Off the back of the hate speech legislation being pulled from Parliament, we’ve had some people tell us we must be packing up since the work’s done. If only!

There remain major threats to free speech. Unfortunately, I’m already contacting you about another one today. 

Last week, you may have seen the Rotorua Lakes Council voted, without public consultation, to accept a policy that “removes from consideration” public submissions if they are deemed “offensive”, “discriminatory” or “irrelevant”.

This represents a clear violation of the speech rights of submitters to this Council, and we immediately contacted them, the Minister for Local Government, and Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) drawing attention to what an egregious violation this is. 

But since then we’ve realised this issue is much worse.

We don’t have democracy if we can’t submit against policy

Rather than this just being a local issue for Rotorua Lakes Council, this afternoon we discovered that the Review into the Future for Local Government, which was established by Nania Mahuta when she was Minister for Local Government has been working for the past two years to produce an inter-generational report which sets out a vision for local government for the next 30 years.  

The draft report includes recommendations on lowering the voting age to 16, and a host of policies related to greater inclusion of mana whenua which some have interpreted as a form of co-governance. While we don’t take a stand on these specific issues, they have a major impact on the nature of our democracy. 

That’s why we’re so concerned that their submissions moderation policy says that if a submission is ‘racist’, ‘discriminatory’, or ‘insulting’, it may be excluded from being published. 

Submissions criteria

This means if you disagree with 16 year-olds being given the right to vote in local council elections (which by definition is discriminating on the basis of age), your submission can be moderated at the discretion of the Review board.

This is picking and choosing which voices are heard, and then calling it ‘democracy’ and the ‘will of the people’. We can’t let this stand. 

Just this year we have stood up to censorship by Sport Northland, and seen them back down. We kept up the pressure on the hate speech laws, and saw them removed from Parliament (for now). We have a strong record of getting results for free speech, but between you and me, I feel like this could be one of our biggest fights, yet.

If politicians and bureaucrats get the idea that they can pick who gets to have a say based on whether they think their ideas are ‘offensive’ ‘insulting’ or ‘discriminating’, then the voice of anyone provocative or unconventional will be shut out.

That would be the end of real demcracy in New Zealand.