Last week Massey University made headlines after a Manawatū Politics Society event featuring former National Party leader Don Brash was cancelled by the university’s Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas. Brash says he was dumbfounded by the decision to cancel the event and students and the New Zealand public have since labelled the move as an assault on free speech. Media have had a field day with the news and some politicians have even called on Thomas to resign for her decision. After the events of last week Massive Magazine’s Manawatū Reporter Bethany Reitsma quickly caught up with Don Brash for an interview.
When you were first approached by the Massey Politics Society to speak, what were your thoughts?
I was asked to speak about my time in politics, and the notes I’d prepared were quite uncontroversial. I was supposed to speak Wednesday, I had no word that there might be an issue until late on the Monday and then it was cancelled on Tuesday morning.
What were you hoping to be able to say to students if you had been able to speak?
I would have talked about my time with National from 2002 for four years, about my time in parliament. I’ve been involved in politics but not very party political. Most of my roles have been working with various advisory groups with both Labour and National governments for four years, three of which I was working with the opposition.
What was your reaction when the event was cancelled?
I was dumbfounded. The Vice Chancellor apparently cancelled on the pretext of a security risk, but it later came out that she’d neither consulted security or the police. It’s very clear that the security risk was not the real reason for the ban. I was amazed and frankly dismayed.
If questions about issues like Hobson’s Pledge and your attitude toward the Treaty of Waitangi had come up at the event, do you think things would have become uncomfortable?
Let’s face it, when Palmerston North was asked to vote on Maori wards, 80 per cent of them said no, so it’s hardly a radical view.
In a statement, Massey referred to you as a supporter of right wing Canadian speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, how do you feel about that statement?
I didn’t support their views, I supported their right to speak. I’d never heard of them till they were banned by the Mayor of Auckland. I thought it was inappropriate for the Mayor to decide who can and cannot speak, particularly since rates are paid by people from across the political spectrum.
What are your thoughts on the debate over free speech and hate speech? And where is the line between hate speech and freedom of speech?
Hate speech is a funny concept, but there is definitely a line. You cannot or should not incite violence against individuals or their property, but it should be possible to discuss issues like religion and ethnicity in a rational way. The Vice Chancellor has done the free speech cause a great favour. It’s been raised in the public consciousness. She’s done us all a favour.
Any message to send to students now?
Free speech is an absolutely crucial component of a democratic society, don’t let them take it off you. As long as you’re not inciting violence against any person or their property, you have the right to speak.