Free speech zones

Written By: - Date published: 12:41 pm, June 23rd, 2010 - 40 comments
Categories: activism, greens, International, Parliament - Tags: ,

National is no big fan of free speech. They have a long history of heavy handed attempts to stifle dissent. The recent fuss around Chinese security’s assault on Green MP Russel Norman raises yet another example.

Instead of defending a New Zealander and a fellow MP’s right to protest, John Key thought it necessary to make a degrading, secretive personal apology to China for Norman’s actions. Instead of asserting every New Zealander’s right, Key is lying about the incident, accusing Norman of “charging at the [Chinese] Vice-President with a Tibetan flag”, a laughable lie to anyone who has seen the video coverage.

The most disturbing aspect of National’s handling of the event, however, is the way that they are going to use it as an excuse to further restrict free speech. Ordinary members of the public protesting at Parliament are already “kept in a designated space”. MPs have so far been exempt, they can go anywhere. Sounds like that’s going to change:

“The apology was in relation to our failure to provide proper security for the vice-president when he entered and exited Parliament,” Mr Key said … Mr Key said he was going to take the matter up with the Diplomatic Protection Squad, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Parliament’s Speaker when he returned. “I think it’s unacceptable that a dignatory of that level can’t enter the building without their integrity being compromised,” he said. …

He [McCulley] has also complained to Parliament’s Speaker, Lockwood Smith, asking for assurances that in future New Zealand security services will control Parliament’s grounds during official visits.

Free Speech Zone

It is bad enough that you and I are confined to “designated space”. It will be intolerable if our elected representatives are denied the right to effective protest on our behalf. National wants to set us on the path to America’s notorious “free speech zones”*. If we, people and MPs alike, don’t want to end up in cattle pens, the time to speak up is now. Every MP should oppose any proposal to further restrict the right to protest on the grounds of Parliament, or anywhere in this country.

* That’s right, in the “land of the free” protesters are herded in to “areas set aside in public places for political activists to exercise their right of free speech”. George Orwell would have been proud.

40 comments on “Free speech zones”

  1. sean14 1

    Ordinary members of the public protesting at Parliament are already “kept in a designated space’.

    Do you think any member of the public should be allowed to get as close to a visiting dignitary as Dr Norman got to the Chinese vice-president?

    Free speech and the right to protest are fundamental to our democracy, but visiting dignitaries have the right to expect a certain level of security as well.

    • Craig Glen Eden 1.1

      The Chinese vice president was never in any danger the security was not breeched. Russell Norman had his property taken from him and was mildly hurt in the incident by a foreign security guard. The Chinese guard crabbed the flag and obstructed Norman the guard has no legal right to do either. Who acted illegally, the guard not Norman.

      What was Norman going to do smother the Chinese vice president with the flag, you wingnuts watch to much TV Norman is hardly the leader of a Aussie gang

      Back to reality wingnuts..

      • sean14 1.1.1

        Way to play the man and not the ball, Craig.

        Yes, Dr Norman did have the flag grabbed from him and was jostled by Chinese security.

        But why do you overlook the fact that the first assault in the incident was committed by Dr Norman? Of course things were going to go downhill from there.

        • freedom 1.1.1.1

          forgive me if i am a bit slow sean14, but it looks like you are attempting to say Dr Norman assaulted someone by holding a flag in a legal manner whilst exercising free speech in accordance with the laws of this [potentially] great nation, Aotearoa New Zealand

          next time, try thinking

        • WOOF 1.1.1.2

          Did somebody say ball? 🙂

    • ghostwhowalksnz 1.2

      Security has nothing to do with not ‘hearing or seeing’ legitimate protest.

      Of course if this sort of protest could happen in the usual way in the streets of Beijing or Lhasa, then it wouldnt be necessary in Wellington of all places

      • sean14 1.2.1

        Rod Donald didn’t have any problem being seen when he protested, and I’m sure he would have made himself heard had he wanted to. He got through his protest without incident and made his point.

        Norman and the Chinese are both at fault in the latest incident.

        • felix 1.2.1.1

          Rod Donald didn’t have any problem being seen when he protested

          So fucking what?

    • Galeandra 1.3

      Don’t you mean visiting indignitaries?

  2. WOOF 2

    Protestors shouldn’t be impounded. And if an MP can’t even get close enough to be heared by the person the protest is aimed at then that dawg may as well be the lowest in the pecking order 🙁

  3. tc 3

    The nat formula is quite simple….IF bigger than us THEN don’t upset them OR consider no action as an action.

    This chinese incident joins an ever growing list that’s turning NZ from the mouse that roared into a doormat for any foreign entity to wipe the feet on…..with the gov’t blessing.

