Where is the Free Speech Union when you need it?

Written By: - Date published: 8:25 am, February 28th, 2023 - 97 comments
Categories: act, chris hipkins, david seymour, human rights, national, spin, Unions - Tags:

Rob Campbell is under some pressure from National and Act for calling out publicly the right’s dog whistle attacks on co governance.

Craig McCulloch at RNZ has the details:

In a LinkedIn post over the week, Campbell – who also chairs the Environmental Protection Authority – lambasted the National Party’s Three Waters policy as a thinly disguised “dog whistle on co-governance”.

He went on to target National’s leader, writing: “Christopher Luxon might be able to rescue his party from stupidity on climate change but rescuing this from a well he has dug himself might be harder.”

Under the Public Service Commission’s code of conduct, directors of crown entities must act in a politically impartial manner.

Chris Hipkins has described Campbell’s comments as “inappropriate” and “fell well outside” the code of conduct.

The right were not so restrained.

National Party public service spokesperson Simeon Brown said Campbell’s conduct was “absolutely appalling” and his excuse did not fly.

“His job is to fix the health system and make sure people don’t have long waiting lists – not to be making running commentary on National Party policy.”

Brown said Campbell’s behaviour raised serious questions about his judgement, but declined to say whether he should be sacked.

ACT leader David Seymour showed no such restraint, telling RNZ he did not see how Campbell could remain in the job.

“If he is able to get away with this, what signal does that send to the rest of the public service?” he said. “The Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes needs to take a stand here.”

Their comments smack of that word that starts with “h” and ends with “ypocrisy”.

For some time one of their puppet organisations has extolled the right of workers to enjoy the right to freedom of speech.

In fact on the front page of its website is this text:

We envision a flourishing New Zealand civil society that values and protects vigorous debate, dissenting ideas, and freedom of speech as cultural cornerstones.

As a trade union, we will promote members’ collective employment interests with a particular focus on the protection of their freedom of speech from employer interference. If you feel that your job could be placed in jeopardy because of thoughts or opinions you express in your private life, or if you simply want the reassurance of having the support of a community dedicated to defending free speech, then become a member today.

Free speech is the bedrock on which all our other freedoms rest, yet it is currently in greater peril than at any time since the Second World War.

One of the wins of the trade union moment in the early 20th century was the 8-hour day, and the concept of employees not remaining servants to their masters once they’ve clocked off. That is the principle we need to reestablish – to stop employers, or others, trying to get people fired for having so called ‘unacceptable’ or controversial views.

This ought to be a classic case for the FSU to take up.  Campbell is being subject to cancel culture for expressing personal views which a lot of us agree with.  But it’s silence deeply suggests that free speech for the right is more important than free speech for the left.

97 comments on “Where is the Free Speech Union when you need it? ”

  1. tc 1

    Coming from a bona fide club member with directorships across a range of entities that's quite telling IMO.

    Could we be seeing a genuine change at that level with the BS getting called out, only time will tell.

  2. Tiger Mountain 2

    Free the Campbell! let Rob speak.

    He was a talented senior unionist who moved off to the corporate sector for various reasons, including a brush with cancer. He is still talented and the Govt. is fortunate to have him at Te Whatu Ora.

    Genuinely dangerous are the ACT/Natzo fifth columnists that infest the public sector. They generally operate by stealth in the background with their leaking and undermining.

  3. AB 3

    Most contemporary champions of free speech operate in bad faith. Their agenda is mostly to maintain the existing cultural and political dominance of their preferred speech – and repel any challenges to that status quo as somehow illegitimate.
    That said, Campbell has overstepped and deserves censure, but not sacking.

    • adam 3.1

      Campbell has overstepped

      How? He is the chair of Environmental Protection Authority, and he has a role to play to protect the environment. The policy does not protect the environment, and instead uses itself as a platform to dog whistle more of the same old, same old .

      So AB do you support that type of politics, and are your suggesting it should be protected? People should be censored for calling it out flaws, in this case fundamental flaws in policy?

      What have we come to when a snowflake like seymore house can call for someone to be fired, for doing their bloody job.

      • weka 3.1.1

        what kind of relationship will Campbell and National have if National form government sometime in the future?

        • adam

          None, they are snowflakes, so they will fire him.

