INDEPENDENT NEWS

ACT Party Protects Free Speech About Villains

Published: Fri 21 Sep 2001 09:54 AM
ACT Party Protects Free Speech About Foreign Villains
Thursday, September 20 2001 Stephen Franks Press Releases -- Justice, Law & Order
After months of government attempts to add a chunk of new privacy law, the Statutes Amendment Bill will proceed in Parliament today without the Privacy Act changes. Any member can veto a provision in a Statutes Amendment Bill. ACT Justice spokesman Stephen Franks explained why ACT vetoed those parts.
"The changes restrict dealing with information from the European Union and other countries which have privacy laws. In essence the intention is that New Zealanders must not act in a way which would get around those foreign countries' laws.
"ACT approaches privacy laws with suspicion. In many countries, including New Zealand, privacy laws can conflict with freedom of speech, and can shelter conduct that should be exposed to the disinfecting sunlight of disclosure.
"We were prepared to support the new code provided a simple clause was added to ensure it could not be used to stifle debate in and from New Zealand. We must value free speech about matters overseas, whatever the governments of foreign countries might think. For example if New Zealanders wanted to let others in the world know personal details of Indonesians responsible for brutalities in East Timor, even if Indonesia passed a law to suppress such information and, New Zealanders should not be indirectly bound by such a law.
"Instead of trying to stipulate all kinds of exceptions in detail, ACT proposed a simple statement of principle. We suggested a clause to read along the lines: 'This part 11A of the Privacy Act is subject to section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act'.
"Section 14 is our legislative protection of freedom of expression. It is subject to 'reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society'.
"The Privacy Commissioner and the Ministry of Justice officials would not accept the overriding importance of our Bill of Rights freedom of expression. With that warning of what may lie behind the new code ACT concluded it had no alternative but to use its veto power on the Bill.
"The Minister of Justice and the Privacy Commissioner will no doubt regroup to get their way. ACT's move has ensured that any specific amendment bill can be properly considered by a select committee. The potential abridgement of New Zealanders' freedom of expression can then be fully debated in the House," Stephen Franks said.
For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.

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