    It’s a corpratocracy kids not a gov’t as you’d like to think it should be.

  4. Sanctuary 4

    “…”I think it’s unacceptable that a dignatory of that level can’t enter the building without their integrity being compromised..,’

    Thus speaks the goon from the corporate world who has probably never held a placard in his life.

  5. vto 5

    In actual fact the “free speech zone” thingy should be turned on its arse…

    so that there are instead “free speech free zones”. i.e. there are areas a person can go to, or foreign govt people, or even the entire government, where they can be free from people expressing their opinions.

    Rather than having “free speech zones”, which implies that every other area is non-free speech, New Zealand should be entirely “free speech” with small pockets that are “free speech prohibited”.

    That would be entirely more appropriate. Give the facsists a couple of tiny places where they can indulge themselves in their restrictions.

  6. Bill 6

    ‘s’cuse my ignorance, but what is this ‘designated space’ malarky? Anybody care to elaborate?

    I can understand how the trespass and private property thing works even if I don’t agree with it. But parliament? I get done for what if I stray from my ‘designated space’? Trespass on public property?

    Seriously. How does it work in practice? Has it ever been ignored and protesters lifted and charged on some pretext, or is it in existence only because it hasn’t been challenged or brought into question?

    I do love the irony of a Chinese body guard being accused of attacking rights to protest and free speech in a space that our own government has deemed out of bounds to expressions of democracy. Double irony, of course insofar that democracy is stifled in the very place that democracy is meant to reside if you go by what liberal democrats say or believe.

    So if people are as concerned with free speech and the right to protest as they have made out over the past few days on various threads, then shouldn’t this have been their focus all along? The denial of free speech and the right to protest put in place by our own government rather than all the extrapolating that has gone on over the actions of a security guard?

  7. tsmithfield 7

    To be fair, the Greens don’t have to try and build a beneficial relationship with the Chinese. The Nats do, for the benefit of all NZers. So, in the interest of all NZers the wise thing for Key to do was to apologise to help keep the relationship healthy.

    I doubt that Key apologised because Norman was protesting btw. I expect he apologised because Norman was being a pillock. At least that much is obvious from the video.

  8. freedom 8

    Protests on Parliament grounds have clear and somewhat fair rules that all organised actions follow with little to no authoritarian interference. Even small groups are catered for and the larger protests are well practised in actions at Parliament. Yes there are boundaries, the steps of Parliament building being the line we must not cross. Dpending on the scale of protest the forecourt is also out of bounds on occassion to permit clear and safe egress for all.

    MPs have a little wriggle room which Norman rightfully took full advantage of.

    There is no argument from protestors, the police or Government on the understood protocols of protest actions on Parliament grounds. (well up till now anyway)
    and Bill, your ‘double irony’ statement is simply fascile.

    I personally have been party to the development of one of this nation’s largest ever protests on Parliament grounds and all restrictions of movement were sensible and acceptable.

    Certainly a few believe that there should be no restrictions and some believe even the Parliamentary gallery should not be exempt from protest action but that is an impractical and narrow minded idea that limits the true function of the House, even more so than the theatrics that officially play out in the chamber day after day.

    the only discussion should be on the weak and nationally humiliating actions of our Prime Minister.

    • Bill 8.1

      So why can there be no expressions of democracy on the steps of the parliament building again?

      This ‘line we must not cross’ was a thing decided by who? And why? And has it always been the case that people considered parliament steps to be out of bounds…or at least that people were told as such?

      And what happens to people who do attempt to exercise democratic rights there?

      • freedom 8.1.1

        I think it is quite obvious that there are any number of responsible civic-minded reasons to restrict protests from accessing the front steps of Parliament Building. Not every protest is a potential revolution of the people but some have potential to become more difficult than they need be. I like to think that a responsible citizen would agree the greater good is served by the mutually agreeable definition of a ‘line’. Safety, for example, is generally of benefit to all concerned. There are other ways to be heard than using aggression and lawlessness.

        My understanding of the many applicable laws is- If a member of the public during a Protest action steps onto or is believed to be attempting to enter Parliament Building the first choice available to the officer is removal of the offender from the protest and eviction from Parliament grounds. Upon further action from the protestor or a change of environmental circumstances i believe arrest follows and a whole gaggle of charges can be thrown into the mix.

        (of course these days a first action tends to go straight to arrest,
        what with every citizen being a terrorist and all.)

        • Bill 8.1.1.1

          So a civilised single file protest that lined each side of the steps to parliament would leave an ample, even generous, corridor for access and would not pose any safety issue.

          Nothing aggressive. Nothing violent. Nothing contrary to any safety considerations and yet moves would be made to prevent or end any such configuration or positioning of people.

