Free speech, not hate speech


Race Re­la­tions Com­mis­sioner Dame Su­san Devoy wants to do some­thing about hate speech dur­ing her fi­nal year in the role.

Fol­low­ing on from her con­tro­ver­sial ap­point­ment in 2013, the for­mer world squash cham­pion was the sub­ject of sev­eral writ­ten and ver­bal at­tacks.

One per­son threat­ened to kneecap her.

‘’’This is not a job for the faint­hearted,’’ she said.

She was aware in­sults and threats were a part of life for many peo­ple and wanted to see more prose­cu­tions and pre­ven­ta­tive work done.

‘‘Whilst I be­lieve in free­dom of speech, hate speech isn’t free speech. I think it is re­ally good to con­tinue to have de­bates, but once you let the prej­u­dice and hate be­come in­volved in the con­ver­sa­tion it’s re­ally hard.’’

It was im­por­tant for New Zealan­ders to recog­nise they live in one of the most peace­ful coun­tries on earth, but it is also eth­ni­cally di­verse and has not re­solved its cul­tural is­sues, she said.

In­ter­na­tional pres­sures and the ris­ing ten­sions un­der Don­ald Trump’s lead­er­ship in the United States were on her radar, but her role pre­vented her from com­ment­ing on mat­ters out­side of New Zealand, she said, adding ‘‘I find that quite dif­fi­cult of course’’.

‘‘I am try­ing to en­sure the fo­cus be­comes that we don’t travel down that path. . . .There’s a lot of di­vi­sive­ness, there’s a lot of ten­sions and there’s cer­tainly a lot of racial is­sues that are be­ing dis­cussed – anti-im­mi­gra­tion those sorts of things. It would be naive to sug­gest it could never hap­pen here.’’

She was con­cerned about the im­pacts on New Zealan­ders.

‘‘Ev­ery time there’s a world event – and it’s not just the Mus­lim com­mu­nity it’s the Jewish com­mu­nity too – th­ese peo­ple are hor­ri­bly marginalised.

‘‘Most New Zealan­ders would be re­ally hor­ri­fied to see the per­sonal at­tacks and dis­crim­i­na­tion al­ways in­crease, par­tic­u­larly to women and chil­dren who are vis­i­bly more di­verse ...We need to en­sure that we con­tinue to be tol- er­ant and fair minded.’’

Devoy was in Queen­stown with friends to tramp the Green­stone and Caples Track, when friend Tom Pryde asked her to speak at a Queen­stown In­ner Wheel high tea at the Hil­ton to raise funds for the Lakes District Air Res­cue Trust and St John, on Thurs­day.

Or­gan­is­ers said over $26,000 was raised.

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