National MP Chris Penk writes to Phil Goff

Chris Penk

Dear Mr Goff

?Views that divide? at Auckland Council Venues ? Constituent Concerns

I am writing to relay the concerns of constituents of the Helensville electorate who have contacted me recently on the subject of free speech.

In the following statement you purported to control the usage of Auckland Council-owned venues on the basis of your own political beliefs:

?venues shouldn?t be used to stir up ethnic or religious tensions. Views that divide rather than unite are repugnant and I have made my views clear?.

Your efforts to limit others? rights, by making them subservient to your own views, has caused considerable disquiet among some of the residents and ratepayers of the Helensville electorate. The area lies within your jurisdiction and its residents and ratepayers are no less constituents of Auckland Council than you.

Did you not consider that your attempt to preclude ?views that divide? was itself divisive?

Legal and moral rights

Some constituents have asked me what legal or moral right you sought to invoke when making that pronouncement. It is difficult to answer the question in any way that does not conclude that you were acting as a self-appointed political censor. Your preparedness to elevate your own personal political views above those of ratepayers ? who fund your own platform by dutifully paying rates, let us not forget ? has not been well received, to say the least.

The point that I have been asked to relay is not that overseas visitors have any right to be heard. (That is a separate discussion for another day, perhaps.) The point is that Auckland?s residents and ratepayers had the right to hear them. You sought to deny them that right.

?Ownership? of Auckland Council assets

Buildings ?owned? by Auckland Council belong to your constituents, not you. Auckland Council assets should be viewed as being held in trust for its people, rather than being ?owned? by the Mayor and fellow occupants of city hall. It is a typical conceit of a certain type of politician that he or she owns the resources of the city or nation. From such a mistaken belief the logical conclusion appears to be that allocating the use of such resources is an act of largesse on the part of the politician.

Any of your fellow Aucklanders not wishing to hear the views of the Canadian visitors need not have done so. Indeed those wishing to protest the arguments of the Canadian visitors should have also been free to do so. That is the essence of freedom of expression. From a contest of ideas, the truth can and will emerge. You sought to deny Aucklanders freedom to make that choice, however, in a way that appears beyond your legal powers as Mayor.

Massey following mayoral precedent

It has been interesting to note that the Vice-Chancellor of Massey University ? perhaps emboldened by your stance ? recently manoeuvred in a similar fashion to exclude students of that educational institution from hearing the views of Dr Don Brash. A cynical person might conclude that as a former leader of the Labour Party you are comfortable that a former leader of the National Party was denied a platform. I do not wish to speculate on whether that might be so.

In any case, I imagine that some Helensville constituents will have noted the similarity between Jan Thomas? position and your own in relation to the rights of students and residents (respectively) to hear arguments expressed and to form their own judgements.

De facto endorsement

Finally, a constituent has asked me to point out that, through your recent actions, you have effectively endorsed (as non-?divisive?) the views of all those represented through Auckland Council assets ? past, present and future ? whom you do not seek to de-platform.

In relation to that point, my constituent wonders whether you will be seeking the removal of the portrait of Linda Sarsour from the upcoming ?500 Women? exhibition. His reasoning is that the views of Ms Sarsour are ?likely to stir up ethnic or religious tensions? and ?divide rather than unite?, to use your own phrases.

I do not regard it as appropriate for me to seek the removal of Ms Sarsour?s picture from the exhibition, believing as I do in freedom of expression with very limited exceptions (such as the incitement of violence, for example). I have not investigated whether such exceptions apply in the case of Ms Sarsour.

I will not advocate to reduce the legitimate expression of political views, whether or not I agree with such views personally. Nor should you. Focusing attention on the core business of local government might remove any temptation you might feel to do so in the future.

Yours faithfully

Chris Penk MP