingly in favour of repeal, with the exception of two rather weak submissions, in my opinion.

The third point I want to refer to is the select committee’s report, which succinctly states and summarises what those submissions were all about. We were very keen to hear from the New Zealand Police on the subject, because the police had used it on a number of occasions in the not so distant past. They emphasised—and Mr Chauvel was most anxious that the report record this—that prosecutions for the offence, as for others, are a matter of independent judgment for the police. Mr Chauvel, as I said, was anxious that that be recorded, and it is only fair that we record it in Hansard—that those decisions by police to use the seditious offences provisions against New Zealanders were independently reached by them and were not a result of political influence. So there we have it.

The second reading debate is timely. I cannot understand why the junior whip for the Government was so anxious to avoid this debate. I can only conclude that the Government had decided that this is in fact excellent legislation with which to oppress its opponents and that it goes hand in hand with the Electoral Finance Bill, and that it had decided, like St Paul on the road to Damascus, to change tack and keep the legislation in force. But the second reading debate is timely, and National supports it.

LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) : I see disappointed people over there on the other side of the House. I want to congratulate Chris Finalyson, who was very confused at question time today but now seems to have got his brain back into a little bit of order. He is certainly saying the right thing when he says he supports the Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill, as do I. In rising to take a call, I would very much like to congratulate the hard-working members of the Justice and Electoral Committee—probably in times when they had less of a chip on their shoulders. None the less, they worked very hard, and it was very good to get unanimous endorsement from the committee on this bill. I am not sure that we will be able to do that with work currently before the committee, because I think that a little bit of self-interest is entering there.

A seditious offence, as outlined in the Crimes Act 1961, is the making or publishing of a statement with seditious intention. But that can range from exciting dissatisfaction against Her Majesty or the New Zealand Government—that happens quite frequently with the Opposition—or exciting ill will between different classes of people, such as may endanger public safety. The Law Commission worked on this bill and published a consultation document on reforming the law in October 2006. Its report, which advocated for repeal, was published in March 2007, and I am proud to say that the Labour-led Government agrees, as indeed, I believe, all members in this House do, with the sentiments of that commission’s report.

The heart of the case lies in the protection of freedom of expression, particularly political expression and its place in our democracy. Democracy is something we hold very dear and value very much. That is why we have the Electoral Finance Bill, which will be coming back to the House in the near future. People may hold and express dissenting views. That is something that no matter how unpopular and unreasonable those views are—and we certainly hear those often enough in this House—we recognise the right for such expressions to be made without their being branded as criminal expressions simply because they involve political opposition to the Government or authority, or lack any real credibility, as happens with the Opposition.

I would like to talk a little about cases of sedition that have been brought in the past. In the late 19th century, sedition charges were laid against leaders in relation to Māori resistance. What was it about? It was actually about establishing a movement for Māori peace. There was a campaign of passive, peaceful resistance to Māori land confiscations. That was deemed sedition. The next case was in World War I in relation to conscription, when sedition charges were laid against some men—men by the name of Bob Semple, Fred Cooke, James Thorn, Peter Fraser, and Tom Brindle—for speeches made in relation to their opposition to conscription under the Military Service Act of 1916.

Hon Harry Duynhoven: Were any of them Tories?

LYNNE PILLAY: They may well have been. It is time to reflect that if that happened now, it would be par for the course. Certainly, in terms of the Bolshevik resistance, a young woman student was charged with selling The Communist. That was deemed to be sedition, and, on the basis of that, she was convicted and fined £10, and her studentship at Wellington Training College was terminated. I ask this House what it would be like if our students today were actually charged for daring to speak against the Government, or for any political position they supported, and lost their ability to be a student and to learn in this great country—with, of course, interest-free loans under this Government, but opposed by the Opposition.

