David Seymour has a serious free speech credibility problem

For some time now David Seymour has been doing his best to try and present himself and the ACT Party as the champions of free speech in New Zealand. 

In November last year he announced a new Bill that would require universities to have free speech codes and not use “the avoidance of mental harm to students, staff or visitors as a reason not to comply with the requirement to protect free speech and academic freedom”. 

A failure to comply with the free speech requirements of his Bill could result in funding being cut to any offending universities. 

Then just last week he publicly declared that freedom of speech is a “sacred right” and that “A Government dependent on Act will never pass laws that restrict your speech.” 

That sure sounds like a politician and a party serious about protecting freedom of expression. 

There’s just one problem, and it’s a very serious one, David Seymour is also a staunch supporter of Labour’s Abortion Legislation Bill

That Bill will make it a criminal offence to engage in acts of freedom of expression in public spaces within 150 metres of an abortion clinic that could cause “emotional distress”. 

In other words, if a person does anything within 150 metres of an abortion facility that could cause someone else to become emotionally upset that person could be arrested and charged with a crime. 

Just consider how absurdly contradictory, unprincipled and dishonest all of this is on the part of ACT. 

David Seymour calls freedom of speech a “sacred right.”

He claims that his party will never support laws that “restrict your speech.” 

He wants universities to be denied funding if they prevent acts of freedom of expression that cause emotional distress.

At the same time though, he also supports another Bill that will make it a criminal offence to engage in acts of freedom of expression that cause emotional distress in public spaces. 

Anyone with half an ounce of commonsense can see that David Seymour’s support for the Abortion Legislation Bill proves that the ACT Party have a major credibility crisis when it comes to claims that they are serious defenders of free speech. 

What makes Seymour’s unprincipled position all the more astounding is the fact that the NZ Law Commission investigation (instigated at the behest of the Labour Government) explicitly rejected the need to criminalise free speech via so-called ‘safe access zones’ outside abortion clinics. 

In their Alternative approaches to abortion law Ministerial briefing paper, the Commission stated that they “sought input from health professional bodies, abortion service providers and health practitioners about safe access zones” and that “the majority felt that safe access zones were not needed.” 

They go on to state that: 

“The Abortion Providers Group Aotearoa New Zealand (APGANZ) explained that only a minority of clinics had been targeted by distressing behaviour around their premises. Some abortion service providers reported that where women had been harassed or distressed by demonstrators in the past, Police responded effectively by moving the protestors on.” 

The Commission also states that they had “not seen any clear evidence that the existing laws around intimidating and anti-social behaviour are inadequate, as would be required to justify the introduction of safe access zones.”

They conclude by stating “…the Commission does not suggest the introduction of safe access zones.” 

So not only is David Seymour supporting a Bill that will make freedom of speech a criminal offence in NZ public spaces, but he is doing so despite the fact that the Government’s own legal experts have rejected the need for such an extreme state suppression of fundamental rights. 

When we pointed out this glaring hypocrisy on our Facebook page back in January, Mr. Seymour quickly jumped into the comment section and still tried to insist that he is “the strongest advocate for free speech in Parliament.” 

(We’d hate to see the weakest advocate if this is the strongest defence of free speech New Zealanders can hope for.) 

He also made another very telling statement in his comment to us: 

“[I am] in favour of modernising New Zealand’s antiquated abortion law, and… [I think] that harassing young women on their way to a medical procedure is not a good advertisement for Free Speech and certainly not worth abandoning [the liberalisation of NZ abortion laws] for.” 

So, there it is in black and white.

 David Seymour is more committed to abortion than to freedom of expression, and he’s more than happy to support an abortion Bill that will see people arrested for free speech that he doesn’t agree with. 

And that’s not even addressing the hypocritical and emotive falsehood of referring to peaceful acts of free speech as “harassing young women”. This is the very same dishonest tactic that is used by opponents of free speech on university campuses to try and silence people they disagree with. 

ACT Party candidate Stephen Berry tried to come to Seymour’s defence with a Facebook post of his own the day after we called out the hypocrisy. 

As you read the following public statement from Berry, just remember that this is the very same man who publicly declared that “In a free country, freedom of speech was probably the most important value” only two and a half years ago. 

Here’s what he had to say in January this year: 

“I also raised concerns about the free speech element, however I have supported this bill because

A) Abortion law reform is a significant expansion of individual liberty.

b) the 150m exclusion rule is a piffling reduction

I) if the abortion facilities were privately owned, this would be a property rights matter not a free speech matter.

C) you can still protest all you like 151m from the entrance.

Conclusion: this law overall results in more individual liberty than the status quo.” 

Leaving aside the obvious dispute one could have with his claim that it is an expansion of individual liberty to deny an innocent person their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by aborting them… 

We’re willing to bet dollars to donuts that if a different Bill was proposing to criminalise free speech that caused emotional distress within 150 metres of Parliament or a university he wouldn’t be calling that “a piffling reduction.” 

We also seriously doubt that he’d be trying to defend such a Bill with throwaway lines such as “you can still protest all you like 151m from the entrance”

His next claim that this would be a property rights matter if the abortion facilities were privately owned makes absolutely no sense at all. 

The criminalised free speech zones will be on the public spaces (footpaths, roads, etc,) that surround the abortion facilities. So even if an abortion provider is privately owned, the legal ban on free speech will apply to the public spaces they don’t own.

 Lastly, it is just bizarre to think that someone could even try to defend their support for criminalising free speech with the ludicrous claim that removing the current legal right to free speech “results in more individual liberty than the status quo.” 

How does one even begin to respond to the baffling falsehood that a new law removing the right to free speech will result in more individual liberty than the existing law which currently allows people to exercise their legitimate right to freedom of expression in those same public spaces??? 

That’s the kind of Orwellian dishonesty you would expect from a tyrannical regime, not a NZ political party – especially one that has recently adopted the slogan “for freedom”, and is desperately trying to convince voters that they are the free speech party. 

We make no apology for calling out David Seymour and the ACT Party for their glaring hypocrisy in supporting a Bill that will criminalise peaceful acts of free speech in our country. 

Politics only works for the good of society when politicians and parties are held accountable for their actions and the claims they are making – especially when there is glaring dishonesty involved. 

In the words of Noam Chomsky: “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” 

Put another way: ACT is NOT the free speech party. If freedom of expression is one of your primary election concerns, look for another party to give your vote to – one that doesn’t support criminalising free speech for people they disagree with.

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