Codes of Conduct drawn up by local government authorities must not encroach upon the rights of elected councillors to speak freely about the behaviour of their own council, its councillors and/or its officials.
The Gisborne District Council’s Deputy Mayor, Rehette Stoltz, has called-in Councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown and demanded an explanation for why she spoke to RNZ National about her recent complaint concerning the conduct of two of her fellow councillors. Ms Akuhata-Brown alleges that these councillors had commented at a recent Council function that Captain Cook and his successors had not killed enough Maori.
Free Speech Coalition member Chris Trotter says:
“The Gisborne District Council’s Code of Conduct prohibits councillors from publicly criticising the Council, fellow councillors and/or council officials. Hence the Deputy-Mayor’s please explain summons.”
“Councillors all over New Zealanders are expected to sign similar Codes of Conduct upon election.”
“In doing so, however, they need to be careful not to sign away their ability to act as effective democratic representatives.”
“It is absurd to expect a councillor to remain silent in the face of what he or she believes to be unfair, outrageous or corrupt conduct on the part of the local authorities they serve. Councillors are there to act on behalf of the voters who elected them and they must not be required to reject the means of fulfilling that responsibility before taking their seat at the Council table.”
“The Gisborne incident is a timely example of the central role freedom of speech plays in the democratic process and illustrates the importance of resisting any and all attempts to stifle free political expression.”
“Prohibiting elected representatives from sharing their concerns with their constituents through the news media is a democratic outrage. The Free Speech Coalition strongly urges central government to take a much greater interest in the content of local authority codes of conduct to ensure they do not breach the freedom of expression provisions of the Bill of Rights Act and the Human Rights Act.”