Last week the Mayor of Auckland, Phil Goff, announced – using what powers isn’t clear – that no venue owned or managed by the Auckland Council would be made available for hire by organisers for an event involving a couple of controversial Canadian speakers, who had been planning to visit New Zealand next month.
I’d never previously heard of the speakers, or the organisers. When I looked them up, some of the views one or other has apparently propounded seemed, frankly, kooky. Here, for example, is a (unverified) report of some of Stefan Molyneux’s views.
According to Jessica Roy of Time magazine, Molyneux argued that violence in the world is the result of how women treat their children, and that “If we could just get people to be nice to their babies for five years straight, that would be it for war, drug abuse, addiction, promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, … Almost all would be completely eliminated, because they all arise from dysfunctional early childhood experiences, which are all run by women.”
Odd, or even obnxious, as some or many of their views might be, they are quite at liberty to hold them, or express them. And New Zealand audiences should be free to listen to them, whether to cheer, to heckle, or just out of curiosity.
No owner of a private venue should be under any obligation to rent out a venue – or provide a media outlet – but councils should be a different matter altogether. Council property is paid for by all the local residents and ratepayers, and when such venues are available for hire or use by private groups, there should be a strong and clear commitment that the political views of those who happen to be councillors, mayors, or council staff at the time won’t influence which groups are allowed to use such facilities for their functions/meetings. There are plenty of causes around that individual people will count as obnoxious – stances on a contentious issues such as abortion law is a good example, where either side tends to view the other in a very deeply hostile light – and it isn’t for those who happen to hold office at a particular time to impose some sort of ideological litmus test on views that can be uttered in public facilities. Such an approach would smack of the sort of authoritarian semi-democracies of Turkey, Russia, or Hungary – where elections still take place, but those in power stack the field by denying access to the public square to views/people they find awkward, disagreeable or threatening.
The stance taken by Auckland Council staff and the mayor shouldn’t be tolerated, no matter how odd or obnoxious many of us might find most of views of Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux. And plenty of views now regarded as mainstream, almost obligatory in “polite society”, would have been regarded as threatening or obnoxious only a few decades back.
A group of concerned people have got together to challenge the Auckland Council’s right to deny use of their venues. It appears to breach the Human Rights Act, and is inconsistent with the (non-binding) New Zealand Bill of Rights. I’ve pledged to donate to the fund being raised to seek a judicial review of the Council’s action. I’d encourage you to think of doing so to, whatever your view (or none) of the substantive views held by Southern and Molyneux. This issue – effective freedom of speech – should be one of those issues that unites people from left and right (and people in open support of this cause range from Don Brash to Chris Trotter), and nowhere in particular on the political spectrum, who care about a functioning democracy, robust debate, and who believe that ideas – even obnxious ones – are best debated, not suppressed by government agencies.
The website is……https://freespeechcoalition.nz
I have also encouraged the organisers to consider working with a sympathetic member of Parliament to seek to introduce, via the ballot, a private members bill, to require all local authorities and similar public entities (eg school boards of trustees) to adopt a hiring or facilities use policy that does not use judgements about whether those in control of deciding on facilities use happen to agree with any views that would be expressed or not. These are community facilities, and when made available for outside use, it should be clear that no ideological litmus tests can be applied.