Pages tagged "Parliament Protest"

  • Freedom to protest- reflections of an FSU supporter

    I’ve struggled with two ideas since Molesworth Street in Wellington was annexed by a group of tent constructing, road-blocking protestors against mandates (and a lot of other things).

    The right to protest

    The first is a strong view I have on the value of the right to protest. I think free expression, of all rights, is the one that most fundamentally allows the reflection of an individual in society and beyond that best reflects the diffusion of power we want to see in a liberal society where people are valued over the governing bodies (thinking here about the reversal of hierarchical governments that precipitated the moves towards individualised rights - the British empire, the French monarchy, most revolutionary movements and so on).

    Protest, as a corollary of expression, is expression at its most political and most valuable.

    Protest is also where freedom of expression comes directly into conflict with political power. That’s important on a principled level. Free expression is, at least in part, intended to be a check on Executive power, people can disagree and visibly do with their Government and this is a check on what the Government can do - you must be appealing to people. Further, rights apply to everyone and aren’t meant to be mutable by majority opinion. This is a core aspect, my right to express myself and disagree with the government should not be voted away, minorities matter and are valuable. If a minority of people can make life hard by spending their time objecting, it weighs into the decisions of those who wield power. A minority reserves the right to raise a counterpoint which, in the best case can shift opinion, but in the worst-case allows them a cathartic place to be heard and realise their autonomy. This protest is both a valuable aspect of our social fabric and something that needs to be protected.

    Stemming from my prior, I tend to think I put quite a lot of weight on protest being valuable regardless of what the protest is about. I should point out here that I personally don’t think protest is something I would enjoy doing, I tend to disagree with a lot of people who stand outside Parliament generally and certainly disagree with the current lot. But they are captured in a view I have on protest - so where are the limits?

    With these protests, the context also matters. I am someone who is triple vaxxed, understands the reasons for vaccine mandates, scans into venues, has a stock of masks, and dutifully follows government advice. But I also recognise the exceptional context where we are being required to act in this way. It is abnormal and an anathema to the culture of rights we have otherwise lived our lives with.

    Regardless of whether the context is justifiable (it is), the fact we need to do it heightens the need to value rights of disagreement given there are limited alternate avenues for disagreement to be conveyed. People's rights to disagree are fundamental in a free and democratic society and we are removing many other avenues from the protestors.

    The context of the protest also flows into the place it happens. Setting up a protest at the place where the rules you object to come makes sense. Indeed, I struggle to find an example where I think that protesting at Parliament should be limited. If the trade-off is someone exercising a right to my right to enjoy the Parliamentary grounds, I think the former is the higher-order right. This extends out to a view that Parliament is generally a place where protest should have more protections.

    A little comment on being responsible

    Before looking at limits - a small cul-de-sac. As with most rights, I think that the default position is to defend them and value the realisation of them. Personally, I think that this comes with a responsibility to exercise these rights well and with discipline. If you are going to speak, we need to protect your right to do so, but I think you should have a non-legal responsibility to act with decorum.

    A failure to do this doesn’t extinguish your right, but we should be aware that rights only have value for as long as society values them. Rights are fragile - we need to care about them. So I think there is a good argument that the protesters are chipping away at the social fabric that permits a strong rights framework in society, which is bad, but I don’t believe that this by itself creates a clear limit (mainly because it is very subjective).

    Limits to protest

    My first conclusion is that a lot of behavior associated with protest is probably legitimate until it begins to infringe clearly on other first-order rights people have. My (very) basic recollection of early law study reminded me of the case of Brooker vs Police which I always quite liked at articulating the limitations of protest (in that case compared to disorderly behavior). It’s not a perfect parallel, but I like the articulation of Justice Tipping who steps through a test that I found comparable when assessing my views

    Where, as here, the behaviour concerned involves a genuine exercise of the right to freedom of expression, the reasonable member of the public may well be expected to bear a somewhat higher level of anxiety or disturbance than would otherwise be the case...There must, however, come a point at which the manner or some other facet of the exercise of the freedom will create such a level of anxiety or disturbance that the behaviour involved becomes disorderly under s 4(1)(a) and, correspondingly, the limit thereby imposed on the freedom becomes justified.

