Well meaning waffle on free speech v hate speech from two MPs

The opinions from National Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith and Labour list MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan from Stuff:  The delicate balance of free speech v hate speech

Stuart Smith

Finding a means to restrict free speech by legislating against “hate speech” – the modern version of blasphemy – is something that must be carefully considered.

Hate speech and harmful extremism, on any platform, should not be tolerated, and we are right to scrutinise the role of social media in the context of the Christchurch tragedy, and the wider issue of extremism and hate speech.

Our legal system has recourse for those seeking to incite violence.

If we legislated against hate speech, who would decide what constitutes hate speech?

I think that this is one of the primary concerns.

That is why I believe that some of the calls to regulate free speech through legislation may go too far. There is a risk that, as with many difficult and potentially harmful issues that society grapples with, attempts to regulate social media too heavily will drive groups underground to the “dark web”.

Or talk about it in private away from the Internet. That probably happens already.

This issue is not new. Professor Paul Spoonley, Pro Vice-Chancellor at Massey University, was to give a very timely public lecture called The Politics of Hate in the Age of the Internet on March 19, but this was postponed.

He states that research points to a significant spike in online hate speech since 2017.

I agree with his argument that we should not allow it to become normalised and that this is not simply about legislation, but public awareness and discussion.

It is up to all New Zealanders to keep this important conversation going.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan

Access to the internet along with social media platforms has undeniably changed the way we consume information.

While discrimination and hate may have always existed, they now have new, powerful distribution channels.

Social media platforms have served to amplify hate speech across the world. It can be difficult to get rid of harmful messages and hateful comments on social media. Even if the original comment or post is deleted, someone, somewhere, could have already copied and shared it.

It’s time for social media platforms to act to prevent the spread of hate.

Major social media platforms like Facebook, Youtube and Twitter have poor records at preventing ‘hate speech’. They are too concerned about making money.

In the wake of March 15, we have the opportunity to confront the racism, xenophobia and hate that is proliferated through these channels. As individuals, we are each responsible for what we put out there on the internet, and as a country, there is an appetite for change.

As individuals we also have a responsibility to challenge harmful crap speech, both online and in our offline lives.

The Government believes the best and most enduring way to ensure change is to act collaboratively with other governments and with social media companies. The problem is global so the solution needs to be too.

The Prime Minister has committed to New Zealand playing a leading role in this change and Kiwis can expect to see more details of our plans in this space in the coming weeks.

I doubt that relying on international companies and other governments is going to deal with this adequately.

We need to come up with local means of dealing with global problems.

I am disappointed with these contributions to the discussion by Radhakrishnan and Smith. They may help keep the discussion going but they haven’t added much if anything themselves.

Government and Opposition on fixing the mental health crisis

It has long been known that mental health was being inadequately addressed by governments. It could be claimed (and is) that all health is inadequately funded, but mental health is a special case, and has been since the large mental health institutions were emptied and closed in the 1970s and 1980s. Community care was seen as a better option, but it has never really been done properly, at great human, family and community cost.

The last National government did the usual inquiries and came up with a plan late in their tenure, but the incoming Labour-led government scrapped that and went back to the drawing board – another inquiry. A year on they have just announced a plan that will still take some time to implement.

Labour’s health spokesperson Annette King on  21 February 2017 Kids suffering under mental health strain

A newly released report from the Ministry of Health on the mental health and addictions workforce shows a worryingly large vacancy rate in child and youth mental health services, says Labour’s Health spokesperson Annette King.

“The Mental Health and Addiction Workforce Action Plan 2017-2021 shows a whopping eight per cent vacancy rate in infant, child and adolescent mental health and alcohol and other drug services, the estimated equivalent of 141 full time positions unfilled.

“Every week we hear of failings in our mental health system from deaths in care, patient attacks, overstretched counselling services and crisis teams, with staff working more than 60 hours a week.

“The Government needs to do more than look at staff per 100,000 population, they need to look at how many staff are needed to meet demand and fund mental health properly.”

“A Labour Government will review mental health services…

King cited specific problems from a Ministry report but called for a review. Jacinda Ardern commented on it  on Facebook:

I find this staggering. There is such a huge demand for services and yet the vacancy rate for Child and Youth Mental Health Services is equivalent to an estimated 141 full time positions.

Mental health services have come up A LOT during this campaign, and for good reason. It’s time to review mental health services…

I find the call for reviews staggering, although one person (Liam McConnell-Whiting) laauded her words:

Yes Omg yes! Jacinda you speak the speak! NZs history of ignoring mental health issues, primary and secondary to other (better funded) health issues is a phenomenal shame.
Love to see you identifying this!!!

