Marlborough District Council steps up

This is a short note to celebrate a big win!

Another fight goes to the goodies as we stand up to the bullies. 

Last week, I contacted you about the incredible decision by Marlborough District Council to refuse to allow Let Kids Be Kids to use a public meeting room because they didn’t seem to be ‘inclusive’.

Our team saw this for what it was straight away: an illegal, discriminatory, and unacceptable decision, where council staff were taking it upon themselves to ‘protect’ the public from ‘harmful’ perspectives — we certainly can’t have these opinions expressed during ‘Pride Month’! 

We prepared our legal opinion and were convinced this was a clear breach of the Bill of Rights Act. We told the Council they had until Friday to meet with us and fix the situation, or we’d see them in court.

I met with the Mayor, the CEO, and the General Counsel yesterday. Excuse the phrase, but we had them by the balls, and they knew it! 

There were three demands which they had to meet in order for us not to pursue legal action:

1. The Mayor must write a public apology to Let Kids Be Kids on behalf of the Council (not blaming it on the staff, but as our democratically elected representatives, taking responsibility for not running the Council in a way that respects ratepayers’ basic rights. We told her there must be no ‘nose holding’ — no vague inferences or questionable aspersions about the group; it’s not up to Council to decide who has or doesn’t have an ‘acceptable’ opinion. 

They agreed! We’ll have the letter by Friday. 

2. The CEO must host the Free Speech Union in Marlborough to run an education seminar for the Council staff, where we will outline why free speech matters to public bodies like councils, why we all benefit from this basic liberty, and how we all lose when we neglect this freedom. 

They agreed! We’ll have the opportunity to do this by the end of next month. 

3. The Council must review the policy that led to this whole issue, and change it so Council staff no longer feel they have the right/responsibility to ‘protect the community’ from ‘harmful/hateful’ views. Do we really think our local librarians are the ones we should be trusting to decide who can use council facilities? This policy was too vague, and needs clarity around the duties the Council has to respect basic human rights. 

They agreed! This policy will be amended within the next 30 days. 

I think there are three reasons we’ve been able to achieve this result: 

1. You: With tens of thousands of Kiwis standing together behind us (and many of you contacting the Council and criticising their decision), we had the confidence to know we weren’t standing by ourselves. Without our members and supporters, we couldn’t do any of this. 

2. Previous wins: Because we’re committed to taking up the fight whenever Kiwis’ free speech is threatened, whether we agree with them or not, we’ve got a strong reputation and good case law. The General Counsel for the Marlborough District told me that they had reviewed all the other cases on access to public venues we’d worked on: it was enough to convince them they didn’t stand a chance in court. 

3. Our talented team: Because of your partnership with us, we have some passionate, talented members of our team who are able to “professionally stick it to the bullies!” 😂

The Council noted that our team were firm, but constructive. Our work to represent you, in a principled, moderate, credible way is paying off. 

With all the fights coming down the pike, it’s nice to see the work getting results.

We believe your voice is worth defending — thank you for standing with us to ensure these wins are possible. If you’re a supporter of our work (receive our emails, sign our petitions, etc) but aren’t a member (haven’t actually paid to be part of the work we’re doing), it would be great to have you join. 

If the Free Speech Union hadn’t taken up this cause, it’s likely Let Kids Be Kids would simply have had to accept that they weren’t welcomed to use public venues in Marlborough. If they had decided to challenge it, it’s likely the court case would have cost over $100,000. 

Joining the Free Speech Union for just $200 seems like a fairly good return on investment!

Back to it — there’s certainly lots more to get done.

Thanks again for standing with us.

Jonathan Ayling — Free Speech Union CEO 

PS. Read what happened here.

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  • Nadia Braddon-Parsons
    published this page in Blog 2024-06-19 11:09:14 +1200

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