Happy New Year! It's not only been sunny summer weather that's heating up. The fight for free speech is on, and 2022 is going to be a big year.
Public Service Advisor censored for using term 'male-bodied'
In something you would almost think is out of George Orwell's 1984, a member of the Free Speech Union received a scathing and bullying letter from a very senior ministry official for having the audacity to refer to transgender women as 'male-bodied'.
This advisor, who works in a ministry and sits three tiers below the senior public servant, attended a presentation by LGBTQIA+ activist group InsideOUT and raised a question at the end with the presenter.
After the presentation, this advisor was understandably concerned when they received a letter from the Deputy Chief Executive of the organisation, claiming that they had been 'offended and shocked' along with others for using the term 'male-bodied'. That is despite the Human Rights Commission using the term in its description of transwomen. The advisor reached out to us to see if we thought these comments were appropriate, and to get help in defending their right to speech.
Last week, I sat down with the Deputy Chief Executive of the particular ministry, along with a senior ministry HR advisor, and the employee (member of the Free Speech Union).
Unfortunately, the Deputy Chief Executive was intransigent, insisting that they had the right to control the language that is used in the ministry and that this didn't undermine free speech in any way. Somehow, in their mind, their stated desire to have a diverse workplace that celebrates different opinions is consistent with no one being allowed to offend anyone else. (It's interesting the Public Service Association never seems to come out on these issues. If you're in the public service and looking for a Union that has your back, you should join up with us.)
This is how censorship occurs. This is what having speech controlled looks like. Rarely is it a blatant ban. It's just a threatening letter here, a slap on the wrist there, a disapproving comment or review from a superior.
He's our letter to the Ministery (read online here):
Here at the Free Speech Union, we say that in no circumstance is it acceptable for a senior public servant to exercise their influence to bully staff to silence them or limit their speech.
There is a maxim in the public servance not to let 'politics get in the way of their job, or their job in the way of politics'. This isn't one of those cases - political transgender / launguage issues have absolutely nothing to do with the functions of this particualr ministry.
Do you work in the public service, or in another environment where you've had a similar situation? Standing up in individual cases like this is crucial in our fight for free speech. We'd love to hear from you.
Local Councillor found guilty of Code of Conduct breach for comments on personal blog
The Tasman District Council has censored one of its own Councillors for comments that he made on a personal blog site regarding the Waimea Dam project and a potential budget blowout. A Code of Conduct complaint lodged against him has resulted in an investigation (at considerable expense to the ratepayer, we might note), which has seen a number of his comments redacted or removed.
We take a particular interest in free speech as it relates to democratic accountability, and have previously worked with local councillors around the country at representing their interests in Code of Conduct complaints. As we've previously said, Councillors are not bound by collective responsibility, and democratic accountability cannot occur unless there is healthy opposition and a contest of viewpoints.
It is possible that this investigation undermines the very reason elected members are there: to be representatives of ratepayers and not spin doctors for the Council.
You can read our letter to the Council here.
This is the same Council who we understand instructed Councillors to not reply to constituents if asked about vaccine mandates and the need for a COVID Passport to access Council facilities, but to pass on such correspondence to the Council staff.
In both of these cases, the Ministry advisor above and this local councillor, Codes of Conduct are the culprit. While organisations have to pretend to respect the rights of the workers, the Codes of Conduct put in place can trump these liberties.
While clear Codes of Conduct that outline the expectations of an employer in a particular workplace are of course appropriate, they should not be used to deny basic freedoms, however inconvenient it is for the organisation. After all, democracy relies on elected officials being able to speak freely.
Former Prime Minister Sir Bill English described Council Codes of Conduct as a threat to democracy 15 years ago but MPs didn't heed his warning. Today, these Codes are being used by council officials and mayors to silence dissenting councillors by outlawing criticism and undermining the democratic process. At the end of last year, we held a round table discussion with several local councillors from across the country who shared their stories of being gagged by Council Codes of Conduct. You can listen here.