          Is there a specific law pertaining to the steps of parliament? I mean, it’s a public space, yes?

          I can’t see how this citizen/democracy free zone is justified or how such a state of affairs would be tenable if challenged.

          • freedom 8.1.1.1.1

            re the steps,
            It is a public space, except during a litany of official designations generally pertaining to passage of diplomats, but also including special addresses, visiting dignitaries and all forms of public protest.

            Some laws are simply there for common sense, take traffic lights for example. All Public spaces have laws associated with them, a Parliament also requires them. This situation has been largely unchanged for most of this nation’s history and i know few who have a problem with it.

            Obviously if you had ever actually been party to what is involved behind the scenes of a protest action, and the clear and reasonable boundaries that are prescribed, you would not be making such pointless statements about exercising your rights in a public space.

            your argument is all that seems untenable

            • Bill 8.1.1.1.1.1

              I’ve been involved in the organising of more than a few protests Freedom, just not in Wellington. As for ‘clear and reasonable boundaries that are prescribed’, any rules or guidelines have always been those decided on and agreed by the participants/organisers of the particular protest…not something set down by outside authorities.

              Again, unless there is a specific law pertaining to the steps of parliament, there would appear to be no reason or justification for a blanket ban on citizens exercising our democratic rights there…no more so than would any similar attempt to lock down or ban legal behaviour in any given public space.

              Which given the brouhaha over the past few days, it’s odd that nobody seems to care too much about this particular denial of rights, no?

              • freedom

                Glad to hear you have actively participated in the expression of freedom of speech.

                Yes most actions around the country are agreements between the parties involved and suprise suprise are bound by the laws of the locality. This is just as true in Wellington and more so for the fact that there are laws that pertain to Parliament grounds, what part of that are you having trouble understanding?

                no i do not have a link but i am sure if the minutae of your argument is that important then more power to you as you look it up. I am unsure what authoritarian travesty you expect to uncover. The laws of actions on Parliament grounds have been refined over decades of debate. I am sure there have been a few quite intelligent, worldly, rational and dare i say it free thinking people who were party to their construction, if there was a real problem with authority encroaching unnecessarily upon freedom at our Parliament I think someone may have noticed.

                The only real threat to freedom at Parliament is that idiot on the ninth floor

                • Bill

                  Okay. Lets assume some bye law exists that prohibits any right to assembly or whatever on the steps of parliament. So that means that in relation to practise of democracy, there exists a ‘dead’ zone…right there on the threshold of a building that purports to be a symbol for democracy and freedom and so on. And maybe nobody is too much bothered by that and either fail to see or don’t care about the irony of it all. And that’s fine. People don’t have to give a monkeys and it appears that, that is actually the case.

                  But if that’s the case, then why the brouhaha over the actions of somebody towards another who was protesting in what many people, apparently, accept as a no-go zone?

                  That was what people were jumping up and down about, right? The threat to free speech occasioned by the actions of the security detail? Yet the actions of the security guard did nothing to lessen free speech etc in that area in comparison to what government has already done by way of proscribing any assembly of citizens who wish to engage in protest there.

                  So the question arises as to how genuine people were in their protestations over supposed threats to free speech etc.

                  And I also question why an MP should be afforded a common right in that area…that public space… that the rest of us are denied? And wonder why anybody would seek to defend that privilege and not instead push for the space to be fully returned to us to use as we, upstanding citizens see fit…including for the sake of protest if we so choose?

                  It’s the consistency of principle I’m interested in. And I’m curious with regards the reactions of some to the event of the other day and the complete lack of follow through on their part.

                  Sad to say, I don’t believe that freedom of speech was what people really cared about at all. I think people were just happy to find an avenue that would allow them to mob for a bit of nationalistic China bashing.

                  • freedom

                    ‘most people’ i know simply had a problem with a foreign security detail manhandling a member of our Parliament on our soil. The fact it was on Parliament grounds only made it all the more unbelievable. That is untill Shonkey and the lapdog media made it a freedom of speech matter, all so he can jackboot his ideas of corporate feudalism.

                    goodnight Bill

  9. freedom 9

    excuse my spelling above i meant ‘facile’

  10. jcuknz 10

    Norman abused his position as an MP to be rude to a visitor to this country. If we elect idiots without a sense of what is right and proper to Parliament the obviously the Speaker has to try and devise rules to control them. Respect should be paid to the position however the holder may have and continues to act in a way we disapprove of. It is sad our Prime Minister felt he had to apologise for this pillock’s actions while swaning off to the world cup..

    • ghostwhowalksnz 10.1

      You decide what is right and proper for yourself, dont dictate to others let alone an elected MP. If you dont like his methods dont vote for the Greens.

