Sedition laws belong in the dustbin of history

Green Party Human Rights Spokesperson MP Keith Locke today supported the call by Law Commission president Sir Geoffrey Palmer to scrap New Zealand laws on sedition.

“Sedition laws can no longer be justified in a free society. They are a throwback to the dark old days when sedition was used by governments to suppress political dissent. Three former leaders of the Labour Party – Harry Holland, Peter Fraser, and Walter Nash were all charged with sedition. So were Maori leaders such as Te Whiti and Rua Kenana,” Mr Locke says.

“Now more than ever, we need to protect the right to political dissent. Since 9/11, terrorism has become a rationale for government action that infringes the civil liberties of ordinary citizens. The rights of free political speech are a cornerstone of democratic society.

“As the Law Commission report says, the legal profile of the sedition offence is ‘broad, variable and uncertain.’ It ‘invades the democratic value of free speech for no adequate reason’ and falls foul of the Bill of Rights. Moreover, the report concludes, other offences now more appropriately address what was formerly seen as falling within the ambit of sedition.

“It has been disturbing that the New Zealand Police have invoked the sedition laws as a catchall. The Tim Selwyn case for instance, is a good illustration of Sir Geoffrey’s point that other laws are available — such as intentional damage, or directly inciting criminal activity.

“Absurdly, the sedition laws were used this year to prosecute a student bar owner in Dunedin, for publicising an orientation week stunt competition with a petrol-soaked couch as a prize.

“The response to the Law Commission report should be swift and certain. The Government needs to have the courage to scrap the sedition laws as soon as possible. A good starting point would be the draft bill included as appendix two of the Law Commission report.

“The sedition laws belong in the dustbin of history. Scrapping them would be a useful reminder that we still need to defend the right to political dissent,” Mr Locke says.