Monday, May 30, 2016

MBIE on Wicked Campers

Nobody likes Wicked Campers. They're sexist, misogynistic dickheads whose business model is offending people. But while their camper van slogans are offensive, with a few specific exceptions they aren't actually illegal. Which makes government efforts to crack down on them concerning.

So what does the Ministry of Tourism think? Their associate Minister, Paula Bennett, had asked them for advice on how to "address the issue of vehicles displaying imagery or slogans that are deemed to be offensive". That advice consisted of a couple of briefings, which you can read here. MBIE canvasses a number of options, including use of land transport legislation, and a new law modelled on the UK's Public Order Act aimed at outlawing "insulting" speech (so it would be a crime to call Paula Bennett an authoritarian censor, for example). Interestingly, all the expected advice on consistency with the BORA is withheld under s9(2)(h), suggesting that it is not good. A later briefing discusses the police's complaints to the Classification Office, which has since seen several specified vans classified as "objectionabe" (and presumably, repainted). But the real smoking gun is this:

Note that word "encouraging". Private sector moves against Wicked are fine, part of the push and shove of democracy. But MBIE appears to be talking about encouraging and coordinating such moves. And that is highly problematic. To point out the obvious: the BORA doesn't just apply to legislation, but to every act done by the government. Including the act of talking to HPANZ and tourism providers and encouraging them to take action against Wicked. Insofar as that action is an attempt to suppress lawful speech, the government's action to encourage and coordinate seems to be a prima facie violation of the BORA's affirmation of freedom of expression.

The government should not be in the business of suppressing lawful speech, no matter how unpopular it is. Paula Bennett's efforts in this area are begging for a lawsuit. And we may all end up paying the price for that.