          • mickysavage

            National regularly purges boards when it gains power. Nothing is more certain.

            • weka

              so we don't have a neutral public service?

              • adam

                No we don't, never had one.

                Our public service was to offer free and frank advise. That is long dead.

                Neutrality is a myth, created by neo-con to divide and conquer once again.

            • Belladonna

              Could you provide a link to support this? I can't recall it happening.

              Although, they do take the opportunity to 'refresh' boards when the appointment terms come to an end (as does Labour).

              The only example I can think of is Wayne Brown's reign-of-terror via letter – which resulted in some COO board chairs resigning.

              I rather think that that got coverage because it's the exception rather than the rule.

      • AB 3.1.2

        I agree with what Campbell said – if it was a private conversation I would consider his comments true but understated. If he was speaking as part of his role for the EPA (I'm not sure he was), he might have found a more measured way of making the same points. And if he had made similar public comments about a Labour policy I think those of us who are inclined to ignore his comments this time would be less than happy. In the public domain, decorum is useful in keeping the lid on conflict, even though an excess of it kills truth-telling.

        • adam

          So we have to put up with the same old, same old racist dog whistle politics. Because it wasn't seemly, I would have thought racist dog whistle politics was more unseemly.

          But sure lets run with giving the racist dog whistle politics of the right a free hand, once again.

  4. SPC 4

    Maybe the Free Speech Union has to get permission from the Taxpayer Union to support free speech critical of policy supported by the Taxpayer Union?

  5. Stuart Munro 5

    The constraints on civil service political expression are stronger on institutional than personal social media accounts. Campbell is right to defend his right to express his views on his personal accounts, and the PM was unwise to criticize him.

    It is notable too that National, unable to contest the facts of Campbells comments, are trying to leverage formal neutrality to suppress the truth. The truth however, enjoys the defense of public interest irrespective of the inconvenience to the wretched refuse of the far right.

  6. Alan 6

    Bollocks, imagine the uproar from the left if the boot was on the other foot.

  7. Mike the Lefty 7

    Freedom of expression apparently works only when it's for the political right according to the FSU. Plus what did Rob Campbell say that was incorrect?

    • Ghostwhowalksnz 7.1

      Good point . If it was a falsehood or misrepresentation , which it wasnt, there might be a case.

    • weka 7.2

      If National are government will it be ok for senior public servants to harshly criticise Labour policy and leader?

      • Stuart Munro 7.2.1

        Ok? It will be mandatory.

      • Red Blooded One 7.2.2

        And is it still okay for the National Party to attack Civil Servants by calling them Wokesters?

      • Shanreagh 7.2.3

        Rob Campbell was not a senior public servant in his capacity as a Board member of Te Whatu Ora. He was an appointee to several boards where the govt of the day gets to make the appointment.

        I would not class him as either a public servant or 'civil' servant (I think this is what people in the UK call them.)

        In NZ we have the Public Service which usually means those in this list.


        With statutory boards the Govt of the day usually replaces as appointments come due …….but sometimes they leave the people there as often the appointees chosen by the other side are good people, no political axe to grind and are doing good work.

        In the Public Service it is absolutely not the correct thing to become involved politically. PS exist to carry out the work of the Govt of day without fear or favour. The Public Service Commission has strict rules about people campaigning either in local body or national elections.

        As public servants operating on a no surprises basis we are/were expected to let our dept know of any type of action where there was the potential to bring us, department or wider PS into disrepute.

        For instances as a member of a community based org that operated very quietly in town planning matters I uniformly let my dept know when I had been re-elected. I made sure to tell the dept when this little group found itself in a huge court case involving the Council/lessee. I stepped back so that none of the press releases or court actions had my name anywhere.

        Not sure about Boards but I would think that exposing questionable dealings, ie whistle blowing is something that is protected.

        Making comment while a member of a statutory Board is fraught. Even if you make it perfectly clear you are acting as a private citizen the media will always overlook this and tag the announcement onto a membership.

        I personally think

        Rob Campbell is brave to do this knowing how it will be misinterpreted.

        If Rob Campbell had issued the statement as a private person or in his Environmental role then sanctions should not be called for

        Often bad things came to pass on people who point out that the Emperor has no clothes

        Govt is over reacting and doing this because Nats appear to have a 'gotcha' and Labour cannot be bothered explaining the intricacies as general public won't/can't understand them

        Let is hope that if Campbell wants, he is able to keep his environmental role.

