David Farrar has a superb response to Massey University’s authoritarian breach of a student group’s right to assemble peaceably, to hear from (and appraise), and to associate with whoever they choose. The ban happens to be by an inferior university apparently aiming to cement its inferiority internationally into the minds of all but a few post-modernists. That is a shame for the graduates who have to rely on its qualifications. It is also a shame for New Zealand.
Michael Reddell backgrounds the issues with his usual penetration.
The move might have been dismissed as the aberration of a Vice Chancellor who had already displayed her analytical limits, but she appears to have been supported by her colleagues. Rather risky for them when the ban is aimed at one of New Zealand’s rare public intellectuals with genuine international credibility. Dr Brash gained international renown as Governor of the Reserve Bank when it was considered the best central bank in the world. Few of our intellectuals have actually successfully run major institutions.
Massey does not have a Law Faculty. But presumably they still spend hundreds of thousands on lawyers. Have they persuaded themselves that s 161 of the Education Act 1989 is trumped by reciting a health and safety mantra?
The Free Speech Coalition’s next job seems likely to be to ask a court to tell us about the mystery safety-above-all provision that it appears Auckland Council and Massey University believe in.
But Massey has another obstacle. Have its Council or lawyers turned their minds to an unusually specific section in the Human Rights Act? No section of that Act is more specific than section 57’s application to educational institutions. Read the relevant sections for yourself (emphasis mine).
57 Educational establishments
(1) It shall be unlawful for an educational establishment, or the authority responsible for the control of an educational establishment, or any person concerned in the management of an educational establishment or in teaching at an educational establishment,—
(a) to refuse or fail to admit a person as a pupil or student; or
(b) to admit a person as a pupil or a student on less favourable terms and conditions than would otherwise be made available; or
(c) to deny or restrict access to any benefits or services provided by the establishment; or
(d) to exclude a person as a pupil or a student or subject him or her to any other detriment,—
by reason of any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination.
(2) In this section, educational establishment includes an establishment offering any form of training or instruction and an educational establishment under the control of an organisation or association referred to in section 40.
21 Prohibited grounds of discrimination
(1) For the purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are:
(j) political opinion, which includes the lack of a particular political opinion or any political opinion:
Among David Farrar’s suggested actions to defend our fundamental freedoms is the conversion of the Free Speech Coalition into a permanent action agency. Steps are in hand to do that.
The last few weeks have shown us the need. The existing database of principled people who donated to the Free Speech Coalition opportunity can be the foundation of an organisation committed to protecting genuine civil liberties.
New Zealand once had its own vigorous and principled version of the ACLU – a beacon of freedoms that distinguished the US from most other nations. As a liberal establishment body it nevertheless defended the fundamental freedoms of people it deplored – precisely because that best demonstrated the need for utterly consistent principles.
The ACLU was often unpopular with majorities. It defended people who caused offence, people on the margins, people hated by main stream opinion leaders. They included atheists objecting to school prayers, raunchy novelists, and deliberately offensive artists determined to rub the faces of others in what they claimed was “gritty reality”. The ACLU drew the same line as our current law – they would not defend violent coercive “expression”. But in landmark law cases they defended freedom of speech and assembly against political abuses of authority over people who wanted to play sport with apartheid era South Africans, communists, nazi sympathisers, union leaders, socialists and even the Ku Klux Klan.
Our equivalent organisation split four decades ago over that need for consistency. During the anti-Springbok tour years the limbs withered into irrelevance because they were too divided to stand up for principle. The current remnant organisation is too scared of being branded by association with politically incorrect exercisers of fundamental freedoms, to be relevant in public debate.
Instead the HRC has become a bad joke – lacking the intellectual capacity, or integrity (it is never clear which) to lead and inform public debate. At least lately they’ve given us the compensating amusement of seeing how they do fill their time – tormenting each other with complaints of offensive behaviour internally.
Time to step up Free Speech Coalition. If you’ve been watching and scarcely believing where your media and country are heading – Massey University shows that the risk is here, and not just to fringe Canadians.
Stephen Franks is a nationally known NZ lawyer, expert in company and securities law, and law reform.
He is a founding partner of a specialty law firm, Franks & Ogilvie (Commercial and Public Law Limited), established to focus on the intersection of government and commerce.
Other current interests include a 2,000ha manuka and grazing block, mountain biking, and kayaking. Stephen is married to Catharine and they have four young adult children.