Freedom of speech in universities

There has been a lot of discussion in media about free speech in universities after 27 “high profile” New Zealanders wrote an open letter. It took a while to find a copy of the actual letter:

Freedom of speech underpins our way of life in New Zealand as a liberal democracy. It enables religious observance, individual development, societal change, science, reason and progress in all spheres of life. In particular, the free exchange of ideas is a cornerstone of academe.

Governments and particular groups will from time to time seek to restrict freedom of speech in the name of safety or special interest. However, debate or deliberation must not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most people to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.

Universities play a fundamental role in the thought leadership of a society. They, of all places, should be institutions where robust debate and the free exchange of ideas take place, not the forceful silencing of dissenting or unpopular views.

Intellectual rigour must prevail over emotional blackmail.

Individuals, not any institution or group, should make their own judgments about ideas and should express these judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas they oppose, without discrimination or intimidation.

We must ensure that our higher learning establishments are places where intellectual rigour prevails over emotional blackmail and where academic freedom, built on free expression, is maintained and protected. We must fight for each other’s right to express opinions, even if we do not agree with them.


Assoc Prof Len Bell, Dr Don Brash, Dr David Cumin, Sir Toby Curtis, Dr Brian Edwards, Graeme Edwards, Dr Gavin Ellis, Sir Michael Friedlander, Alan Gibbs, Dame Jenny Gibbs, Bryan Gould, Wally Hirsh, Prof Manying Ip, Sir Bob Jones, Prof Pare Keiha, Assoc Prof Hon Luamanuvao, Winnie Laban, Dame Lesley Max, Gordon McLauchlan, Prof Paul Moon, Sir Douglas Myers, Assoc Prof Camille Nakhid, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Prof Edwina Pio, David Rankin, Philip Temple, Dame Tariana Turia, Prof Albert Wendt.

Paul Moon followed this up with an opinion piece published by Stuff:

Freedom of speech in New Zealand’s universities under attack

A plea for free speech in our universities might seem about as unnecessary as a demand that all people be treated equally under the law.

After all, the Education Act asserts clearly the right of academics to speak as critics and consciences of society – supposedly securing universities as bastions of independent thought and open expression.

Yet, recent events at home and overseas are endangering freedom of speech at our universities.

Threats against minority communities in New Zealand, and in other Western countries, and terrorist attacks in Europe are having a chilling effect. A recent study of 115 British universities found only seven had not experienced some sort of censorship, ban or intervention which curbed free speech.

The right to free speech is so ingrained in New Zealand’s ethos that today a diverse group of 27 high-profile New Zealanders has released an open letter warning of “the forceful silencing of dissenting or unpopular views” on our university campuses. Its signatories include not only academics, and business and community leaders, but some of our most outspoken commentators, including Sir Bob Jones, Dr Don Brash, Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Dame Turiana Turia.

Of course, with rights come with responsibilities. Freedom of speech must have some constraints; that’s why it is a crime to incite hatred and violence. And damaging someone’s reputation – outside the privileged protection provided at universities and Parliament – can end in a defamation suit. Just as the courts and the media must always jealously guard freedom of speech from state controls, so must our universities.

The pretext of avoiding offence is regularly hauled out as the basis for curtailing free speech on campuses.  If a group is offended by an idea or argument, it is increasingly – and misguidedly – believed it is better to ban or “disinvite” the causers rather than ruffle sensitivities or risk the speaker being drowned out by vigorous protest. This patronising sanctimony continues to gain ground along with an absurd notion that universities should provide intellectual “safe-spaces”.

There is no inalienable right not to be offended. It is paradoxical that those who clamour for such “safe spaces” often seem untroubled by the intimidation being used to shut down unpopular speech.

It is precisely these intellectually dangerous or subversive spaces that academics and students must enter and explore. Political dissent, artistic deviance and intellectual rebellion are at the heart of a healthy and progressive society, and universities have traditionally played a leading role in challenging conventions and ushering in new ways of thinking and doing.