    In that case, the conduct in question was a man holding a sign and signing in a “relatively loud voice”. This was not deemed disorderly enough to override a right to protest, in part, due to the small scale of the protest.

    In the case of the current Wellington protest, the scale is much more significant. Whole apartments are blocked, businesses have been unable to trade, and major streets have been blocked including the main bus interchange causing significant transport disruption in the CBD.

    The harder edge of the protest has been a little more sinister. Examples of people being harassed (including children) about wearing masks, journalists being harassed for doing their job, nooses being hung around Parliament, people being more violent have also been reported even if this is a minority. This culminates with a hard edge of the protest which seems to be oscillating in and out of acceptable bounds of protest quite dramatically.

    This already seems to be a sizeable difference in public disorder - that has manifestly impacted people's lives and seems to have, in a number of instances, impacted peoples ability to engage in basic parts of society and infringes on their first-order rights. People not being able to trade, people having abuse thrown at them for wearing a mask (I’d argue this is just a comparable expression trade-off), police having things thrown at them, and having a group of people monopolise public infrastructure seems to me to create a public disorder event that is a comparable infringement to a significant group of people.

    But the context also needs to be addressed - protest is generally important and specifically so in heightened political contexts as we have here. This is why I find it difficult to agree that the source of unreasonableness is the monopolisation of Parliament or the setting up of tents. I understand that this is technically against the law, but I’m not sure it should be.

    I’m much more certain that the spillover into the effective annexation of streets is clearly a problem. The fact of doing it and therefore showing disregard for rules that bind society is somewhat intimidating by itself, coupled with difficulty in distinguishing harder edges of protest from the main thrust of it, significant public disruption, and in the context of increasing public health risks, it seems like the spillover outside of Parliament is unreasonable and limits a greater weight of rights than it preserves by allowing it.

    So where I’ve arrived at here is thinking the value I’ve gained from the protest is testing my own thinking on a rights framework I’ve given lip service to but haven’t really tested in my own lived experience. It’s made me think more deeply about the boundaries of legitimate protest and where I think the right to protest is enhanced or diminished. In this context, it’s not simple - there are elements that are clearly out of line (even if I object personally to the whole thing) and elements that I previously hadn’t considered but think should be both permitted and protected.

  • Newsletter 14 Feb

    Free Speech Union (New Zealand) Incorporated


    Dear Supporter,

    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. 

    Thank you graphic

    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, twitter censorship

    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. 

    letter to auditor general

    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? 

    reynold macpherson

    Government progresses conversion therapy bill and blocks amendments 

    Michael Woodhouse 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.

    Oral submission to the Justice Select Committee

    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.

    Free Speech Union Podcast

    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. 


    Jonathan Ayling

    Free Speech Union

  • Kiwis' Protest Rights Must Be Guaranteed By Free Speech

    10 February 2022


    Kiwis' Protest Rights Must Be Guaranteed By Free Speech

    Disturbing images from Parliament, where protestors are being arrested, strike a frightening tone for Kiwis' free speech, says Jonathan Ayling, Free Speech Union Spokesperson.

    “Convoy 2022, which gathered on the lawn of Parliament in opposition to the Government's vaccine mandates on Tuesday has been clearly out of line in many ways, and beyond the pale of free speech. Yet, their right to peacefully gather in front of their House of Representatives and use speech to make their case, however unpopular, should be preserved.”

    “Reports that Newstalk ZB’s senior journalist, Barry Soper, was reprimanded by the Speaker of the House for speaking with protestors defies the very purpose of the media, and their crucial role in enabling free speech. Interference of this kind is a disgraceful attempt to undermine the independence of the media.“

    “Equally, comments by Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson calling on the Police to ensure the law is enforced is a clear breach of section 16 of the Policing Act 2008. Ministers must not weigh in on the operational decisions of Police in relation to enforcing the law and the maintenance of order. The Prime Minister noted this was an operational matter.“

    “Several examples exist of previous protests which have also gathered on Parliament's front lawn and camped, at times for many weeks. We look at these expressions of free speech, such as the SpringBok tour or Dame Whina Cooper's Maori land rights hikoi, with great pride, now. The speech rights of those gathered now should be equally respected as those who gathered then.”

    “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."

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