From Penks Pen – Free Speech and ‘views that divide’

Whenever I’m invited to provide a contribution to this publication, my usual preference is to highlight matters of local significance. This time, however, I’ve decided to share some thoughts on free speech, as it’s a subject that has been in the news a lot lately.
Freedom of expression is the principle that individuals and communities have a right to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of arbitrary retaliation, censorship or sanction. It’s one of the most precious human rights.
As you will no doubt be aware, our city’s Mayor, Phil Goff recently sought to control the usage of an Auckland Council-owned venue, arguing that:
“Venues shouldn’t be used to stir up ethnic or religious tensions. Views that divide rather than unite are repugnant and I have made my views clear.”
Many of my constituents have contacted me recently to convey their concerns. In a letter to Mayor Goff, I challenged him to explain what legal or moral right he was invoking when he decided that some views were too divisive for us to hear.
The point I relayed was not that overseas visitors had the right to be heard (or even that their points were “right”). The point was actually more that Auckland’s residents and ratepayers had the right to hear them, if they so chose. That right was denied.
Every day as MP for the electorate of Helensville – the west and northwest of Auckland, in other words –I hear from constituents annoyed about Auckland Council dropping the ball. (There are some honourable exceptions, particularly among our own local elected representatives, but the overall mood is dissatisfaction.)
With this in mind, my open letter concluded with the following words to the Mayor:
“I will not advocate to reduce the legitimate expression of political views, whether or not I agree with such views personally. Nor should you. Focusing attention on the core business of local government might remove any temptation you might feel to do so in the future.”

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