Chris Bishop speech at Massey

A great speech by Hutt South MP Chris Bishop at Massey. Some extracts:

As a few of you may know, I did a lot of debating at both high school and university. I had the privilege of debating for Vic all around the world; including in the famous Oxford and Cambridge Unions. I said in my maiden speech that one of the proudest moments in my life was competing in the Grand Final at Oxford, actually standing at the same dispatch box that David Lange used in the famous 1985 Oxford Union debate about the moral indefensibility of nuclear weapons.
Debating is all about free speech, reason; and argument. Ideas are proposed and challenged; supported and critiqued. There is virtually no topic that university debating won’t touch; everything from abortion to euthanasia to the death penalty to female genital mutilation to USA foreign policy, the Israel/Palestine conflict, free trade, human rights, everything.
As a debater, as a Parliamentarian, and as someone who loves freedom, I worry about where free speech is heading, particularly on university campuses. We must not let the illiberal contagion currently affecting the United States spread to New Zealand.
University debating has a long and proud tradition.
I want to start by making the positive case for free speech as a fundamental human right. It is worth reminding ourselves of just why free speech is listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and why it is in our own Bill of Rights Act 1990.
Let me start with the simple proposition that expression is fundamental to what makes us human. In this sense the right to freedom of expression is important and valuable in and of itself. Freedom of expression allows individuals to articulate their own conception of the good life; to develop and realise their potential as humans capable of reason. It serves, as the US Supreme Court said in Procunier v. Martinez “not only the needs of the polity but the needs of the human spirit – a spirit that demands self-expression.’’ …
The right to freedom of expression also undergirds our liberal democratic society. It is impossible to separate out New Zealand’s democratic traditions from our commitment to free speech.
This is why we must be vigilant.
The third justification for free speech being a fundamental right is the classical liberal conception of the marketplace of ideas. Unrestricted public debate allows the truth to prevail and the best ideas to win out over bad ones.
Those who try and stop free speech tend to have bad ideas, that they don’t want challenged. On issues such as what the Treaty of Waitangi means, they have a worldview that they don’t think anyone should be allowed to disagree with.
Fourth and finally, free speech is often regarded as a societal safety valve. Speech that is suppressed does not cease to exist; it is merely driven underground where it is difficult to subject to criticism in the “marketplace of ideas”, and where conspiracy rather than truth is likely to triumph. On this rationale it is better to have bad, even offensive ideas, out there in the public domain where they can be defeated.
Suppressing speech rarely works.
Essentially what your Vice-Chancellor chose to do was appoint herself as the arbiter of what speech qualifies as “hate speech” and what speech does not; replacing a careful objective judgment by a court with a subjective judgment by herself. That is deeply worrying. Her claim she supports free speech is wrong.
One has to judge the VC by her actions, not her words.
Goff’s decision was, like Professor Thomas’, basically discrimination on the grounds of political opinion. Goff seems proud of it. He should wear it as a badge of dishonour, not pride. I well remember the hideous demonstration in the Auckland Town Hall two days out from the 2014 election, with Kim Dotcom and a parade of people telling everyone how to vote. There didn’t seem to be any issues with booking a Council venue for that grotesque event. If Kim Dotcom can book a ratepayer funded venue for a controversial political event; why can’t two Canadian right-wing provocateurs?
Good point.

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