  8. Mike the Lefty 8

    Back a few decades the political right used to sneer that trade unions were just a front for the Labour Party and/or communism. Well right now I could rattle off a list of organizations that are a front for National including Taxpayers Union, Hobsons Pledge, Free Speech Union, Groundswell…..

  9. woodart 9

    sounds like seymour etc are being woke and practicing cancel culture. lol. free speech ,hobsons pledge etc, are being hoist on their own petard. the more outraged these clowns get, the more publicity campbells remarks, attracts. its making the media actually report , not just pontificate.

  10. The Bill of Rights Act guarantees the right of Free Speech which cannot be overwritten by contract – at least that is my understanding.

    Why are his outbursts a problem? After all the MSM are doing their best to have the Blue Team elected so anybody getting coverage which denigrates Luxon is a good thing, right?

    • James Simpson 10.1

      It was the Minster of Health that sacked him. Not National or the media.

      • Shanreagh 10.1.1

        Yes that is said.

        An overreaction on my view unless he clearly stated in his release that the comments were made in his capacity as a member of Te Whatu Ora.

  11. Anker 11

    Oh for gods sake. He is a senior public servant and the public service are supposed to be neutral. He can resign and exercise his free speech, or post his thoughts on a private FB page or even come on here and comment anonymously.

    even Hipkins isn’t defending him

    • Anne 11.1

      He is (or was) the government appointed chairman of a board. They are not classed as public servants. Having said that and despite him being correct, he is expected to be a little more diplomatic in what he says in public. That was his perceived crime.

      When I was a public servant in the 80s and 90s the neutral thing only applied one way. I know because I experienced the harmful spite, the set-ups and the bully-boy tactics simply because I supported the Labour Party. They drove me out of the Service. Go figure.

    • hetzer 11.2

      Exactly, good riddance to him

    • adam 11.3

      No it's not suppose to be neutral, it's their to offer free and frank advise.

      The whole neutral thing is an invention of neo-con myth making.

      • Belladonna 11.3.1

        Nope. Their code of conduct specifically covers political neutrality

        We are politically impartial

        We act in a politically impartial manner. Irrespective of our political interests, we conduct ourselves in a way that enables us to act effectively under current and future governments. We do not make political statements or engage in political activity in relation to the functions of the Crown entity.


        • adam

          As written by neo-cons – thanks for proving my point.

          • Belladonna

            No. As written by the Civil Service.

            And the principle of politically neutral has been part of the public service in NZ for at least 100 years (my great-uncle was the deputy head of the Dept of Agriculture in the mid-20th century, and he was absolutely prohibited from belonging to a political party, for example; let alone making political statements in a semi-public forum). So well before 'neo-conservatism' was even invented.

            There is also a huge difference between offering confidential free and frank advice to a minister (which isn't, BTW, even an issue in this situation), and making independent political statements.

            But, hey, if you support a politicized public service as they have in the US – then by all means, argue for it. Personally, I think the cure is worse than the disease.

            • adam

              Like the stawman. No never said that, so thanks for trying to put that one in my mouth. You get I like Malcolm X right, so why would I want to import that racist shit fest here??!?

              I'm just for having a system which actually takes into account we are human and have opinions. That we can express them as citizens if they do not directly impact on what we are working on or in.

              Getting back to Brother Malcolm, we need to peel back the racist component in this, Which there seems to be more than enough to go around.

              Citizen calls out dog whistle politics in relation to water, then losses job in the health sector. MMMMMMmmmmm

              • Well, what do you want?

                You don't (apparently) like the requirement for political neutrality in the Civil Service.

                The whole neutral thing is an invention of neo-con myth making

                You also don't (apparently) like the idea of a politicised public service (as in the US).

                What are you arguing for, here?

            • adam

              Because I've stopped laughing, let me say you arguing the civil service is not ideological, has had me in fits of laughter for quite some time. It's right up their with some of the best Gossy b.s.

              Thanks for the laugh.

        • Shanreagh

          Yes politically impartial in their dealings as a member.

          It clearly states this

          in relation to the functions of the Crown entity.

