A community group based in Northland is planning a tour around the country to discuss a hot-button political issue. The group, called “Stop Co-Governance”, contacted Sport Northland, a publically-funded venue organisation in Whangarei, to use their facilities. Last Thursday, their request to use facilities was denied by Sport Northland’s “Spaces & Places” Manager.
The manager cited their recently adjusted trust deed that now recognises Te Tiriti and adopts a co-governance board structure, saying “due to these factors and after viewing your website and the information you sent, we have unfortunately have [sic] made the decision to decline your facility booking. I hope this is understandable.”
No, it is not understandable. Their blatant disregard for a foundational right of all Kiwis to express themselves openly, even on controversial political questions, is not ‘understandable.’
While a private organisation, Sport Northland receives significant public funding from both local and central government and operates facilities for public benefit. As such, it must accept the duties placed on it by NZBORA, including non-discrimination and the right to free speech for those that use its facilities.
We are preparing legal action against Sport Northland and have also contacted the Human Rights Commission about this case. We were founded 5 years ago when a public venue denied access to speakers because of their ideas. Again, in 2021, we stood for Speak Up for Women and their right to use a public library. With your help, we can see free speech win the day again.
In that case, the High Court found the cancellation decision was not a rational and reasonable limitation on rights and ordered that the event proceed. The similarities to this case are striking and we are confident the Courts will rule similarly.
We have a track record of defending the rights of all Kiwis to have their say. There are many opinions on co-governance and we’re not taking a stand on that. We simply know that our country can’t move forward if we’re not all able to speak honestly in public.