So, in 1968, Sir Kenneth Keith cited the law of sedition as the prime example of an attempt to control all expressions of political ideas and their consequences. I think that that was very visionary in those times, and I am very pleased now that this House has come in unity, in a collective spirit, to actually support this bill. I think that is commendable. Where the protection of public order or the preservation of the constitution or the Government is at stake, other more appropriate criminal offences can be used to prosecute offending behaviour. Many, many laws can be and are used if there is danger to people or if people go beyond what is reasonable.

However, in a democracy, which we enjoy today, where we govern ourselves—and New Zealand is indeed a proud democracy—it is hard to see how or why speech—[Interruption] I can hear the Opposition babbling, but we believe in a democracy where it is not just the size of people’s bank balances that determines their campaign; it is the ability of all people in New Zealand to have a voice. That is something that we in the Labour-led Government hold very dear. I know that the National Party gained tremendously from the contribution of the Exclusive Brethren. I think it is quite significant that that party’s former leader, a self-confessed agnostic, had some quite long, meaningful meetings—

Hon Member: Atheist.

LYNNE PILLAY: He is an atheist, not an agnostic, but he still thought it was very, very important to meet with the Exclusive Brethren.

Sandra Goudie: What about the unions?

LYNNE PILLAY: The unions were upfront. The unions spoke and said: “This is what we believe. We believe that the National Party deals to workers in New Zealand and we are quite happy to put our name to it and say it.” Frankly, I say that they are right. But I will not allow Opposition members to distract me. We are here today to talk about the Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill, so I just ask that they stop distracting me so that I can continue.

I am really pleased, as I said before, to have chaired the Justice and Electoral Committee. It would be fair to say that it was in happier times. We were a smaller, happier group, I have to say, before we had those other members join us for another bill before us. But of the 17 submissions we received, only two were opposed to the bill. I think it is really important that we listened to what people said. Chris Finlayson was a little scathing about those who dared to oppose, but it is important, in the spirit of free speech, that they came and had their say. It was really good that the committee unanimously agreed that this bill was a good bill, and I am very pleased to stand in this House and commend it at the second reading. Thank you.

CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) : I rise to speak on the Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill. Sedition is a term of law that refers to covert conduct, such as speech and organisation that is deemed—wait for it—by the legal authority as tending towards insurrection against the established order. Sedition includes suppression or subversion of a constitution, and incitement of discontent or resistance to lawful authority. Sedition may include any commotion—though not aimed at direct and open violence—against the laws. Sedition can include words in writing that are seditious libel. In a modern sense, it comes from the Elizabethan era of 1590. Henry VIII, and subsequently his daughter, improved on it, and that time is remembered as a remarkably litigious period.

Christopher Finlayson: Which daughter—Mary or Elizabeth?

CHRIS AUCHINVOLE: Elizabeth—oh yes, it was Elizabeth, definitely. Another feature of this period was the remarkable intrusiveness of government into the private lives of citizens. In fact, it is largely ironic that the select committee that has considered the repeal of seditious offences, the Justice and Electoral Committee, is also considering another bill that will create a whole new level of offences during elections. But we will have more of that later.

There is a quote, which is unattributed, from the Elizabethan era that describes sedition as “the notion of inciting by words or writings dissatisfaction towards the State or constituted authority”, and “Sedition complements treason and martial law, while treason”—I ask Mr Finlayson to listen to this bit—“controls primarily the privileged ecclesiastical opponents, priests, and Jesuits, as well as certain commoners.”; and “Martial law frightens commoners, sedition frightens intellectuals.” Hear any echoes from the past?

The law in New Zealand has been reviewed by the Law Commission. The Law Commission report, as commented on by the current Minister of Justice, found that the present law of sedition attacks the democratic values of free speech for no adequate public reason. Let us repeat that: the present law attacks the democratic value of free speech for no adequate reason. It is interesting that Mr Burton said that in his speech on the first reading of this bill, on 14 June this year. He went further—and I am sure this point will be noted; in fact, it already has been noted by my colleague Mr Christopher Finlayson—in saying specifically that the present law falls foul of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. That is exactly the point that was made earlier—that when it suits Labour it invokes the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act; when it does not suit, that Act is surprisingly absent from consideration.

