Kiwis' right to be idiots important - Collins

MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 13:46 27/11/2012
Judith Collins
Justice Minister Judith Collins says the Government is considering establishing an agency to deal with harmful communications between people.

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Justice Minister Judith Collins says it is important that Kiwis retain the right to be idiots and make fools of themselves.

Ms Collins made the comment during her speech at a NetSafe conference in Wellington today, where she reinforced the her view that a hard line should be taken on cyber-bullying and harassment.

In doing so, she pointed to reports out of Britain this week where a woman was found guilty by a jury of racially abusing her New Zealand-born neighbour by calling her a ''stupid fat Australian'' during a drunken tirade.

Ms Collins said that while the Government was considering a range of initiatives and law changes to stamp out cyber-bullying, she did not want to see people's freedom of speech restricted to that extent.

''I don't think that's something we want to see in New Zealand. I do think it's important to retain the right to be idiots and to make fools of ourselves,'' she said.

''But when it goes too far, particularly the sort of bullying that ends with young people committing suicide, that's where we need to be very-much focused.''

''So I am introducing a paper to cabinet that's going to be down the lines of dealing with the harms ... I think it should always be right for any Australian to be called a Kiwi as well.''

In August, the Law Commission released its report on harmful digital communications, which recommended a new electronic communications offence for those aged 14 and over and the establishment of a Communications Tribunal to enforce apologies, take-down and cease-and-desist orders, and unmask anonymous offenders.

Ms Collins said the Government was considering establishing an agency that would be the first point of call for harmful digital communications between individuals.

''The agency would be responsible for mediating and investigating complaints, liaising with website hosts and internet service providers, liaising across Government agencies such as the police and the privacy commissioner and providing a referral to the district court if needed.''

The law should also be changed to make inciting suicide a criminal offence, regardless of whether the victim actually commits suicide or simply attempts it, she said.

But Ms Collins added that freedom of speech would be protected under any law changes.

''Free speech is something the majority of internet users hold very dearly. In my view the new offence should not be aimed at censorship or speech that offends just because it is offensive.''

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''The proposed effects would only be for communications that are grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, menacing, knowingly false, as well as the most serious instances of intimate recordings taken with consent but published without consent. That sets the bar very high.''

Ms Collins said she expected to put a final suite of initiatives before Cabinet next month.

Contact Michael Forbes
Transport and metro reporter
Email: michael.forbes@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @michael_forbes

- © Fairfax NZ News

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