It's great to get to start with some good news.
4,000+ Submissions to Netsafe on the 'Online Safety Code'
We’re proud to report that more than 4,000 supporters submitted to Netsafe using our online submission tool. That’s important. Widespread participation in Netsafe’s consultation sends a strong message that Kiwis don’t want extra controls on their online speech.
These outrageous proposals would enable censorship on a whole new level in the online space, but thanks to the Free Speech Union and supporters like you,
Netsafe now knows Kiwis won’t tolerate the code. It has no option but to incorporate robust protections for free expression.
We've been speaking to Netsafe and it looks like they will be going back to the drawing board given the volume of submissions. We'll keep you updated...
Investigation into local government codes of conduct
We’ve been looking into local government codes of conduct for some time and have been approached by a number of councillors with stories of censorship and coercive use of codes. It’s become clear to us that the issues at play with codes of conduct warrant further scrutiny, so we’ve written to the Auditor-General to request an investigation into how they are operating.
Restrictions on the speech of elected members are prevent them from being voices of their constituents in the corridors of power. We say Councillors are not spin doctors for their council or Mayor – to the contrary, opposition voices are essential for a well-functioning democracy. It's not just the right of the elected member to speak, but the right of voters to hear from them.
It is often the mavericks and independents who find life being made difficult due to codes of conduct. Their contributions matter. But codes of conduct are creating an environment where the pressure is on councillors to say only what is approved by their chief executive or is otherwise uncontroversial.
Rotorua Councillor Reynold Macpherson has just been removed from two council committees after refusing to apologise for code of conduct breaches. The New Zealand Herald reports:
"Macpherson says he does not regret his actions nor lack of apology as, in his view, he "told the truth" in the social media posts the code of conduct complaints centred on.”
It's always concerning when code of conduct processes are used against elected members, but in this instance what concerns us is also the sanction imposed — how does preventing a councillor from carrying out their role and democratic duty to represent constituents not undermine their electoral mandate?
Government progresses conversion therapy bill and blocks amendments
The Government's top priority on its first week back in Wellington was to progress the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill. Like many other pieces of legislation, the aim of this Bill is laudable. Few would defend barbaric and tortuous 'practices', seeking to change an individual's sexual identity or orientation. If the Bill simply did what it says it would, we would have no business commenting on it.
Yet, this piece of legislation strays beyond overt practices and threatens to criminalise conversations and dialogue on important issues. On virtually no other issue do we prohibit two adult Kiwis from talking. We are concerned that is what this Bill will do.
As the Free Speech Union, we applaud the Members of Parliament who raised concerns at the impact this Bill would have on speech and tried to amend the legislation to tight the scope and keep it true to the stated goal. Hon. Michael Woohouse and Simon O'Connor both articulated clearly the potential limitations on speech. But the Government voted down every proposed amendment, including one which simply called for the Bill to be inspected in 5 years to make sure it was doing what it was designed for.
This Bill will be passed by Parliament next week. If you want to hear more about the speech-related concerns we raised, this is a recording of our written submission, and you can watch our oral submission as I presented to the Justice Select Committee.
Convoy 2022 takes to Parliament
Whatever your thoughts are on the 'Convoy 2022’, we all agree that everyone has the right to peacefully make their voice heard.
Of course, individual agitators and lawbreakers among the protest group need to be dealt with appropriately by law enforcement, but the Speaker’s call to close the lawn and trespass the protestors was uncalled for, obviously wrong and appears politically motivated.
It was also disappointing and troubling that Barry Soper was reportedly reprimanded by the Speaker for speaking to a protestor at Parliament — that is to say — for doing his job. This unacceptable incursion on press freedom just threatens to sow the seeds of division further and alienate people.
Protest is a core right for all Kiwis. It doesn’t mean you have a right to an audience, or that your cause is right. But when the Speaker of the House threatens media for speaking with and reporting on these events, the disdain for free speech is palpable.
We also took issue with Grant Robertson's attempt to interfere with the Police, telling media:
“Grant Robertson's illegal interference sets a disturbing precedent and puts the Police in an impossible position; Trevor Mallard's decision to pressure media into not reporting on the events risks confirming the protestor's greatest fears. As unpopular as they may be in and around Wellington, the current protesters are just as entitled to peacefully assemble and protest as any other New Zealanders.”
It doesn't look like this protest is going to anywhere soon. We'll keep fighting for the rights of peaceful Kiwis to gather to use their free speech. I sat down with Dane Giraud and Ani O'Brien to discuss this complex issue. You can listen to our podcast discussion here.
New Episode of the Free Speech Union podcast 🎤
Also on the Free Speech Union podcast, our Council member Ani O’Brien sats down with Kate Cormack from Voice for Life New Zealand to flesh out activism, freedom of expression and why the Safe Zones Bill will have a chilling effect on free speech.
Voice For Life is New Zealand’s oldest and largest pro-life organisation. Kate and Ani get into the impact of the proposed 'Safe Areas' Bill (which is about to be voted on again in Parliament following the Select Committee report) on her group's activism, the fraught process of making submissions, and why the Pro-Life movement could be the canary in the coalmine for the suppression of more protest movements.
You can listen to the podcast here, or by searching for 'Free Speech Union' wherever good podcasts are found.
If you're looking for some good reading this week, check out these two pieces:
- Sending a mean tweet about Captain Tom shouldn’t be a crime (The Spectator)
- Freedom of speech was too hard-won to be cavalier now about censorship(The Guardian)
Thank you for your support.