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Invercargill Mayor Nobby Clark recently found himself in a media furore as he asserted his right to use colourful racial terms. Ratepayers might regret the distraction from local concerns, but part of my job in Parliament is to consider speech issues in a serious way. And I’ve concluded that free speech is indeed under threat in New Zealand. We’re currently seeing the increasing normalisation of the heckler’s veto – this is the method of shutting down speech or gatherings by using unruly or violent behaviour – or the threat of it. Public authorities are often complicit as they shut down events citing safety concerns. In 2018, left-wing activists successfully cancelled a major public booking for a pair of anti-immigration Canadian speakers, with Auckland Council explaining they couldn’t safely manage the threatened protests.

Last year, protestors at Albert Park assaulted women attending a speech on gender issues, and effectively chased the controversial speaker off stage. And recently in Wellington, a US diplomat was forced to abandon a talk on international security due to disruption from pro-Palestine protestors. Activists have celebrated these cancellations, but ACT has warned time and time again that the same tactics could easily be turned against the political left.

And now it’s happening.

Destiny Church, who oppose rainbow story time events, have successfully shut down two events with the threat of protest, and even vandalised a public crossing. Hastings District Council said they could no longer guarantee the safety of attendees. Rainbow events at public libraries are contentious for some and will continue to be so. The allegation is that parents are taking their kids to events where they will be exposed to sexual content. We’ve so far seen no evidence that this has happened in New Zealand.

But the real issue here is that using mob rule to determine what events can and can’t go ahead is terribly arbitrary, it’s not consistent with the rule of law and it encourages other groups to use the same undemocratic tactics – perhaps to shut down speech you want to hear.

We need a more principled approach that respects the freedoms of left and right, conservative and progressive.

If the “woke” left wants to stop reactionary speakers, they ought to prove those speakers are breaking laws – such as by inciting violence. If conservatives want to stop rainbow events, they ought to prove that children are being put at risk – and take those concerns to police. If protestors on either side of politics believe current laws are inadequate at protecting the rights of the vulnerable, they need to propose specific law changes that can be scrutinised and discussed.

And we need greater assurance from police that strategies are in place to protect existing rights to free speech and association and that these strategies are applied evenly for New Zealanders across the political spectrum.

Todd Stephenson is an ACT List MP based in Southland, spokesman for justice, including free speech issues.

2,964 views93 comments


Helen VDW
Helen VDW
Apr 04

Freedom of speech is very important if we in NZ want to maintain democracy and sensible. laws are meant to protect us, just as road rules do...we are safer when we practice them. Hence I am relieved the new coalition have pushed back on instating 'hate' speech laws. This could've meant one could be charged with vocally speaking out against any practices that one disagrees with.

It also seems ironic that the LGBGT movement have misappropriated the biblical promise of the rainbow as their symbol. I agree with others in this forum that the rainbow crossing does not represent the white striped safety of a zebra crossing. Did councils fund these rainbow crossing with our rates?

Speaking from a Christian…

Replying to

A little heavy on the Bible quotes but in principle I’m with most of your comments. Certainly we are lost without a functional and appropriate (I’d aver ‘correct’ but that’s a personal opinion) worldview and what we have now is a morality based upon self-interest & gratification. I wonder why so much is truly f***ed right now?


A large hand-painted sign has appeared on the roadside outside a house in our town. It has an arrow pointing to the house, and the message is "free STDs." Now I'm wondering what the crime is. Is it libel? Hate speech? Vandalism? A warning to other women? Should the residents go to the police? Or recognise that she has her revenge, and move on?


“…greater assurance from police that strategies are in place to protect existing rights to free speech and association.”

Fully agree - strategies to counter ‘mob rule’, whether that’s by gangs, protesters or whoever.

The previous Government’s vilification of protesters and refusal to engage might have set a bad example. If people feel heard, they tend not to escalate to violence.


Preservation of law and order is a primary police responsibility, with the only test being is any activity lawful or not? ALL lawful activity is a right and capitulating to the threat of opposition that may result in violence is totally unacceptable.

Policing Act 2008, Section 22

Constable’s Oath

“I, [name], swear that I will faithfully and diligently serve Her (or His) Majesty [specify the name of the reigning Sovereign], Queen (or King) of New Zealand, her (or his) heirs and successors, without favour or affection, malice or ill-will. While a constable I will, to the best of my power, keep the peace and prevent offences against the peace, and will, to the best of my skill and knowledge, perform all the duties…


Apr 03

How long before we see the madness in Scotland arrive here where their new hate speech laws make it illegal to say hateful things in your own home!!!!

Replying to

No long now that Ardern is uncharge of the narrative.

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