During the select committee’s call for submissions it was confirmed by law enforcement authorities and other legal bodies that there are ample opportunities to charge perpetrators of criminal acts under existing law without relying on the arcane measures of the particular legislation we are considering at the moment.

I note from the speech made by the Hon Peter Dunne, leader of United Future, on the first reading of this bill, that he wanted to acknowledge the support of MMP parties for this bill. He specifically mentioned his own party, the Greens, the Māori Party, and ACT, all working in unison in the interests of the value of free speech. In connection with sedition, he instanced a couple of times when it had affected his Irish forebears. He spoke of the mild nature of acts of civil disobedience, or the expression of views that could rapidly bring one under threat of charges, under the act of sedition. Mr Dunne stated: “A country that is confident about itself and its direction does not need laws of this type to regulate its behaviour.”

I agree with the sentiments he expressed. As a free-born Scot, with a great pride in my New Zealand nationality and citizenship, I place high value on free speech. Like most members in this House—I would hope like all members in this House—I have a deeply held commitment to being able to speak out, not only for myself but also for all the others around. I live in a part of the country I am very proud to live in, on the West Coast of the South Island at Moana, in the ever-increasingly marginal seat of West Coast - Tasman, and we celebrate free and open speech down there. Indeed, I fully support the report of the select committee and endorse the bill on that basis. I take particular note of the part of the report that states: “the need to ensure that free speech and impartiality in censorship are protected.”

To conclude, I have to express surprise and astonishment to find that the Justice and Electoral Committee, having worked so well and so sensibly together on removing legislation that reduces the value of free speech, is now embarking on the consideration of a bill that puts all the frighteners back in again. There seems to be a thundering silence towards all who speak against it—a thundering silence from the very parties that Mr Dunne commended for speaking out against the Sedition Act.

The Electoral Finance Bill, in the minds of an ever-increasing number of people, fits in the category of the Elizabethan description by being designed to control, suppress, prosecute, and frighten people out of expressing their personal views towards the current Government. I am happy to support the sedition laws being chucked into the frying pan of discarded bills, but I note that the proposed Electoral Finance Bill will take us into a fire of democratic discontent, disquiet, and dispute. The present Government will only live long enough to be ashamed by it. Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker.

KEITH LOCKE (Green) : It gives me great pleasure to rise on behalf of the Greens to support the Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill. It is a most pleasant experience.

The previous speech by Mr Auchinvole indicated the importance of the bill. I was very pleased that the two speeches that began the debate the other night—by the Minister Mark Burton and Chris Finlayson, leading off for National—both mentioned the role of the smaller parties in hurrying this bill into being and into Parliament, and I thank them for that. This bill, in the way it has proceeded, is a victory for MMP. The Greens, United Future, ACT, and the Māori Party all got together some months back and had a combined press conference. It is good to see that people took notice of that. Parties from different ideologies have combined on this democratic issue, and I think it struck a chord in the community and in this Parliament. What is happening in the debate on this bill is a step forward for MMP politics.

Coincidentally, we have had another example of that today with the Births, Deaths, and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill. Again, a number of parties from different parts of the spectrum and with different ideologies were against closing off those records, which have been kept open since—

Shane Ardern: What’s the latest report? Give us an update. How are we doing on that?

KEITH LOCKE: What is happening with that particular bill?

Shane Ardern: Yes. How are the numbers gathering?

KEITH LOCKE: The reason I mention it now is that this afternoon the Minister Rick Barker issued a press statement about the closure of the records, which was opposed by genealogists, historians, biographers, and journalists from around the country. The Minister essentially stated that the Government has taken heed of those objections, and of the fact that the numbers across all the parties—a bit like the numbers for the Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill—do not stack up in favour of closure. So that is another victory for MMP and for parties working together that might not be traditionally aligned.

