Government divided over far-right speakers

  • 10/07/2018

There's division within the Government over a controversial far-right proposed speaking event.

Canadian activists Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux are known for having strong views on feminism, immigration and Islam. They were due to speak at Takapuna's Bruce Mason centre, until Auckland Mayor Phil Goff intervened.

Mr Goff sent a clear message that the pair were not welcome at Auckland Council venues.

"I just think we've got no obligation at all - in a city that's multicultural, inclusive, embraces people of all faiths and ethnicities - to provide a venue for hate speech by people that want to abuse and insult others, either their faith or their ethnicity," Mr Goff told Newshub.

However Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters says free speech is important and he would have allowed it to go ahead.

"Had we been asked... we'd have allowed them to come on the basis of free speech," Mr Peters said in a post-Cabinet press conference on Monday.

"It's one of the most fundamental freedoms that we have and we should be very careful who we expel on that cause, because the downstream historic record on that has been just disastrous.

"We live in an age when all sorts of trolls are out there challenging people's right to have a different view from theirs. It's not enhancing our society."

Newshub political editor Tova O'Brien says it's a controversial issue.

"Do you either protect the freedom of expression, freedom of speech, the right to have healthy debate even if you hate what someone's saying," she told The AM Show on Tuesday.

"On the other hand these people espouse racist bile so do we put them into a hall where they can rabble-rouse and potentially espouse hostility?"

However there's division within the governing coalition. Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson has agreed with Mr Goff, and posted to Facebook in support of his ban.

"Good to use our freedom of speech to say your racist bigoted views aren't going to be catered for here. Thanks Phil. These two can get out," Ms Davidson wrote in her Facebook post.

"Edit: People don't need to waste their time and positive energy reading the tears on this page who are upset at me taking a public stand against this pair with their vile views. This is to be totally expected and an indication that I'm speaking out exactly as I should be."

Appearing on Radio New Zealand on Tuesday morning, Mr Peters wouldn't answer on the Greens' differing view.

"I don't have a response to that view. I'm here speaking about the view of the coalition Government," he said.

"We've made our view very profound in terms of detail and clarity and work we've put into it. We've put a lot of work into this procurement... I don't want to spend time talking about what some other party thinks about the idea."

And on the other side, Mr Peters' views on the subject are echoed by National leader Simon Bridges, who believes the duo should be allowed to speak even if people disagree with their views.

"I disagree strongly with what these activists are saying, but I think it's a dangerous thing to say, 'Because we don't like what you're saying, we won't let you in'," he told TVNZ's Breakfast show on Monday.

"I can see how [Goff] made his decision, but I wouldn't have banned them from coming to New Zealand.

"We should allow people we strongly disagree with to come. We're a mature, liberal democracy."

O'Brien says she's not sure if the pair's views meet the criteria for illegal hate speech and there might have been a better way for Mr Goff to handle the issue instead of handing out the ban.

"I'm not sure this quite hits the bar," she told The AM Show.

"So perhaps Phil Goff, another way of dealing with this would have been to strongly condemn what these two people say but use freedom of speech to fight back."