David Seymour claims to be a freedom of speech advocate but I question whether he believes that or if he is only interested in protecting speech that he agrees with.
There are several times the Act Party leader attempted to censor people he disagreed with.
In July 2022, Seymour demanded Rawiri Waititi apologise for joking about poisoning Seymour’s drink with karaka berries so that Seymour could “re-indigenise” himself with “some native seeds”. It is not a joke I would make but, if we are to accept absolute freedom of speech, then Waititi should be able to say that without any consequences. But Seymour’s feelings were hurt by Waititi’s exercise of his free speech, and Seymour wanted an apology.
In October 2022, Seymour and the Act Party blocked a call in Parliament for a unified condemnation of Iran’s oppression of women’s rights unless Golriz Ghahraman apologised to Seymour for raising two points of order during Seymour’s speech on the Electoral (Strengthening Democracy) Amendment Bill. Seymour claimed to support the motion but would block it anyway if an Iranian woman did not apologise to him for “smart arse” points of order. Seymour said the call should be transferred to another MP.
In December 2022, former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern exercised her free speech and called Seymour an “arrogant prick”. She apologised to him via a text message. Despite this, Seymour raised a point of order in the house and asked for an apology.
A pattern is starting to form here: Seymour allowing his hurt feelings to get in the way of free speech again.
In March 2023, Seymour took a hit at poet Tusiata Avia, calling her stage show The Savage Coloniser “hate-fuelled” and “racist”. Seymour called for the Government to withdraw the money Creative New Zealand gave to Avia. Yet again, Seymour tried to curtail someone’s free speech because he disagreed with it.
Recently, he said that if he were prime minister, he would sack Green MP Marama Davidson for her comments that cis-white men caused the majority of violence. It is unclear to me how what Davidson said is not protected by Seymour’s vision of free speech.
And this week, Seymour took a swipe at me for my exercising of freedom of speech. He implied that I was lying when I said New Zealand needed to look at Posie Parker’s visit to New Zealand in the context of the rise of attacks on the queer community, which in my view, included the arson attack on Tauranga’s Rainbow Youth drop-in centre.
The judge in that case ruled that the attack was not a hate crime against the queer community. However, the police summary of facts noted that one of the arsonists, Alexander Burgess, told the police that his co-accused Zechariah Phillips told him the fire “will teach them for being gay” and Phillips claimed that Burgess told him “he was going to burn those f***s to the ground”.
The rule that there are consequences to what you say applies only to the people Seymour chooses. Remember, just two weeks ago, he advocated for the right of activist Posie Parker to come to New Zealand despite her advocating for the removal of the rights of trans people.
Seymour chasing apologies and condemning people because his feelings are hurt, or he disagrees with them while actively opposing laws that seek to ban hate speech that incites violence against trans people is the epitome of his vision of free speech in practice.
He cannot have it both ways. It is hypocrisy.
A better slogan for the Act Party would be freedom of speech for me and censorship for thee.
Shaneel Shavneel Lal (they/them) was instrumental in the bill to ban conversion therapy in New Zealand. They are a law and psychology student, model and influencer.