      Pracatically by definition all protests are not ‘proper’. Which is why any showing of the Tibetan flag in Lhasa would mean instant arrest. This is why they face protest elsewhere

  11. RedLogix 11

    Norman abused his position as an MP to be rude to a visitor to this country.

    All protest is a form of ‘rudeness’. That’s the whole point of it, to embarrass or shame into reconsidering.

    Are MP’s not allowed to criticise or protest?

    Is Parliament now off-limits to freedom of speech?

    Are foreign visitors immune to criticism?

    Amazing how this incident has flushed a bunch of proto-fascists out from under the frig.

  12. whineygingatosser 12

    Give me back my flag, give me back my flag, give me back my flag, give me back my flag.

    [lprent: There is no real point in changing names. I can still see who people are. It just means I have to manually release new names from auto-moderation. ]

  13. ghostwhowalksnz 13

    Its funny to see the some people fawning before a foreign dictator, what a problem if Mugabe turns up ?

    yet these same people would have spat at a Chinese communist official 30 years ago.

  14. grumpy 14

    Norman’s biggest fault is that he’s a whimp. the spectacle of him whining “…give me my fwag back….’was more embarrassing than anything else. A poor successor to Rod Donald and Sue Bradford.

    • vto 14.1

      Yes in hindsight it wasn’t a good look. He should have just stood back a bit further and yelled a lot louder

      • grumpy 14.1.1

        In my youth, real demonstrators like Tim shadbolt and Murray Horton didn’t have much trouble getting their point across and they didn’t look like whimps doing it!!!!

  15. luva 15

    That is the beauty of being a Green MP.

    Hell will freeze over, Helen Clark will be the key note speaker at the ACT annual conference, and John Key will put the top tax rate up to 67%, all before the Greens will ever be given the keys to Treasury or handed the responsibility of building international relations for this country.

    So unlike National and Labour MP’s, they are free to cross the line and make themselves martyrs and hero’s in front of their fringe left supporters. Phil Goff or any of his MP’s may feel as strongly as Norman about Chinese occupation but they will in the future be given the job and responsibility of working constructively with the Chinese. They therefore do not have the privilege of acting like Norman did.

    • WOOF 15.1

      It must be a bit ruff on Labour not being able to give Norman any yelp. I hope that freedom of speech in New Zealand doesn’t deteriorate into a whimper. 🙁

  16. Frank Macskasy 16

    From a Radio NZ interview yesterday…

    “I was embarressed on behalf of New Zealand because we invited the Vice Premier here to Parliament and it seems to me we might have strong views about a particular country or politician or particular politician but that we put those aside because we have a guest and we respect that and it seems to me that Dr Norman’s behaviour was disrespectful of a guest however you might view their particular politics…

    Well, precisely what happened on the occassion is clear from the video because Mr, or Dr Norman, thoughtfully got the TV cameras to film it so we can see. So what you can see is
    the security guards coming and standing in front of Dr Norman because they wanted to shield clearly the flag from the Vice Premier. At that point Russell Norman pushed himself in front of the security guard and elbowed him out of the way. So he actually elbowed the security guard first to get closer in…

    I’m not arguing for a minute that you shouldn’t have the right to protest. I’m not arguing for a minute that you shouldn’t have the right to demonstrate. I’m not arguing for a minute that you shouldn’t be able to hold up whatever flag that you like – I agree with all those things. What I disagree is that when you are invited to a Parliament and an MP has privileges to go to every spot in that Parliament, that you treat the guest with respect.”

    – Rodney Hide, Focus on Politics, RNZ, 25.6.2010

    Link; http://tinyurl.com/2ex2h9x

    A few things about Mr Hide’s comments…

    Firstly, Rodney Hide is EMBARRASSED about a New Zealander exercising his/her right to freedom of speech at Parliament? I wonder how he reconciles that with his fellow ACT MP, John Boscawen, who stated,

    “The protesters who marched to Parliament today in opposition to the ETS have every reason to be concerned about New Zealand taking this world leading position.” (http://tinyurl.com/29mrvyg)

    Secondly, Mr Hide’s description of what took place can only be described as an outright lie. Unless Rodney Hide was watching an alternative event in a Parallel Universe, the events recorded by TV cameras bear only a passing similarity to Hide’s description.

    God help anyone if Rodney Hide appeared in Court as a witness to a crime. The victim would most likely end up behind bars.

    And lastly, if we’re not supposed to offend visiting leaders; let’s show that same respect to other foreign dignitaries…

    Ones like Saddam Hussein. Pinochet. Pol Pot. Idi Amin. General Franco. “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Kim Il Sung. George W. Bush.

    After all, tyrants have feelings to, y’know.

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