Joshua Sampson – 09/08/2018
Recently Massey University made headlines for barring Don Brash, former Leader of the Opposition and Reserve Bank Governor, from speaking at an event on campus organised by the Massey University Politics Society. This follows the ban on controversial far-right Canadian speakers Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern from speaking at Auckland Council venues by Auckland City Mayor Phil Goff. So what is all the fuss about?
On Tuesday Vice-Chancellor of Massey University Jan Thomas decided to cancel an event organised by the Politics Society, at which Don Brash was planning to speak about his time as Leader of the Opposition from 2003-2006. Thomas sighted security concerns after receiving an anti-Brash letter from Karl Pearce, although Pearce says that he never intended to be the threat but was merely pointing out the obvious issues that could arise.
Both Thomas and Pearce cited Brash’s support for the Canadian speakers earlier this month and his leadership of the contentious Hobson’s Pledge as possible causes for violent protests and as “dangerously close to hate-speech”. The Hobson’s Pledge group was established in 2016 by Brash to fight against what they claim is “Maori Privilege”, including Maori electorate seats and Maori Wards. However, while maintaining his support for the pledge, Brash claims that he does not support the Canadian speakers, only their right to speak.
Supporters of Brash argue that the Vice-chancellor invented the “security threat” in order to limit speech which she disagreed with. This is supported by a statement provided by police stating that the police did not recommend the cancellation of the event, contrary to Thomas’s claims.
However, the main issue is the extent to which free speech should be upheld. Like the banning of Molyneux and Southern, this event has sparked debate about when free speech should be allowed and when (or if) it becomes hate speech and should be condemned. Coincidentally, Brash has, for several months, been scheduled to speak at Auckland University tonight on whether the left has gone too far in limiting free speech.
On the one side is the argument that comments like Brash’s and that of the two far-right are incredibly offensive to some people, particularly people of certain minority groups that are targeted by statements from the aforementioned. Indeed, Thomas cited possible offence to Maori students and staff from Brash as a reason for cancelling the event. These supporters believe that the safety, both mental and physical, of people of New Zealand comes before the right to free speech. They also argue that people have a right to “free speech” but not consequence-free speech, thus believing that while speakers should not be persecuted for their views they also do not deserve to be given a platform to speak on.
Opponents of these bans argue that free speech is one of the undeniable human rights. They point out that by creating an environment in which we accept that opposing viewpoints may be silenced, we open the door for authoritarian governments in the future to abuse this power. Particularly, they highlight that these venues are taxpayer-funded venues and it is not up to one person or group to decide what points of view taxpayers should support and/or be exposed to, so therefore these forums should be apolitical.
Ultimately it comes down to an age-old question about how much we value free speech versus safe environments. As schools students, and as people who will soon be joining the political world, it is important that we consider this issue, weigh up the benefits and costs of both arguments and come to our own conclusions.
And, as this debate rages on, you can be sure to stay up to date right here on the Daily Dove.