The forced closure of a student club at Auckland University recently – and threats to their members’ safety – is a slippery slope we should all be wary of. Kneejerk calls from Police and the Human Rights Commission to introduce hate-speech laws after recent abuse against ethnic communities will have the unintended consequence of suppressing free speech.

Education, open debate and understanding will change racist and intolerant views – not censorship.

A vibrant society permits heretic views to be expressed. A country where the state – or universities for that matter – determines what is a permissible thought and what isn’t is a dictatorships, not a modern democracy.

History shows that it is fear and intolerance that drives suppression of free speech, rather than free speech causing fear and intolerance. Those who attempt to suppress free speech, tend to do so out of fear and intolerance. Censorship is a crude tool used to replace healthy counter-argument.

That we think and believe different things is something to be cherished, not smothered, and different ideas and opinions are something to be welcomed. That is how we learn and progress.

Universities teach people how, not what, to think. Now more than ever, they must protect the very core of their work – free expression.

Paul Moon is Professor of History at Auckland University of Technology.

Open letter to Standard authors

I have emailed the following letter to The Standard but know that some of them at least will see it here if they don’t get a copy.

Please distribute this letter to the Standard authors.

The Standard has a record of abusiveness and bullying. What you do within your own blog is of course up to you.

However a recent post by Lynn Prentice, Ben Guerin: a dirty politics fuckwit, takes abuse to an disturbing new level – promoting it outside The Standard via personal phone numbers, email addresses and home addresses.

This post plus comments in it’s thread openly instigated, incited and encouraged attacks beyond The Standard, and when it was confirmed that personal abuse had been successfully achieved further private details were published.

Lynn has made the point that these contact details are readily available, which is correct. However publishing them in an already highly abusive post had the obvious intent to widen the abuse beyond the blog and beyond the Internet. The post and comments that followed break Standard policies and would not be allowed if others did it (depending on who the targets where).

Publishing the contact details had clearly expressed malicious intent. And this places at risk not just the individuals that Lynn targeted – it also exposes others including family members.

As authors and moderators of The Standard you have a collective responsibility, and this escalation of abuse reflects on all of you.

You can choose to be abusive yourselves on your own blog, or for most of you to silently and tacitly allow it to happen.

However instigating and encouraging bullying and violent behaviour outside your blog (so far non-physical) and exposing associates and family members is far more serious.

Currently the contact details, and the encouraging of abuse remains on The Standard. And there are also threats of repeats of this reprehensible behaviour. Lynn’s last post to date:


The information that was published was the public information that every registrant for a domain must make public. If you want to change that then I suggest that you talk to IANA.

It is there specifically to allow people to find out who is responsible for uses of that domain. Perhaps you should bestir yourself to find out what the responsibilities are for a domain name holder.

The “voitrol” was because he didn’t provide any information on the site to identify who was responsible for it. As far as I’m concerned he was concealing who was responsible from the public. All that would have been required for me to make a quite different type of post would have been a prominent notice or an about at the top of the site that said this was put up by the Young Nats.

So I made my rapid searches public and expressed by thoughts of a politically aware fool who would do this complete lack of public transparency, along with a reasonable explanation of why he did it. Since he’d neglected to provide that information, I feel that he should wear the consequences like any responsible adult

Bearing in mind the search engine optimization on this site and the interest in this post, that will probably be for some time.

Suffice it to say that the next site that I spot of this non-transparent dirty politics ilk will at least redouble that level of vitriol if I can trace it back. So you should suggest to your wellington “team” that they’d better learn to be responsible before I make them.

BTW: I don’t play for any “team”. Many around the blogs and anyone who knows me will happily attest to that. I’ve worked and cooperate with people and organisations from the army to this blog, but I’m not into silly juvenile pack games.

If you allow this and do nothing about this then as a collective you are in effect supporting this ongoing bullying, abusive  behaviour plus threats of more..

