9 February 2023
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Rotorua Lakes Council Votes To Silence Submitters With Censorious Submissions Policy
The Rotorua Lakes Council voted yesterday, without public consultation, to progress a policy to “remove from consideration” public submissions if they are deemed “offensive”, “discriminatory” or “irrelevant”. This represents a clear violation of the speech rights of submitters to this Council, and a breach of the Bill of Rights Act says Jonathan Ayling, Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union.
‘When this policy was presented to the Councillors yesterday, it was initially sold as abridging language such as swear words, or clearly vexatious submissions. Yet the true effect of the policy was immediately betrayed with discussion on it capturing “hate speech”.
‘Empty gestures were made about protecting freedom of speech. Yet, as the policy was described as “running a filter over things” it is clearly aimed at suppressing submissions the Council simply does want to hear. The debate on the policy was truly disappointing, revealing the contempt some of the Councillors had for the public submissions process, one Councillor remarking “you sit there and go "how did this get through."
‘Particularly insulting (and ironic) is the fact that the policy was put to Council without any consultation with either the public, or even elected representatives. Concerns were raised about the perception of this policy and the reputational risk it poses to the Council. Such concerns are entirely justified.
'Kiwis have the right to be heard by their representatives and to raise concerns with their elected representatives on matters of policy. Representatives have an obligation to hear these concerns, even when the representatives believe the views expressed, or the manner in which they are expressed, are offensive or derogatory.
'This policy, where certain submissions are screened and disregarded due to such content, is inconsistent with the role of local government representatives. We are preparing legal filings against the Council in this issue.'
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