New Hate Speech Laws in NZ

20th August 2021

Keyboard warriors beware. In the wake of the Christchurch shootings of March 2019, changes to the New Zealand’s hate speech laws are afoot.   

Based on recommendations by a Royal Commission established to investigate the harrowing event, amendments are set to be made to the Human Rights Act 1993 (“the Act”) to extend the grounds of discrimination, more stringently regulate hate speech and the inciting of racial disharmony, and to impose heavier sanctions for breaches of the Act. 

So, what is being changed?  

Section 21 of the Act deals with Prohibited Grounds of Discrimination

While the government is still seeking feedback on which groups should be included under the proposed new hate speech laws, the proposed amendments to s.21 are set to expand the section to prohibit discrimination based on:  

  • Sex or sexual orientation (there is also a proposal to amend this ground to also include “sex characteristics and intersex status”, alongside a new ground of “gender including gender expression and gender identity”) 
  • Marital status or family status  
  • Religious belief or ethical belief  
  • Colour, race, ethnicity, nationality or citizenship 
  • Disability  
  • Age  
  • Political opinion  
  • Employment status (including receiving a government benefit).   

Section 131 of the Act currently makes it an offence to Incite Racial Disharmony

The proposed amendment to the Act will see s.131 replaced with a new provision in the Crimes Act, making it a crime to:  

  1. Intentionally incite/stir up, maintain or normalise hatred  
  2. Against any group protected from discrimination by section 21 of the Human Rights Act 
  3. Through threatening, abusive or insulting communications, including inciting violence 
  4. Made by any means. 

For a successful prosecution, all four of the above elements would have to be proven. 

So what does "incite/stir up, maintain or normalise hatred" mean?  

The Ministry of Justice has provided some clarity here:  

  • Hatred implies extreme dislike or disgust.  
  • Incite/stir up covers speech that causes other people to feel hated towards a group.  
  • Maintain or normalise covers speech towards a protected group which builds on or reinforces already held feelings of hatred in others.   

What’s the punishment? 

If all 4 elements of the offence are proven, then under the proposed amendment - 

“A person who commits the offence is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years’ imprisonment or to a fine not exceeding $50,000.” 

This is a substantial increase from the current punishment of three months’ imprisonment or a fine not exceeding $7,000. 

When will the changes take effect? 

The current amendment proposals are still in the consultation process, but while implementation is still some time away, from our research, the terminology discussed here looks likely to form the basis of the final wording in the amended Act.  

While these changes to the law have been initiated as the result of the Royal Commission of inquiry into the Christchurch shootings which targeted the Muslim community, they prohibit discrimination based on a much broader range than just religion.  

Accordingly, under the new law employers, for example, will need to be alive to the expanded discrimination provisions under the Act, and anyone involved in the publication of material that is specific to a particular interest group and which may be considered controversial will need to be conscious of the new Crimes Act provisions. 

If you would like further information about these changes or how they might affect you or your business, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at McMillan & Co.  


Charlie Hantler, Senior Solicitor