Defend free speech against the Auckland Council’s dirty tricks

The Free Speech Union has called out the Auckland Council for an underhanded attempt to exclude groups it does not like from using Council owned facilities. They explain:

You will recall the history of this matter: in 2018 when Auckland Mayor Phil Goff ‘banned’ two controversial Canadian speakers, we formed this group to take him and the Council’s facility managers to task. That case has wound all the up in the Supreme Court (the appeal was heard last month, and we are currently waiting on the decision).

But the Court of Appeal’s comments alone were enough for us to strike up a win last year when we forced the Council to host the feminist group “Speak Up for Women” which the Council had tried to deplatform on the basis that the group is a ‘hate group’ because they take the view that biological sex and gender identity are not the same things and that sometimes female-only spaces are necessary (the High Court rightly called out the Council’s claim that such views are ‘hateful’ as clearly untrue, respectable and legitimate in a democratic society).

Now Phil Goff and Auckland Council are having another go – with a sneaky challenge to try and control who we can and cannot hear from at Auckland’s publicly owned facilities.

Daphna what the Council is now trying to do is introduce controlled use through the back door. On Monday, the Council’s “Rainbow Communities Advisory Panel” (which is chaired by Councillor Richard Hills) is set to debate a policy that would give “preferred users” and designated groups priority access to Council facilities.

That sounds innocent enough, but what it means is that groups such as the Council’s highly politicised “Rainbow Communities Advisory Panel” will have priority access and be able to prevent events from third party groups if they object, or wish to use the facility instead.

Remember, this was the same “Rainbow Communities Advisory Panel” that lead the charge against previous speakers, saying that there was “harm” and “health and safety dangers” if controversial speakers (including groups debating a then-proposed law before Parliament) were allowed to use Council halls.

In the presentation advising councillors on the issue, the official documents claim that there is tension in the fact that “the venue for hire service is for all Aucklanders, but controversial speakers and groups using venues cause harm to communities experiencing inequity and barriers to participation.”

Essentially, the proposed solution means when a controversial group books a Council venue, ‘preferred’ users can overrule the booking. It makes some groups more equal than others in the name of ‘kindness’. But in reality, this tension is what you get in a democratic society where we should expect countless views, including those we don’t agree with, to be expressed in public venues. 

We’ve made a tool for you to email Auckland Councillors telling them not to approve this policy. We have to tell Auckland Councillors that we can see what they are doing, and won’t let them get around the law that all Aucklanders – regardless of political views, or favoured status – should be free to use Council-owned event facilities.