Lynn also commented:

That information is available for ALL domain names and their registrants, admins, and technical contacts. That is because domain names are a privilege requiring personal responsibility. If you put up a website or mail server or anything else under a domain, then you are responsible for the content published under it.


Bearing in mind the search engine optimization on this site and the interest in this post, that will probably be for some time.

Bear in mind what that means to yourselves.


In short – you acted like a fool. Take some personal responsibility for it and learn from it.

If you remain publicly silent and take no action then you are aiding and abetting this disturbing escalation in abuse and the provocation of bullying and violent behaviour beyond The Standard.

I ask you to seriously consider dealing with this responsibly.

Pete George

Your NZ

Key’s intention “in the interests of every New Zealanders”

An open letter from John Key outlines the Prime Minister’s aims and aspirations in his third term of Government:

Elections are a chance for people to assess what party has the best plan, policies and vision for the future. My assessment is that voters remain focused on the issues that matter to them and their families — the economy, law and order, health, education and the environment.

So although a lot of media attention can focus on peripheral issues, it takes a lot to distract voters from these core issues.

I am very grateful to the million plus voters who gave their party vote to National. Thank you for your support and encouragement — and the endorsement of the past six years.

An election is when people vote for a particular party; however the elected Government should work in the interests of every New Zealander and it is my intention to do so.

There will be times when people will disagree with decisions we make, but that is true of core supporters as well.

Over the past six years we have been transparent and straightforward about our decisions and the direction we have taken.

Although we are likely to have an outright majority in Parliament, that won’t change. We’ll continue to do what we said we would do, and will not embark on any agenda we have not campaigned on. We have been, and will remain, a centre-right Government.

Now we are reaching out to other political parties to form a bigger buffer than the one-seat majority from election night. This will give the Government depth and breadth.

Once we successfully negotiate the Confidence and Supply agreements, I will look at forming a new Cabinet. There are two vacant spots in the existing Cabinet, which gives us room to bring in new talent, and in some cases it makes sense to change portfolios around.

Although the core economic team of Bill English in Finance and Steven Joyce in Economic Development won’t change, there are options for Ministers looking for new challenges.

Once the Government is sworn in, we will be getting to work quickly on our priorities. These include implementing our education reforms to lift professional standards, and our housing programme, which will see young first-homebuyers build a deposit through KiwiSaver HomeStart.

We will also continue to fast track the release of land and building through special housing areas.

We will continue to diversify and build productivity in the economy. That’s about more training places and apprenticeships in high-skill areas.

We’d like to finalise our Free Trade Agreement with Korea and will work hard on an FTA with the United States and other partners who are looking to form the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The country’s infrastructure build will continue at a rapid rate, including the expansion of ultra-fast broadband and the rural broadband initiative. We will work tirelessly on Christchurch’s rebuild, finalise those unsettled Treaty of Waitangi claims, and I want to work on the referendum process for a potential change to the New Zealand flag.

Welfare reform will continue to be a priority, as will health. One of our first targets will be to see hospice funding increased to 70 per cent, and we will also speed up the cancer treatment process so 90 per cent of sufferers receive treatment within 62 days of their first referral.

One of the messages we picked up on the campaign trail was that New Zealanders want us to do more for the most vulnerable children in our society. We will continue to try to move people from welfare-based homes to work-based homes, however we acknowledge there is potentially more we can do and we will be looking at ways to do that.

There is enormous opportunity over the next three years to continue to develop the job market in New Zealand. Over the next two years we expect to see about 150,000 jobs created.

Over the next three years we expect the average wage to move from $55,000 to $62,000 and expect to lift the minimum wage every year we are in office. We want to finalise our tax-cut programme and implement modest cuts for low and middle income New Zealanders from 2017.

This is while we continue to build surpluses, pay off some nominal debt by 2017 and reduce ACC levies.

In the time I have been Prime Minister I have marvelled at the creativity, ingenuity and generosity of New Zealanders. This is a remarkable country and there are enormous opportunities for us all. I am optimistic and ambitious for this country — and you have every reason to be as well.

 Herald on Sunday