A democracy needs many views

Lauren Southern. Photo: Wiki
Lauren Southern. Photo: Wiki
Last week, the Auckland City Council banned Canadian far-right internet personalities Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux from using council-owned venues for a speaking tour. The decision carries the whiff of censorship and deserves examination.

After claims the event would be protested about by groups opposing the speakers' views, Auckland Live, which runs the city's council-owned venues, cancelled the August booking for Takapuna's Bruce Mason Centre.

The cancellation, Auckland Live said, was based upon practical concerns including the health and safety of the presenters, staff and patrons. But that stance was seemingly contradicted by a tweet from Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, who said the city's venues should not be used for stirring "ethnic or religious tensions".

"Views that divide rather than unite are repugnant and I have made my views on this very clear. Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux will not be speaking at any council venues."

Mr Goff said the pair were free to speak elsewhere in the city but the tour's promoter said such short notice meant that would not be possible.

It is not unreasonable for Mr Goff to suggest the pair's views are divisive. They both have hundreds of thousands of subscribers on YouTube, on which they post opinions from the far right of the Western political spectrum. Their messages centre on what could loosely be called the conflict between extreme liberalism and extreme conservatism. They are labelled "alt-right". They attack feminism, Islam, gender-diversity and mass immigration. They are divisive.

Their views are undoubtedly unpalatable to most New Zealanders, but should the pair have been banned from a city's venues by decree of an elected official? Council venues are not owned by sitting mayors; they are built for and paid for by ratepayers - ratepayers who represent every point of the political divide, including the far right. Views that divide are inherent in New Zealand. Since MMP was adopted in 1994, the country has seen political parties from each end of the political spectrum promote what could be termed, by their opponents at least, divisive policies. There can be a "team sport" mentality to our politics that actively emphasises division.

Religious and anti-religious members of our society live and work side by side while preaching very different messages.

The same is true for those who believe in immigration and those who don't, who believe in the unique rights of tangata whenua and those who don't. We are a country full of divisions of opinion and divisive views. Many New Zealanders hold perspectives other New Zealanders would label repugnant. To pretend otherwise could only be naivety or ignorance.

Despite this, we strive to be a country of inclusion and compassion. We achieve that through transparency, openness, a free and fair media, through talking and listening. We are not perfect, not by a long stretch. But as an electorate we repeatedly produce stable, representative, transparent and tolerant governments.

But tolerance means little if we refuse to allow those with differing views a place to speak. It is essential views which divide are aired openly if we are going to choose, rather than be coaxed, to unite regardless. There is little doubt Ms Southern and Mr Molyneux hold views the majority of New Zealanders disagree with, even find loathsome. But a last-minute sabotage of their speaking arrangements does more to funnel attention to them and their views, as well as to the insecurity of our own convictions, than it serves to make a stand against them.

It would be better to let these speakers come, let them have their hall, let them have their say. And, if we deem their message divisive and repugnant, let us disagree with them. Let us explain why. Let us hear the divisive yet choose to unite.

Comments

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Possibly, with some monitoring by our anti terrorism unit, they could visit. In the event of public unrest, the Police would ensure Freedom of Speech.

The people you write of are anti feminist and anti Semitic.

I hadn't heard of her until last week and don't know what she was coming to NZ to talk about. I googled her and interested to read that she was banned from the UK recently because of concern that she would draw attention to the secretive trials of grooming gangs. Related to this were concerns that she would draw attention to Tommy Robinson another Far Right speaker who was imprisoned for filming outside the court where one of the grooming trials was taking place. I do feel a tad concerned if the Auckland Council acted out of concern that she was to publicise the grooming trials as suggests that pressure has been applied by the UK Government.

Don't think the UK govt is bovvered. This activist turned back, or blocked, some shipping in the Med, as one would, left or right.

Health & Safety, or public order, is contingent upon not stirring up ethnic and religious tension. We may have chosen to ignore the connection.

I have done a bit of internet research on these two people & both off them advocate extreme views that I don’t agree with. Yet I agree with your editorial, democracy depends on the free exchange of information & viewpoints; so they have a right to speak in NZ (assuming anyone is going to even bother attending their meetings) I too am concerned at Phil Goff acting to censor freedom of speech; not least as once such starts where does it end?

The way I see it; if we can grant freedom of speech to the likes of Nicky Hagar (another person whose views I deeply disagree with) then we can grant it to anyone.

Your editorial is correct; just because we find people disagreeable is not a sufficient reason to destroy the basis of an open democracy by censoring them.

In addition to my previous comment; I further agree public buildings are not the Mayors private fiefdom. I can ask people to leave my own home if I find their views disagreeable, but I cannot ban them from public areas.

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