Protesters march for free speech in New Zealand
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Yesterday, about 200 Christchurch, New Zealand residents of all ages formed together and marched against a current government bill going through Parliament, the Electoral Finance Bill. The opponents of this Bill share the same common ground that they consider the bill to be severely restrictive of free speech.
Under this bill, individuals or groups of New Zealanders will face restrictions on what they can say for or against a political party. Once an organisation has spent over NZ$12,000 on a campaign, they must register and then face what opponent John Boscawen describes as "draconian restrictions or requirements" including a limit of $120,000. "At a time when political parties are free to spend millions and millions of dollars promoting their own views - both from their own money, and taxpayer's money.
The New Zealand Human Rights Commission—a government department—has described it as "inherently flawed" and said it should be withdrawn.
Wikinews' Gabriel Pollard was on hand to record the Christchurch March for Democracy protest and the views of those marching.
Among the main speakers was the organiser of all the marches, various radio adverts, newspaper ads, etc, John Boscawen; Family First director, Bob McCroskie; and academic economist for the University of Canterbury, Eric Crampton.
John Boscawen has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money (and The Sensible Sentencing Trust, and Family First) into the campaign against the bill. He has done this as a private citizen trying to create the most publicity he can against the Bill. Boscawen said that "I believe the rights that have been taken away from us go to the very heart of our democracy and you can't put money on that."
"The Government's hypocrisy [is] ... that they have put so much effort into human rights issues in Zimbabwe and Fiji while blatantly ignoring our own."
Bob McCroskie highlighted in his speech to the crowd that the Government does not have a suitable defence against attackers of the Bill. He spoke of one 15-year-old, that asked various MP's not to vote for the Electoral Finance Bill. One of those Simeon asked, MP Chris Carter, replied bluntly and simply asking if he was a member of the Exclusive Brethren? "That's all he could argue against what Simeon said!"
McCroskie finished off his short speech by starting a "Kill the Bill" chant.
Eric Crampton spoke about why this Bill is so bad. "This is very bad legislation - so bad that, even after amendment, the New Zealand Law Society wants it scrapped. This is amazing." He believed it was amazing because lawyers are the ones who will benefit from the endless litigation this would produce. "Legislation has to be shockingly bad before we'd expect lawyers to say it should be scrapped entirely, but that's what they've done."
Also in attendance was Korean War veteran, Forbes Taylor. He was seen at the protest holding a placard reading, "Our Soldiers Did Not Die For This!"
Member of Parliament for the New Zealand National Party, Nicky Wagner, told Gabriel Pollard that the reason National takes a strong view against the Electoral Finance Bill was because it "restricts freedom of speech, and we don't believe people should be shut down for one year in three." "[National] will probably have hundreds of amendments next week, but we believe the whole bill is flawed ... and that it is terribly bad for our democracy."
A Kiwi who use to live in New Zealand, but now resides in Sydney, Australia was in town and made sure he could attend the protest. David Buckingham says he will have more rights as a New Zealander living in Australia than he would have if he was still living in New Zealand. "As an ex-pat Kiwi living overseas, I can criticise the Government, I can campaign online. I'll be able to do all of those things and have all the rights of freedom of speech that New Zealanders will be restricted on." He could escape prosecution under this possible future law since he lives overseas.
Another protester, known only by his first name Ryan, said, "It's all about free speech, and in a democracy, people should be free to say whatever they want." The New Zealand First supporter said that it doesn't matter whether people feel it's wrong or not to say it, they should still be allowed to say it. New Zealand First are voting for this Bill.
David Swoss said that it is "too much control by Labour". Swoss voted for the ACT New Zealand party in the last election, they are one of the only two parties voting against it. He said, "They [Labour] are trying to control too many things in society."
A group of 16-year-olds shared their views on the Electoral Finance Bill to Wikinews. While they are too young to vote, and will be next year in the 2008 general election as well, they all agreed that the Bill goes against our human rights. Bex Thomas, Logan Ellis, and Josh Nelson all said that they are against the Bill because of the restrictions it places on free speech. Ellis said, "It prevents people from voicing their own opinions."