We have had a discussion in this Parliament on the Terrorism Suppression Amendment Bill, which the Greens opposed. A lot of the legislation we see in this Parliament that the Greens have been opposed to is going in a more restrictive direction, reducing free speech or rights, and in some respects reducing the power of the judiciary and increasing the power of the executive. That has been the theme of our criticism of a lot of the legislation. But a particularly good thing about this bill is that it is going in the other direction. In one sense it is going against the international current in this respect; I think it is New Zealand standing up for democracy.

If one looks at the whole question of free speech and at what has been happening in Britain and Australia since September 11, one sees that those countries have gone in the direction of criminalising free speech under the guise of the war against terrorism. They have new provisions coming in stating that people are not allowed to glorify terrorism. They have used all sorts of vague formulations, but they are not making the distinction that speakers in this debate are making between the advocacy of general ideas—however objectionable one might think those ideas are—and the advocacy of incitement directly to criminal activity. That distinction is what we are talking about here.

A lot of ideas that have historically been advocated in New Zealand have been caught by this sedition law in the past. Some of them were objectionable ideas, such as fascism, Stalinism, or whatever, which sometimes represented quite anti-democratic and violent ideologies. But if people are advocating just on the level of ideas, then they should be dealt with in public debate and not be criminalised. In that way, the ideas are reduced in their power, as those that I just referred to, fascism and Stalinism, have been. Those ideas do not have much traction in New Zealand society because they have been largely debated out in the open and discredited. It is the same with terrorist ideology—“bin Ladenism” or whatever one wants to call it. We have to debate the general ideology out in the public arena, but, of course, if anyone incites directly to a terrorist or a criminal act then that is caught under other provisions of our legislation. The Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand’s submission to the select committee on 15 February 2005—and they were a bit worried about being caught themselves—quotes the Monarchist League of New Zealand as stating that debating whether Prince Charles is to be King is possibly seditious.

Rodney Hide: Quite right!

KEITH LOCKE: They were getting a bit worried about that, and some people in this Chamber might think that, too. They might think some of my advocacy in that respect is a little bit beyond the pale, but there we are. If we pass this legislation I might be safe.

The Republican Movement made the point in its submission that there are a lot of other provisions and sections of the Crimes Act that can handle actions that are injurious to the public good, without the need for the sedition sections. They are treason, attempted treason, inciting mutiny—I did not know about that one—sabotage, unlawful assembly, riot, criminal nuisance, threatening to destroy property, threats of harm to people or property, threatening acts, and conspiracy to prevent collection of rates or taxes. I think Mr Hide might come under that one. It was a good submission by the Republican Movement, and it showed the importance of passing this legislation.

Actually, I thought this legislation could be a little bit broader. I mentioned that in my first reading speech. It could cover the offence of blasphemy. That offence seems a bit archaic really, but perhaps we will get on to that at a particular time in the future. But the Green Party is very strongly for this legislation. We have been advocating against these offences for some years. It is great when, although we started off in Parliament apparently in a minority on this change in our legislation, because of debate, discussion in Parliament, and discussion in the community we end up with a situation where we have support right across the House. I think that is fantastic. Thank you.

RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) : It is a great pleasure to follow Mr Keith Locke, who is largely responsible for putting this Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill on to the parliamentary agenda. I also think we should acknowledge the work of the Law Commission, which did the original research.

It raises an interesting point, because we have a lot of law on the statute book that does not actually get reviewed and looked at systematically. Once we do have a look at the sedition laws, we think that they are wrong and they should go. But it requires some effort to go back and look at the basic structure of our law, so bodies like the Law Commission do a good job in drawing parliamentarians’ attention, and, indeed, the public of New Zealand’s attention, to it. Mr Keith Locke then got hold of the issue and talked to the other MMP parties, which are all agreed, and, thankfully, the Government took the opportunity to put this bill before Parliament so that we could end this crazy idea that speech or thoughts can somehow be undermining of a Government. It is shocking that what one says could be a criminal offence even if it does not infringe anyone’s rights.

