Thursday, 23 August 2007

Free speech in opposition banned "for one third of your life."

The only people I know in favour of Labour's Election Finance Bill are Labour cabinet ministers and would-be Labour cabinet ministers. The Bill is an outrage: an affront to democracy, to free speech and to freedom. It is the fact , as Lindsay Perigo notes, that if you're opposed to what the government and its minions are doing, then for one third of your life the bill will prohibit you from expressing that opinion publicly.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is an outrage, and it's gratifying that so many have grasped the affront to a free country that this represents and spoken out. There is an understanding, I think, that there are lines beyond which no government in a democracy should cross, and this bill is way, way over that line.

So many are against it that John Key has now calculated it's safe to have an opinion. Continuing his policy of leading from behind, he finally delivered that opinion in a speech this week to the National Press Club. It is, as Audrey Young says, a cracker.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe you get the democracy you are prepared to stand up for. Here in New Zealand we often take our democratic freedoms for granted. We think they will always be there. We have a Bill of Rights which is supposed to protect our right to freedom of expression. What on Earth could go wrong?

I have a different view. I believe what Thomas Jefferson said – that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We cannot and we must not take democratic freedoms for granted. Because, in reality, it is not a Bill of Rights that protects our rights. It is not up to a solicitor in the Crown Law Office or an official in the Ministry of Justice. In the end, it is not up to the government at all.

The protection of rights lies with us, the citizens of New Zealand. There are times when we have to stand up for our rights, and the rights of our neighbours and friends, and indeed the rights of people we totally disagree with, or else these rights will begin to erode away. And this, I say to you, is one of those times. Because this bill is an assault on what it means to be a New Zealander, and this bill is an abuse of the trust we have in the government to protect the institutions that make us proud to call this country home.

Great stuff. It is indeed a very good speech to an audience who would be right behind it ... but I still can't help thinking when I read "National's Proposals" that I can hear a deal in the wind.

Can I see a show of hands who think that despite the fine words, that we can emphatically rule out a last-minute deal from John Boy?


  1. Credit where it's due. Very well said, John Key.

  2. I hope he sticks to principle this time and does not retreat in a blaze of deal making.

  3. PC, if you read the speech carefully, the only disagreement with Labour is the duration of the limit of free speech. 11 months is too much, but 3 months might be ago.

    As the leader of the other big party, he agrees with every incumbent protection measure he can get away with.

  4. I agree with Berend on this. I was also disturbed by Key's main opposition being the length of restrictions.

    Key could be working on the theory that politicians can't walk and chew gum at the same time (i.e. keep the argument simple) but it is also the constraints it imposes whatever the timeframe that matters.


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