UN Migration Compact seeks to restrict free speech on immigration matters


Opinion: Government should not sign the UN Migration Compact

Next week, New Zealand is expected to sign?the United Nations? Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Whilst it is non-binding, the protocol could still damage New Zealanders? right to free speech and debate.

The Free Speech Coalition is indifferent regarding immigration?policy matters; reasonable people can agree to disagree. However, the government should not be signing an agreement that says it will seek to restrict free speech on immigration matters.

Objective 17 of the Compact looks to prevent critical speech of immigration policies in an attempt to combat xenophobia and racism. The problem with this is that many legitimate and genuine concerns about immigration are framed as ?racist??by some people. The Compact says that governments should defund media which report ?intolerant? views. It goes further and says they should be denied ?support?, which seems to mean the government should interfere with private funding. Almost any unwelcome truth can be termed ?intolerant?, so the Compact will be a tool to suppress New Zealanders speaking their minds.

The Compact encourages signatory nations to ?enact, implement or maintain legislation that penalizes hate crimes…?. The problem here is there is?that common definitions of ?hate crime? may extend to so-called ?hate speech? which can often mean ?hearing truths we hate?. The Compact will, therefore, support interpretations of existing law that give authorities the power to suppress unpopular opinions and may well be used to claim that we must pass a new law to restrict unwelcome discussion of politically awkward or embarrassing information. The Compact will be used to claim that we must have such law to retain international respectability.

Hate speech laws, probably well-intentioned, have been implemented in Sweden, Britain, and France. But the result has been that?citizens have been prosecuted for merely speaking their mind or for highlighting issues the authorities would rather not debate, or have debated.

The Free Speech Coalition supports our traditional law against incitement of violence. The Compact says we must seek to go much further. The Free Speech Coalition says New Zealand must remain free to have an open and frank debate about immigration. The Compact says the state should strongly promote one side of the argument and gag the other.

It is claimed that we should not worry because the Compact is not binding, only aspirational.?It should not be an aspiration of New Zealand to align with forces that threaten free speech. Immigration is a core issue for nation states. In democracies like ours, there is a legitimate expectation that all sides be heard on this complicated issue. This agreement says the state?s powers and resources should weigh in on one side and act against the other.

The Compact says the state must encourage ?independent? and ?objective reporting? on migration issues but appears to mean the opposite, calling for ?sensitising? and ?educating? reporters on terminology and the appropriate message. State sanitising of the fourth estate is dangerous to democracy, and definitely not compatible with a free society.

The provisions appear to seek deplatforming of views inconsistent with the Compact?s view of objectivity, by defunding outlets which convey them. If the Compact justifies discrimination by state-connected advertisers against outlets that convey the side of a debate that the government considers to be not objective or helpful or tolerant, that could dramatically affect New Zealanders? freedom to seek and to impart views and information. Our current broadcasting regulations require ?balance?. Will they be amended or reinterpreted to reflect a view that ?balance? need not include any views on immigration and immigrants unwelcome to the United Nations?

The compact is legally non-binding but that does not mean it has no effect. The New Zealand judiciary often interprets New Zealand laws in the light of the non-binding treaties our Government has signed. We should not sign up to agreements if we do not intend to honour their spirit. And this compact includes a provision for stifling free expression.

Twenty countries have already rejected the Compact, including Australia and the United States. The New Zealand Government should do the same.


by Patrick Corish


Patrick Corish is a coordinator at the Free Speech Coalition – a bipartisan group protecting and promoting the rights of free speech in New Zealand.