6 October 2023
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Cross-party support for Free Speech Union draft legislation to counter 'Thugs' Veto'
Following consultation with political parties, public servants, and civil society, the Free Speech Union has released the 'Protection of the Freedom of Expression Bill' with cross-party support. This Bill will amend health and safety requirements and undercut the prevalence of the 'Thugs' Veto', which is used to silence free expression in public venues. Parliament must clarify the responsibilities to facilitate free speech in public venues. This Bill provides that clarity, says Jonathan Ayling, Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union.
"It is becoming more common for provocative or unpopular perspectives to be cancelled from public venues due to backlash that threatens to disrupt events. Whether it is cancellations of foreign speakers by Auckland Council, Speak Up for Women by Palmerston North City Council, or Julian Batchelor by Taupo Council, threats of protest and violence are silencing Kiwis' voices.
"This is the essence of the Thugs' Veto, and it has no place in a liberal democratic society. Legislation is needed to clarify the duties that exist for public venues to refuse to be intimidated by threats of protest and to protect the right for groups to speak freely.
"Drafted by former-Judge, Dr. David Harvey, (and presented for consideration to the Law Commission and Ministry of Justice) this Bill outlines duties for venues which are bound by the Bill of Rights Act 1990 to "secure the freedom of expression... for any speaker and any person who wishes to hear that speaker... by ensuring that the use of any premises of the provider or over which the provider may exercise any control is not unreasonably denied..."
"In response to this draft Bill, Shadow Attorney-General, Chris Penk, has said on behalf of the National Party: 'National recognises the importance of ensuring free and frank public debate... We also agree more particularly that threats of physical violence shouldn’t be used to shut down debate. For this reason, the draft Bill produced by [the Free Speech Union] in relation to what’s often described as “the heckler’s veto” is a welcome contribution... we’ll be pleased to consider.'
"Leader of the ACT Party, David Seymour, claimed ' Free speech is the basis of all other freedoms... This legislation would be a step towards ensuring taxpayer-funded organisations don't deplatform speakers using dubious claims of 'psychological harm' because they don't agree with their views or buckle to threats from their opponents.'
"Likewise, New Zealand First has committed they 'will support legislation that will provide protection to New Zealanders from unreasonable denial of access to venues and ensure that the legal rights of free speech are assured... The proposed [Free Speech Union] legislation would be supported.'
"This Bill is designed to revive and strengthen our practical respect for freedom of speech. The Free Speech Union is committed to protecting and expanding Kiwis' rights to freedom of speech, of conscience, and of intellectual inquiry. This legislation is the first of three Bills we will be releasing to address inadequacies in the law to ensure these basic freedoms."
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