Local democracy under threat: Councillors’ free speech in question


04 July 2024

Local democracy under threat: Councillors’ free speech in question

The results of a recent Free Speech Union survey of councillors nationwide reveal a sorry story for free speech in local councils. On a scale from 1-10, respondents reported feeling free to counter or challenge council staff publicly, on average, a paltry 4.3. This is an alarm bell for the state of our democracy, says Jonathan Ayling, Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union.   

“The Free Speech Union continues to be aware of councils with censorial attitudes. Just within the past month we’ve been notified of four councils failing to uphold free speech. This is an issue we have followed for several years.

“Unelected council staff are supposed to answer to elected representatives, not the other way around. Councillors are the ones elected by ratepayers; council staff aren’t.

“Additionally, when asked if Codes of Conduct are being weaponised to silence local councillors, over 50% of the 85 respondents said that this happens occasionally, frequently, or constantly. Only 20% said this never happens.

“Codes of conduct are notorious for silencing certain perspectives. Not only do they lead to self-censorship, but they’re also manipulated and twisted to shut down some speech on the basis that some deem it impermissible.  

“If councillors are forced to self-censor and feel unable to challenge their staff, what effect does this then have on our nation? For our local democracies to flourish, measures need to be taken to encourage deliberation and debate, not distinguish it."


Note to editor: See our survey results that continue to be collected here.

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  • Nadia Braddon-Parsons
    published this page in Media releases 2024-07-04 17:05:19 +1200

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