National leader Judith Collins has defended a group opposed to sex self-identification after a Christchurch venue blocked it from hosting a speaking event over complaints.
Speak Up For Women, a group formed in 2018 in opposition to sex self-identification proposals included in a law change signalled by the Government, requested to hire Spark Place in Tūranga for a speaking event on June 1.
The proposed event, billed as 'Let's Talk About Sex Self-Identification', was declined by Christchurch City Libraries after at least 10 complaints from the public, Head of Libraries and Information Carolyn Robertson told Newshub.
"We gave careful consideration to the issues raised in the complaints we received about the event, as well as our own Customer Code of Conduct, and made the decision that this event cannot be held at one of our Christchurch City Libraries venues."
Collins said on Thursday freedom of speech should be upheld.
"Council buildings are there for everyone in the community to use; they shouldn't be picking and choosing who can hold events there based on what the discussion is.
"Part of being a healthy democracy means allowing community groups to discuss topics and legislation and hear from differing views.
"Freedom of speech in a democracy means having to tolerate the expression of diverse views. It works in both ways, people are entitled to voice their views and others are entitled to criticise those views, but they should be able to speak nonetheless.
"The National Party will always support the rights of people to protest peacefully and we are firm advocates of freedom of expression and freedom of speech.
"It's important New Zealanders are engaged with politics and the speaking up on the legislation that matters to them. It's disappointing the Christchurch City Libraries has shut down the debate in this situation."
Speak Up For Women has been branded anti-transgender by trans-activists, who use the term TERF - trans-exclusionary radical feminist - to describe its supporters.
The group, which has campaigned against the inclusion of trans women in women's sport and against trans woman using women's toilets, rejects the term TERF, labelling it a slur "often used in violent contexts and directed at women".
They maintain they are not anti-trans.
Speak Up For Women spokesperson Georgina Blackmore said Christchurch City Libraries had "sent a clear message that their customers can't talk about legislation or politics" at their venues.
Blackmore said the venue was booked in early May, and three weeks later, the group received an email from library management saying it had been refused.
The library, according to Blackmore, said: "The subject matter of this event may be in conflict with Christchurch City Libraries' Customer Code of Conduct, particularly our commitment to providing a safe and welcoming environment."
Robertson acknowledged that the decision may have caused disruption.
"We shared the reasons with the organisers for declining to host the event, and sincerely apologised for the series of delays in the handling of their request.
"Our venue booking staff will be improving our timeliness and responsiveness in the future. We also provided the organiser with a number of nearby inner-city Christchurch venues."
ACT leader David Seymour sparked controversy in 2019 for agreeing to host a Speak Up For Women event at Parliament, after Massey University pulled the plug on a planned event in Wellington.
Speak Up For Women's former spokesperson Ani O'Brien, who now works in the National Party's media office, re-tweeted a post advertising the group's latest event.
O'Brien has described herself as a "gender-critical radical feminist" and has written about Speak Up For Women's campaign to halt the proposed sex self-identification changes proposed in the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill (BDMRR Bill).
At present, anyone wanting to change the sex on their birth certificate needs "medical evidence" and apply through the Family Court. Changing that to a simple statutory declaration - the current process for changing it on a driver's licence or passport - is on the cards.
It's one of 38 recommendations made by the Working Group for Reducing Barriers to Changing Registered Sex. Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti said last month the Government plans to introduce the BDMRR Bill with its proposed changes later this year.
The legislation was originally being looked after by former Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin, who deferred it in 2019 after the sex self-ID clause was added.
New Zealand's first transgender MP Georgina Beyer, who was briefly a member of the working group, said in March the Government was "dithering".
"Just deal with it one way or another. It certainly has to be addressed because it's causing too much angst for the transgender community today."