          I am not sure you can say it prevents a person from speaking out on matters in a capacity as a private citizen. Though it is clear if Campbelll did this as a private citizen the distinction appears to be lost on many.

    • Shanreagh 11.4

      He is not

      a senior public servant and the public service are supposed to be neutral.

      What dept is he a member of please?

      We rely on people who know speaking out.

      I find it ironic that he has had his membership of the Board of Te Whatu Ora terminated because of his comments about the Nats 3 waters ‘policy’.

  12. MickeyBoyle 13

    Robs just been sacked.

    • bwaghorn 14.1

      Kinda had to go didn't he, I'm sure if he'd attacked labour from his elevated position his scalp will have been called for here.

      • Muttonbird 14.1.1

        He did have to go because the tax dodgers union, NACT, and their client media would not shut up about it otherwise.

        No runway left for the fascists now. A shame for them.

    • mickysavage 14.2

      Reread the post. I did not say that Campbell was right or wrong. I said that the FSU should support him because of its interpretation of what the freedom of speech should entail.

      • bwaghorn 14.2.1

        Not having a shot at you personally, just chuking my 2 cents on the pile

      • woodart 14.2.2

        yes . brash and bowalley should be up in arms ,defending campbells rights to free speech.

    • Shanreagh 14.3


      All sorts of people, even those on high places do not cotton on to the nuances of private citizen/public citizen.

  13. Corey 15

    No, civil servants particularly board members of crown entities MUST keep politically neutral and keep their opinions to themselves, this neutrality is better for the left.

    Unlike Labour, the civil service fear the National party because they routinely purge their ranks and install legions of Tory and Ayn Rand acolytes (which labour never get rid of once gaining power despite these CS doing all they can to stop labour govt policies from being in acted) and fear of being sacked keeps the rest silent.

    The next time we're in opposition we don't need legions of Tory acolyte public servants ripping our policies to shreds.

    There can be no free speech for civil servants. Their job is to implement the elected govts reforms and policies if they don't like it go join the private sector and see what happens when you run your mouth about your company's ideas in the media.

    Im constantly flabbergasted so many on the left are constantly, so short sighted and never once thinks "how can what we're calling for be used against us when we're in opposition "

    Public servant neutrality must be maintained at all costs, period.

    We don't need to add civil servants to our list of enemies when we already have enough problems with the rich, the banks, slum lords, the supermarket duopoly, corporate media, rich boomers, rich gen z'ers, groundswell, farmers,exporters , the god squad ,workers rights abusers, the tin foil hat club, hospo the cops, water bottlers, ridiculing every idea we have all with well funded campaigns.

  14. The alternative to a politically neutral public service is the American system, when a change of President means a wholesale change in management of just about every government agency as well.

    There are pros to this system: The incoming government can be relatively sure that their policies will be implemented by the new agencies, rather than passive resistance.

    However there are cons as well: Continuity is a big one. The new agency heads will spend a significant amount of time simply coming to grips with their new 'fief' – and (unless they have a lot of background in the subject) may well be being subject to being 'snowed' by their staff. And more routine departments may well have work (which is not actually being altered) disrupted by the change in senior management. There's also high risk of political incompetents being shuffled off into senior department roles as a pay-off for their support (we certainly see that in the US system).

    All-in-all, I think I prefer a politically Civil Service.

    • Belladonna 16.1

      All-in-all, I think I prefer a politically neutral Civil Service.

      • joe90 16.1.1

        Assuming we can hold on to our politically neutral Civil Service.


        • Muttonbird

          Yep. Right wing nut jobs in the civil service act politically all the time by advising ministers against socially conscious policy all the time.

          But they do it in the shadows because right wing nut jobs live in the shadows.

          At least Rob Campbell acted politically in the sunlight.

          • Shanreagh

            Can we at least stop calling it the Civil Service?

            That is a UK term and here in NZ we call them

            Public Servants

            State Sector employees

            Board members

            Rob Campbell is a board member and his requirement to be impartial is limited

            in relation to the functions of the Crown entity.

            Whether he was wise in his capacity as a private citizen knowing he was a board member is another thing altogether.

            Come on Standardistas please get the terminology sorted. The issue is much wider, for all of us,

            he comment as a Board member about matters relating to the entity?

            did he comment as a private citizen?

