Sunday, March 31, 2024

Todd Stephenson: Free speech goes both ways

Invercargill Mayor Nobby Clark recently found himself in a media furore as he asserted his right to use colourful racial terms. Ratepayers might regret the distraction from local concerns, but part of my job in Parliament is to consider speech issues in a serious way.

And I’ve come to a conclusion. Free speech is indeed under threat in New Zealand.

We’re currently seeing the increasing normalisation of the heckler’s veto – this is the method of shutting down speech or gatherings by using unruly or violent behaviour – or the threat of it. Public authorities are often complicit as they shut down events citing safety concerns.

In 2018, left-wing activists successfully cancelled a major public booking for a pair of anti-immigration Canadian speakers, with Auckland Council explaining they couldn’t safely manage the threatened protests.

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Last year, protestors at Albert Park assaulted women attending a speech on gender issues, and effectively chased the controversial speaker off stage.

And recently in Wellington, a US diplomat was forced to abandon a talk on international security due to disruption from pro-Palestine protestors.

Activists have celebrated these cancellations, but ACT has warned time and time again that the same tactics could easily be turned against the political left.

And now it’s happening.

Destiny Church, who oppose rainbow story time events, have successfully shut down two events with the threat of protest, and even vandalised a public crossing. Hastings District Council said they could no longer guarantee the safety of attendees.

Rainbow events at public libraries are contentious for some and will continue to be so.

The allegation is that parents are taking their kids to events where they will be exposed to sexual content. We’ve so far seen no evidence that this has happened in New Zealand.

But the real issue here is that using mob rule to determine what events can and can’t go ahead is terribly arbitrary, it’s not consistent with the rule of law, and it encourages other groups to use the same undemocratic tactics – perhaps to shut down speech you want to hear.

We need a more principled approach that respects the freedoms of left and right, conservative and progressive.

If the “woke” left wants to stop reactionary speakers, they ought to prove those speakers are breaking laws – such as by inciting violence.

If conservatives want to stop rainbow events, they ought to prove that children are being put at risk – and take those concerns to police.

If protestors on either side of politics believe current laws are inadequate at protecting the rights of the vulnerable, they need to propose specific law changes that can be scrutinised and discussed.

And we need greater assurance from police that strategies are in place to protect existing rights to free speech and association, and that these strategies are applied evenly for New Zealanders across the political spectrum.........The full article is published HERE

Todd Stephenson is an ACT List MP based in Southland, and is the party’s spokesman for justice, including free speech issues.


Anonymous said...

The most dangerous aspect is that most of us don't feel comfortable putting our names to discuss these issues for fear of having extremists turn up at our work place or home. I once wrote a work article for a trade magazine and had an abusive call. I hate to think what turns up in the NZCPR inbox.

Anonymous said...

Ardern has said loudly in the NZ Parliament, and twice at the UN that "free speech is a dangerous weapon and must be controlled ".
Now she is at Harvard indoctrination another tranche of students into following her socialist ideals.
The best example of controlled speech is. In Russia.
So much adulation for Putin who controls every aspect of every Russians lives.

Anonymous said...

In reference to Putin, the other week he did a speech criticising Western influence on Russian society. It was similar to much of what I read in the NZ media criticising Western influence on New Zealand in education, science, language etc. It seems the style of ethno-nationalism promoted here as good is in fact similar to dictatorial governance as applied by Putin.