It is nice to be in our Parliament and have agreement about freedom of speech. We look around the walls of this Chamber and we see memorials dedicated to the men and women who surrendered their lives for freedom of speech. I want Mr Locke to reflect on this point: yes, we can debate fascism and Stalinism in New Zealand, and that is a good thing, but, of course, under a fascist regime, a Stalinist regime, or a totalitarian regime, we could not debate anything. What we talked about or, indeed, even thought would be dictated by the State. What a horrible world that would be. Men and women gave their lives fighting against fascism, and because they gave their lives, we in New Zealand can advocate fascism. That is extraordinary, if we think about it, because if the Fascists had won, I do not think we would be here debating democracy or free speech.

But I want Mr Keith Locke to reflect on this. He said it is important that in a free society, in a democratic society, even people who want to advocate hateful ideas, like “bin Ladenism”, should be entitled to do so. I agree with him. I ask him to reflect on the outrage that people in New Zealand poured on the Exclusive Brethren. I do not want to argue whether what they said was right or wrong, or whether they should have done what they did, but it seems to me that people should be able to print any pamphlets they like, and they should be able to put in them any political idea that they like, even if they are wrong. It is a different story if we defame someone, because then we are taking away a property right. But to be debating a political idea, as the Exclusive Brethren Church did, seemed to me to be entirely consistent with free speech. It was not even sedition. As it turned out, it was not even against our current electoral laws. Yet there was moral outrage from some members of Parliament against people exercising their right of freedom of expression, which includes operating a printing press, does it not, and includes the publication of pamphlets. Where was their right to freedom of speech? So we could have a situation where we stand up and say that, yes, it is OK to advocate fascism, and, yes, it is OK to advocate “bin Ladenism”, but the Exclusive Brethren, who attacked the Greens, broke the law, and we are going to change the law so that they cannot do it.

I have to say that ACT gets attacked a bit, but I do not think about changing the law so that people cannot do that. I do not think of changing the law so that people cannot spend X amount of dollars, because we have to have a level playing field for freedom of speech. I do not remember the men and women who gave their lives for our freedom saying that it does not apply if one spends over a certain amount of money on a printing press. No, it was a principle.

If members are prepared to stand up in this House and say that it is OK to advocate fascism, Stalinism, “bin Ladenism”, and every other ism that we can think of—and then some—I agree. So what is special about election year? Suddenly, in election year, we are going to pass a law saying that a person would not be seditious; he or she would just be in breach of our electoral laws. Where is the sense in that? Tonight we are passing a law here, quite rightly, so that people can advocate what was commonly called sedition, but we are also contemplating passing a law that says people cannot put out a pamphlet saying they do not like the Government, they do not like the National Party, they do not like the Māori Party, or they do not like the ACT party. It does not even have to be untrue; it just becomes unlawful.

Have we not got this a bit skew-whiff? Stalinism and fascism killed millions of people, but I do not think the Exclusive Brethren have hurt a flea, actually. I do not think that what they were advocating was dangerous. It was just their political views. It might be wacky. It might not be what one agrees with. But if we can stand up in this House, like Mr Locke, and say it is OK to advocate fascism, it is OK to advocate Stalinism, and it is OK to advocate “bin Ladenism”, then surely it is OK to criticise the Greens, surely it is OK to criticise Helen Clark, and surely it is OK to criticise the National Party and the ACT party. Surely it must be OK to run off a few pamphlets and put them in a grateful nation’s letterboxes so that people can say “Absolutely!”. Because one would not read this in the New Zealand Herald. One will not see this on TVNZ.

Now we have a Government and a Parliament that want to dictate to the media what is OK.

Hon Member: They’re scared of the people!

RODNEY HIDE: Now they are scared of the people. They are scared of allowing New Zealanders to advocate their ideas, to spend what little money they have after the taxman has been—and Michael Cullen has spent it—on printing a pamphlet and sticking it in a neighbour’s letterbox. That is an outrage. So, yes, let us rejoice that we are passing a law to end the heinous abuse of State power that the law on sedition is. But let us reflect that if we stand here for freedom of speech, then that is a principle that should stand unsullied. Talking about level playing fields and democracy will not wash, and talking about what is done in other jurisdictions will not wash, because we should be consistent and allow people to advocate all ideas, and to produce whatever pamphlets they like. That is what living in a free and democratic society actually means.

TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Māori Party) :Tēnā koe, Tēnātātou katoa. In November 2005, a group described as “concerned Pakeha” claimed responsibility for an attack on the Prime Minister’s Sandringham Road electorate office. Flyers were found circulated around Ponsonby Road that stated what the attack was a protest against—and I want to quote from that text, entitled Confiscation Day.

“This morning concerned Pakeha vented their anger and disgust at the Government’s attempts to steal, by confiscation, Maori land in the form of the Seabed and Foreshore Bill that is currently being disgracefully rammed through Parliament as part of a desperate back-room deal. By attacking the electorate office of the chief instigator, the Prime Minister—who is due to abandon the mess she created by fleeing the country—we signal that a threshold has been crossed. The broken glass symbolises the broken faith, broken trust and shattered justice; our axe symbolises the steadfastness of our determination.

The ruthless Prime Minister will leave behind a vindictive law that will haunt this nation should the MPs be mad enough to pass it. Maori MPs complicit in this farce will never live down their betrayal. If this is destined to be Confiscation Day, then we have marked it. We call upon all like-minded New Zealanders to take similar actions of their own to send a clear message that such a gross, blatantly racist injustice to the Maori people will never be accepted. Ake! Ake! Ake”.

Well unfortunately we did not have many like-minded New Zealanders in this House. A month later Tim Selwyn was arrested and charged with making a seditious statement, seditious conspiracy, and conspiracy to commit criminal damage.

I have taken the time to share the statement of these “concerned Pakeha” because it raised in my mind the vital issues at the essence of this bill: what is the nature of justice, the injustice, and the criminal offending that we are debating here tonight? Is it the call for peaceful resistance? Is it the concept of civil disobedience? Is it the suppression of political expression? Or is the real crime that of a desperate Government, a universally unpopular bill, and the tragic consequences of “Confiscation Day”? The seditious statement of Tim Selwyn in calling for “all like-minded New Zealanders” to vent their anger in disgust has eerie similarities with another challenge made to another Labour Government decades ago. The statement to the Labour Party came with conditions that the Treaty should be embodied in statute, there should be protection from sale of our lands, no more land confiscation, and compensation for stolen land. That statement came from TahupōtikiWīremuRātana and it arose in the context of negotiations with Michael Joseph Savage in 1936. In his negotiations with Savage, Rātana placed four objects on the table: a potato, a gold watch, a greenstone tiki, and a hūia feather. He explained the potato was the ordinary Māori needing his land because “a potato cannot grow without soil.” The watch, which was broken, represented the broken machinery of Māori land law. The tiki represented Māori mana, and the hūia feather was a sign of chieftainship, which Savage could wear if he were to take on the resolution of these issues so important to the Māori.

Over 70 years later, many Rātana supporters have asked whether indeed it is timely once again to bring these four objects—if Labour can find them—out on the table and to assess whether the advancement of the people has occurred as anticipated so many years ago. This is the lesson of history that this archaic and outmoded legislation reminds us of. Whether it be the broken glass of the window or the broken glass of the watch, the core component remains—the broken faith, broken trust, and shattered justice. One has only to look at the comments of the public submissions to see ample evidence of the way in which the restrictions on freedom of expression have led to broken trust.

Malcolm Harbrow drew on the judgments of Sir Kenneth Keith in concluding that strict interpretation of the law could outlaw, in effect, all political dissent, and we have heard some examples tonight from Mr Hide. Sir Keith had argued that the law could be used to target peaceful protest or those advocating civil disobedience, including those whose political opinions were outside the mainstream. Another submitter, Ashley Clarkson, summarised the concerns of the 17 submissions. He stated: “The crime of sedition is an archaic law, which is clearly incompatible with the right to freedom of expression. The right to freedom of expression in a democratic society should not be limited in any reasonable way, particularly not in such a way as to suppress legitimate dissent against the actions and policies of the Government of the day.”

