Letter to South Wairarapa District Council

13 September, 2021

Alex Beijen
District Council Mayor
South Wairarapa District Council

Harry Wilson
Chief ExecuCve Officer
South Wairarapa District Council

Mel Maynard
Community Board Chair MarCnborough Community

By email:

[email protected] [email protected] [email protected]

GAGGING OF ELECTED MEMBERS By SWDC

  1. We write in response to media reports that the South Wairarapa District Council’s (SWDC) Code of Conduct for elected members contains a clause restricting criticism of Council decisions and policy. The Free Speech Union is a registered trade union with a mission to fight for, protect and expand New Zealander’s rights to freedom of speech, of conscience and of intellectual inquiry.

  2. On 9 September 2021, RNZ reported that the SWDC Code of Conduct for elected members contained a clause stating "Elected members are entitled to make public statements expressing their opinion on matters before the council ... such statements may not criticise the conduct of the council, other elected members or officers of the council, nor should they undermine any exercising policy or decision of the council."

  3. The Free Speech Union is naturally concerned about the inclusion of the clause. Not only is it an affront to freedom of expression, but we are concerned that its operation is likely having a pernicious effect on democracy accountability and decision-making in South Wairarapa. Councillors are elected to be the voices of the people in the corridors of power – not spin doctors for the Council. The voting public have a right to know how decisions are made in their community, not simply what decisions are made.

  4. We are curious to know more about how this clause came to be included in the Code of Conduct, especially given that LGNZ's Code of Conduct template states: "Members are free to express a personal view to the media or social media at any time, provided the following rules are observed: comments shall be consistent with the Code; comments must not purposefully misrepresent the views of the Council or the views of other members". Could you please explain the process that was gone through to lead to the inclusion of the clause and what consideration was given to free speech implications. Consider this a request for information under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 if necessary.

  5. If a situation occurred at SWDC where an elected member was prevented from making comment on a matter by virtue of the clause, it is likely a case to which we would lend our voice. We would appreciate an opportunity to meet with you discuss the clause and also to talk more broadly about our work- I would be happy to travel to meet with you in Greytown.

Yours faithfully,

Free Speech Union (New Zealand) Inc.

Jonathan Ayling

Chief Executive
Free Speech Union (New Zealand) Inc.