Heather Roy

11 July 2018

Until last week I’d never heard of Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux. Neither had most of the rest of the country, but regular readers of the news will certainly now be familiar with the controversial Canadian pair for the infamous ban imposed on their booking of a council owned venue by Auckland mayor Phil Goff.

I take issue with his ban for two reasons. The first and most obvious is the blatant attack on freedom of speech. The second, is the breech of good governance from a mayor who should know how inappropriate it is to dictate to a CCO how it must act.

Most of us have firm, strongly held views and beliefs about something – political ideology, human rights, religious belief, animal rights …  the list is long. We’re all different and we frequently disagree about issues, but we all have the right to believe in and talk about whatever we wish and associate with whomever we please. Freedom of speech and freedom and association are basic principles of a free society.

Hand in hand with these principles is the freedom to disagree with what others believe and the freedom to dissociate – all part of belonging to a healthy democracy. Those who break the law should expect repercussions and there are some social norms that are observed in a civilised society. However even when I disagree with the views of others I vigorously defend their right to freedom of speech, expression and association.

Phil Goff certainly believed in freedom of speech when he protested against the Vietnam War in his youth. Now however, he has become the self appointed arbiter of what speech is acceptable. We undermine the freedom of individuals when we make assumptions about matters of private thought on their behalf.

I’ll make up my own mind, thanks very much. I don’t agree with Molyneux and Southern and I have the right to ignore them or protest against them, just as Goff did in the 1960’s when he didn’t approve of the Vietnam War.

The freedom of speech aspect of this story has been well traversed by many journalists and commentators. What hasn’t been discussed is the way in which Phil Goff has failed to observe the practices of good governance. His actions in making the decision himself to ban Southern and Molyneux invite the question as to whether he is Mayor or the Executive Chair of the Auckland Council and Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs).

Six council owned venues are run by Auckland Live, including the Bruce Mason Centre where the Canadian pair were to be presenting in early August. Auckland Live is part of Regional Facilities Auckland – an Auckland Council Controlled Organisation. For Phil Goff to reach inside an independently operating company (albeit council owned) and tell it how to operate means he has breached the Companies Act. If the venue operator (Auckland Live) had concerns about an event, the people to make a decision are the management of Regional Facilities Auckland, guided by their directors and policies, not the Mayor. Goff admitted that the decision to ban Southern and Molyneux was his – not that of the Auckland City Council by majority vote, and not the management or directors of the company who own the venue. Poor governance no matter how you look at it.

Phil Goff has given Southern and Molyneux a platform. Not the platform they booked and were prepared to pay for, but a much higher profile one in the NZ media. Many would argue that the pair would have been much better ignored. That’s what happens when you interfere with freedom of speech and ignore the principles of good governance.