It is, of course, highly fitting that as we debate this bill tonight, we remember that 40 years ago, in the south-eastern Bolivian scrubland, the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara was executed. Che Guevara rebelled against the onslaught of poverty, oppression, and disenfranchisement throughout Latin America. He stood up and he spoke out; he acted for the people. Indeed, his life serves as a reminder of the value of robust, uninhibited, and open debate—as we would expect in a healthy democracy.

When we joined with the Greens, United Future, and ACT—and I thank members of those parties for that—to appeal to the Government to scrap these outdated, archaic laws, it was the principle of the freedom of expression that motivated our actions. It was the call for justice that has been provoked by more than a century of previous prosecutions that act against this principle. We recall the charges of sedition being laid on the Tūhoe prophet Rua Kēnana for his simple statement: “This country belongs to us, the Māori.”

Sedition charges were also forced on Te Whiti o Rongomai and TohuKākahi for daring to encourage passive resistance. And amongst their seditious evidence was a statement: “Nāku te whenua.”—mine is the land. For this comment, Te Whiti was charged with “wickedly, maliciously and seditiously contriving and intending to disturb the peace”. Sedition charges were also thrown at my very good friend and life member of the Labour Party, the late Niko Tangaroa, and at Annette Sykes, Mike Smith, and Tame Iti in 1995 for daring to share their views in a free and frank manner at the Asian Development Bank conference. It was interesting to look back at news reports of the time, and to learn the views of the then Labour leader Helen Clark, who suggested: “It is vital all political parties committed themselves to resolving the grievances which were behind the threats.”

It is not usually my practice to come to the House and ask that all parties pay heed to the advice of Helen Clark, but I will on this occasion make an exception. For when one thinks about the charges that have incurred sedition prosecutions for Māori, we think about the Foreshore and Seabed Act, we think about land confiscation and alienation, and we think about maintaining our right to our own cultural integrity. It is indeed vital that all political parties commit themselves to resolving the grievances. When we think about the broken watch tended by TahupōtikiWīremuRātana, the broken glass that arose from the actions of “concerned Pakeha”, and the broken faith, broken trust, and shattered justice, it is obvious that repealing the seditious offence provisions are not the only actions this Parliament must take if we are truly to restore and rebuild the values of democracy. Kia ora.

NICKY WAGNER (National) : National, like all other parties in the House, supports the Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill. We agreed with the Law Commission when it concluded in its report earlier this year that seditious offences should be repealed, and it gave good reasons to repeal sedition. The meaning of the word “sedition” has changed over time, and the current legal profile of seditious offences is overly broad and uncertain. Because of this, there is a real danger of abuse of the principle of freedom of speech that New Zealanders quite rightly hold dear. We also believe that the law is not in accordance with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. Finally, we believe there are other offences that can cover any areas of the law on sedition that should be retained.

There have been times in our history—as we have heard from Tariana Turia—that this bill has been used in ways that today we would consider grossly inappropriate. It has been used in the past to impose political censorship, to stifle political discussion, and to suppress individual opinion. That is not the sort of behaviour that we want to see in New Zealand in 2007.

A number of sedition charges were laid in the late 19th century, and they continued to be laid until the early 1920s. It is true that most were laid in times of political unrest or war. They included charges against Māori in land disputes cases—as we have also heard from Tariana Turia; against striking workers; against people opposing conscription in World War I; and even against people possessing Communist literature.

The law then fell into disuse until 2006, when Timothy Selwyn was prosecuted for sedition—we have heard this story too from Tariana Turia. His crime was to disagree with the Government about the foreshore and seabed legislation. He threw an axe through the window of the Prime Minister’s electorate office and he left pamphlets around, urging the public to take similar action. There have been only two other recent cases.

  • Debate interrupted.