September 2017: What Labour promised, but will they deliver?

Labour promised to increase resourcing for frontline health workers, put nurses in all high schools and conduct a review of the mental health system in their first 100 days. It would put mental health workers in schools affected by Canterbury earthquakes and target suicide prevention funding into mainstream and rainbow community support organisations.

Labour would put $193m over three years into mental health, on top of the Government’s increase announced in the budget. It would conduct a two-year pilot programme placing mental health teams at eight sites – such as GPs – across the country. The programme would offer free crisis help for people.

A number of specific plans.

And Labour put together a government. Mental health was listed as a priority in the Labour-Green confidence and supply agreement:

16. Ensure everyone has access to timely and high quality mental health services, including free
counselling for those under 25 years.

There was a minor mention in the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement:

Re-establish the Mental Health Commission

In Taking action in our first 100 days Labour implied urgency saying they will hit the ground running in government, with a programme of work across housing, health, education, families, the environment and other priority areas.

  • Set up a Ministerial Inquiry in order to fix our mental health crisis

So they referred to it as a crisis, but chose an inquiry that has taken a year. On 4 December 2018: Mental Health and Addiction report charts new direction

Health Minister Dr David Clark says the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink how we handle some of the biggest challenges we face as a country.

The Government has today publicly released the report of the Inquiry in full, less than a week after receiving it.

“It is clear we need to do more to support people as they deal with these issues – and do a lot more to intervene earlier and support wellbeing in our communities.

That has been clear for a long time.

“We are working our way carefully through the 40 recommendations and will formally respond in March. I want to be upfront with the public, however, that many of the issues we’re facing, such as workforce shortages, will take years to fix.

‘Fixing’ mental health care will always be an ongoing challenge, but there is a lack of urgency here.

“Reshaping our approach to mental health and addiction is no small task and will take some time. But I’m confident this report points us in the right direction, and today marks the start of real change for the better,” David Clark says.

“Today marks the start of real change for the better” is a nonsense statement, and will sound hollow to those who have been struggling with mental health for a along time, for some people a lifetime.

Two MPs, one from National and one from Labour, comment on progress in Virtue signalling or concrete action on mental health crisis?

Stuart Smith (National MP for Kaikoura):

Eighteen months ago, we established a $100 million fund to support mental health, which the current government duly scrapped after the election.

They then set about reinventing the wheel by launching their own inquiry into mental health and addiction services which, a full year later, supports the very initiatives that we had already identified for targeted funding.

The Prime Minister chose not to keep these initiatives in place, yet at the same time wanted a zero tolerance on suicides, a goal she has now shifted to a percentage reduction of 20 per cent by 2030.

This is nothing short of virtue signalling, and that is incredibly irresponsible. What we need at this time is action, and instead this government cut programmes, then spent a year coming to the conclusion that those programmes were exactly what the mental health system needed.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan (​Labour List MP based in Auckland’s Maungakiekie):

Over the last nine years, demand for mental health services increased by 60 per cent – but funding for these services did not increase by even half that.

Fixing the mental health system is a priority for this government – and it can be done. It requires commitment to understand the problems and implement sustainable solutions – and time. Almost a decade of underfunding and neglect cannot be turned around in one Budget.

The Prime Minister has spoken about her personal commitment to addressing it. The Finance Minister has signalled that it will be a priority in our first wellbeing Budget in 2019. So how are we tracking?

The Government committed to an inquiry into mental health and addiction services in its first hundred days. The report from that inquiry has just been completed and released and the Government will respond formally in March. This response will be a considered one that focuses on long-term, sustainable change rather than political expediency.

In the meantime, the government has committed an extra $200 million to district health board mental health services over the next four years. Low-decile schools, especially those affected by earthquakes, will be better resourced to assist children who may need support. It’s now cheaper for 540,000 New Zealanders on modest incomes to see a doctor, and free for children under 14. A pilot programme that will provide free counselling for 18 to 25 year olds is being developed. Our mental health and addiction support workers – 5000 of them – have been included in the Care and Support Workers Pay Equity Settlement. I’m proud to be supporting a government that cares enough to act.

Finally, as we work to fix the mental health crisis, we must remember that one size does not fit all.

As we work to fix the mental health crisis, we must make sure that we fix it for all New Zealanders.

Not all New Zealanders need mental health assistance. Some measures have been implemented, but after a year in Government it is warned that it will time to fix but is still being referred to as a crisis.

We will find out next March – 18 months after the election – what the Labour-led government plan to do to fix the mental health crisis.