7 Aug 2018

Don Brash's talk to Massey students canned

6:22 pm on 7 August 2018

Massey University has prevented former National Party leader Don Brash from speaking at its Manawatū campus tomorrow over fears the event could lead to violence and hate speech.

Former National Party leader Don Brash

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

ACT Party leader David Seymour has said Vice-Chancellor Jan Thomas should resign for the decision to cancel the invitation from the university's politics club.

In a written response, Professor Thomas said following the protests for and against controversial Canadian speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux's right to be heard - which Dr Brash spoke out for - the university had to safeguard the safety and wellbeing of students.

She supported free speech on campus, she said, but the views expressed by members of Hobson's Pledge, which Dr Brash supports, came dangerously close to hate speech.

"Mr Brash's leadership of Hobson's Pledge and views he and its supporters espoused in relation to Māori wards on councils was clearly of concern to many staff, particularly Māori staff," she said in a statement.

"Whether those views would have been repeated to students in the context of a discussion about the National Party may seem unlikely, but I have no way of knowing.

"In my opinion the views expressed by members of Hobson's Pledge come dangerously close to hate speech. They are certainly not conducive with the University' strategy of recognising the values of a Tiriti o Waitangi-led organisation."

Massey University vice-chancellor Jan Thomas

Massey University vice-chancellor Jan Thomas Photo: Supplied

However, Don Brash said he was appalled by Professor Thomas' comments.

"That's an absolutely outrageous statement," he said.

"When you argue for equal political rights for everybody irrespective of ethnicity, to say that is hate speech is absolutely Orwellian nonsense."

The university's decision was a threat to free speech, he added.

"It implies that threaten violence and you can shut somebody down," he said.

"It's a worrying fact, I mean if people can shut down people whose views they don't like by threatening violence, we've come to a very sad state."

Jacinda Ardern in Northland June 2018

Jacinda Ardern Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she disagreed with the move.

"Over a number of years you'll have examples of politicians and ex-politicians on university campuses often causing a stir.

"This seems to me to be an overreaction on the part of the university," Ms Ardern said.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the university was free to make its own decisions, but he thought it was the wrong one.

"I find it pretty difficult to believe that their security concerns would be of the kind of threshold you'd need to justify the type of action Massey's taken," he said.

"I completely disagree with Don Brash [but] if he's found someone at Massey University who's willing to listen to him, he should be free to go to it."

Simon Bridges, National Party Leader

Simon Bridges Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

National leader Simon Bridges called the decision "an absolute disgrace" and accused "some on the left" of trying to shut down debate.

"It's not the New Zealand way. People should be able to have their say and New Zealanders make an assessment of it for themselves."

Universities were places where free speech should be encouraged, he said.

"We should be allowing debate even on the most controversial of subjects - which I don't actually think Don Brash would be right at that end."

He said it was "ridiculous" to suggest Dr Brash's views amounted to hate speech.

"Don's a guy who has some views some would call controversial, but they're views a number of New Zealanders have."

David Seymour said it was a cowardly decision following veiled threats from a left-wing thug.

"I have long feared that American-style anti-intellectual, violent intolerance would come here.

"It has appeared at Massey this week and the university has completely failed the test.

"Education Minister Chris Hipkins should follow the British and defund universities that do not protect freedom of speech in their campuses."

Massey students feel cut out from decision

Meanwhile, Massey University students say they were cut out of the decision to ban Dr Brash from speaking on campus.

Massey's student association president Ben Schmidt said students were disappointed they were not consulted about the decision.

"We don't agree with a lot of Don Brash's quite simply racist views often, but it's important to remember that students and their clubs - they should be able to engage in discussion and debate - as long as it's respectful ... that's a really important part of university."

'The event could lead to violence'

The university said Dr Brash had been invited by the students in his capacity as a former National Party leader to discuss the party as part of a series of talks involving current leader Simon Bridges and an MP considered a potential future leader, Chris Bishop.

It said politics club members had signed a venue agreement form in which they agreed to manage it in accordance with the university's strategy, including the values of a Te Tiriti o Waitangi-led organisation and ensuring its use would not adversely affect university operations, security, reputation or public safety.

"The members later approached university management concerned about their ability to meet the agreement's terms around security after becoming aware of social media posts suggesting the event could lead to violence," it said in a statement.

"The university considered providing additional security for the event, but decided the risk of harm to students, staff and members of the public was too great, particularly at time of heightened tension over the issues around free speech and hate speech.

"Dr Brash was also a supporter of right-wing Canadian speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, who were due to address a public meeting in Auckland."

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