Christchurch City Council sends bill to protestors for costs
When we say a 'human rights bill', usually we think of the legislation which protects our most fundamental liberties. But in Christchurch, it just means the money you have to pay after you've exercised your freedom.
This week, the Christchurch City Council sent a bill of more than $14,000 to the Freedom and Rights Coalition for 'traffic management' fees for three gatherings that occured last year in Cranmer Square and elsewhere in the city. Another invoice will be sent to cover further costs for a protest early this month.
The rights to peaceful assembly and peaceful protest are cornerstones of free speech. Protest and mass public gatherings are critical tools for political discourse. Sending a bill to protesters for exercising their human rights creates a chilling effect and sets a worrying precedent. If successful it would set a dangerous precedent for Councils to shut down speech and protest unwelcome to the majority opinion.
The Christchurch City Council has already shown that it is willing to try and overrule ratepayer's freedom of speech. Last year, we challenged them when they illegally blocked Speak Up For Women from using Council facilities to hold a meeting. This year, we're taking them to task again and calling on them to do the right thing, respect the rights of their ratepayers, and cancel these bills.
Despite facing a similar situation where the Freedom and Rights Coalition have gathered and marched in the Capital, Wellington City Council has said that it will not bill of fine the organisers. As a Council spokesperson noted, 'there is a long history of protest marches in Wellington relating to all sorts of grievances.'
Regardless of what the Freedom and Rights Coalition are saying, free speech is either for all or it's not at all. The entire essence of free speech is that you may disagree with what they say, yet agree with their right to say it.
Shaun Hendy and Siouxie Wiles complain about exposure to public abuse- after instigating public abuse
By now, we should be used to the fact that those who oppose free speech are often those that are the first to cry out when their speech is threatened. As we have covered extensively over the past three months, Auckland University Professors Hendy and Wiles led a 'pile-on' against the authors of The Listener article which resulted in the Royal Society lauching an investigation into Professors Coopera and Nola. (You can listen to our podcast covering off all the details on this issue here.)
Yet, facing some public opposition themselves now, Hendy and Wiles have lodged a complaint with the Employment Tribunal, aruging that Auckland University hasn't protected them against "a small but venomous sector of the public" that has become increasingly "unhinged".
Kiwis should be able to do their job free from threats to their lives and safety, Professor Shaun Hendy and Dr Siouxie Wiles are right to expect that they should not experience such behaviour as a result of their opinions, speech, or public work.
As New Zealand’s union for freedom of speech, we advocate for an academic environment in which academics like Hendy and Wiles do not find themselves in a situation of ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’, so to speak. (Interestingly, Wiles and Hendy don't seem to have the support you'd imagine they expect from the Tertiary Education Union. If you're an academic and looking for a Union that has your back, join up with us.)
Reciprocal respect for the rights of others to express and defend their views ensures that when situations of threats and abuse arise, the entire community feels able to speak against it.
But it would be nice if, expecting others to respect their right to free speech, Hendy and Wiles avoided instigating any more public mobs against those they don't agree with. In this blog by Free Speech Union Council member, Ani O'Brien, she outlines that disagreement, even vehement disagreement, is not abuse nor ‘harassment, and where this difficult line should lie.
While most of us are just trying to get ready for another big year, the fights are coming thick and fast for our team. On top of this, we're preparing for hate speech laws, name suppression review, and another year of going toe-to-toe with the woke mob.
Jonathan, we can't do this without you. Free speech is facing more structural and philosophical opposition than it has for decades. Stand with us to champion our right to speak.
Supporters like you are what makes this fight possible. Thank you for standing with us.
Free Speech Union
P.S. Do you know of someone who would be interested in our work or who needs support for their speech? Feel free to forward this newsletter to them. They can signup to receive updates at www.fsu.nz/subscribe, and can contact our team at [email protected] or message us on our facebook page.