            Do we expect private citizens appointed to boards to forego their rights of free speech to comment on other political elements not related to their entity.

            So they are appointed to boards and then become political eunuchs?

  15. pat 17

    Campbell has demonstrated a lack of judgement….do we desire public servants in senior positions with a lack of judgement?….we have more than enough politicians for that.

  16. Muttonbird 18

    No idea who Rob Campbell is.

    But, he was just saying what everyone is thinking. Also, now Labour looks strong. This is a massive misstep by NACT who seem to have zero political radar of late.

  17. Anker 19
    • Mutton the mis step wasn’t from act, but from Rob aca,one’ll.

    giving him the chop is one of the very few things labour has done that I have supported in a long time.

    campbell was hyped as the man for the job for he health restructure. This will only add to the chaos that is NZ health

  18. adam 20

    So seymour house got his pound of flesh – proving once again that Malcolm X was right – we have a deeply racist system.

    It will protect itself from any criticism, and use any means necessary to crush all and any who raise their voices in question.

    • Muttonbird 20.1

      Unimportant scalp though. Labour clearly had no hesitation in jettisoning the problem.

      Now the grim reaper wants to do a witch hunt through the entire public service, rooting out lefties.

      • adam 20.1.1

        seymour house is acting more and more like whaleoil.

        His dirty politics is fast moving towards totally McCarthyism.

  19. Darien Fenton 21

    I regret seeing Rob Campbell depart. I thought he had come good after he switched sides years back from the union movement to corporate power. Having said that, there was no way he could stay. This would have been a stick to beat Labour with and undermine Te Whatu Ora like forever. It's a brutal world. Everything anyone in public positions says on line will be picked up, picked over, and picked at like a sore. I prefer public service neutrality because it gives continuity from one government to another but I do agree with his sentiments.

  20. KJT 22

    Facts, are "politically neutral".

    And civil servants should be allowed to state facts publically.
    Even when, as usual, facts do not favour the right wing.

    It seems that civil servants are only allowed to criticise Labour.

    Unfortunately for National and ACT, "reality has a left wing bias" which conflicts with their idea that "perception is reality".

    "Free speech" it appears, only applies for RWNJ's!

    Unfortunately Labour caves in to a right wing attack, again!

    • Shanreagh 22.1

      Yes KJT a good summary.

      Labour would have weighed up whether to try to defend his position/ability to make comments as a private citizen and be on a hiding to nothing as no-one understands the nuanced world.

      They took the course least resistance and rode in like a white knight to 'rid me of this turbulent priest' (Henry 11 Shakespeare) and had to terminate his appointment.

      Of course they have got plaudits

      of course this does not mean that they were correct

      of course Campbell may have been careless as to the fallout.

      The big push back on Three Waters from people who could not understand what was proposed and many of whom spoke loudly from a position of ignorance will have warned Labout that nuance is not something the electorate has time for.

      Unashamedly a political action by Labour to toss a person out so they don't have to deal with either

      • explaining the world that these appointees work in
      • commenting on Three Waters (which is sleeping somewhere or long buried so it does not become an election issue) and that means commenting on any pie eyed policy from National.
  21. roblogic 23

    Dr Ashley Bloomfield and LibertyScott feel that public sector neutrality is a sacred principle of democracy, ignored at our peril.

    However Critical Mass argues that “neutrality” is illusory, in reality it’s still a political statement, ie., endorsement of the status quo.

    Then Melanie D. comes up with a banger thread adding some context about Rob Campbell and summarising Rob’s comments from an interview on the Breakfast show…


  22. David Seymour wants to purge the public sector of anyone on the Left. All good and normal.


    • roblogic 24.1

      The ownership class (landlords, farmers, banks, giant corporations) are openly sympathetic to the far right, and that is a serious problem. Workers (ie. nurses, teachers, road workers, bus drivers, even cops) deserve to make a living, not become impoverished serfs.

  23. Anker 25

    The idea that the FSU would take up RC cause is ludicrous. RC is free to approach them of course. That is the usual way the FSU take up a cause. It seems RC may be more interested in involving lawyers.

    there are some occupations where people are simply not allowed to express certain views in public eg lawyers can’t comment on their former clients guilt or otherwise. Some professionals have to keep their mouths shut eg Drs, therapists. It is part of professional ethics

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