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Should a mayoral candidate’s promise still mean something?

By: Katrina Biggs

When Wellington mayoral candidate, Tory Whanau, said she was “always keen to kōrero with all”, Speak Up for Women NZ believed her. In conversation with Dane Giraud on the Free Speech Union’s podcast, Tory strongly reiterated in various ways how important it was to keep the lines of communication open.

It felt like a breath of fresh air coming through – at first. Speak Up for Women are disparaged and slurred by people from all walks of life for wanting to protect women and girls’ right to access single-sex spaces. There is a uniformity of language to the slurs which suggests it’s more along the lines of rote-learning and quoting than analysis. Those who have joined in the disparagement and slurs include Members of Parliament and city councillors. Some of them showed up to protest outside venues where SUFW held public talks about changes to the sex self-ID legislation during their countrywide tour in 2021.

The change of legislation around sex self-ID allows any person to have the recorded sex on their birth certificate altered to that of the opposite sex multiple times, if desired, at the cost of $10 a time. No assessment of their mental health, character, or any changes to their anatomy is required. Thanks to SUFW’s campaigning, however, clause 79(2) was added to the sex self-ID bill which states that other factors besides a birth certificate can be taken into account to judge a person’s sex (there will be more to come from SUFW about this clause). Unofficial sex self-ID is rapidly seeping into the social and public arenas, though, and right now service providers are allowing entry to men who self-declare themselves to be women into women’s spaces. We agree with Max Rashbrooke when he states in his article The curse of cosyism in public life is hurting us all that “we must design systems for the most corrupt actors, not the least”, and believe that also applies to protecting women and girls’ single-sex spaces.

So, to hear Tory Whanau say in the afore-mentioned podcast how she’d been teaching herself “to really hear other people out, even if I disagree with them” sounded almost too good to be true. But she took the time to make a comment on the Free Speech Union’s Facebook page where she promised she meant what she said, and supplied her email address to show her good faith. This kind of commitment to having an honest conversation with SUFW was very rare, and very exciting!

An email was sent to Tory a few weeks after her invitation on Facebook, albeit via her website initially. No reply. Another email was sent to the email address Tory supplied, and a reply came that she was dealing with a backlog and will be in touch soon.

Close to a month after that, the Free Speech Union released another podcast where Jonathon Ayling had a roundtable discussion with Tory and two other candidates for council, one of whom was from outside Wellington. The podcast was promoted as covering the topics of “What does a major Mayoral candidate think of codes of conduct? Is there wide support within councils for limiting who can speak in public venues? Where do councillors draw the line between speech they consider free and beyond the pale? And is their input even warranted?

During the roundtable discussion, Jonathon raised the subject of how Speak Up for Women had been cancelled from various venues by city councils during their countrywide speaking tour. The Free Speech Union supported SUFW in taking the Palmerston North City Council to the High Court, where a ruling was made that SUFW could not rationally be described as a ‘hate group’, which was part of the rationale of the councils who cancelled them. Once again, the slur had the hallmarks of simply being a repetition of what had been read and heard solely from a small number of extremely vocal activists, and those who quote them. The High Court ruling meant that the Palmerston North City Council had to cede their public venue to SUFW, as did the other councils who had cancelled them.

Some members of the Wellington City Council appeared particularly bitter about this, and took action to ensure that SUFW’s talk in Wellington was controversial and uncomfortable, which required the hiring of security staff. Jonathon asked Tory if she agreed with what the WCC had done, and Tory hedged with the comment that SUFW was a group that “was known to be transphobic”. Tory didn’t elaborate on how this was “known”. It certainly wasn’t based on meeting Speak Up for Women, and making a judgement from having a good faith conversation.

After stating in her first Free Speech Union podcast, in relation to the matter of councils cancelling groups, that “If someone makes a complaint about a group, it needs to go to an independent body, independent council, and decide whether it’s a hate group or misinformation”, Tory appears to have changed her mind. Another email was sent to ask if the kōrero was still on with Speak Up for Women. No reply.

We believed and trusted Tory when she wrote “I promise you I mean what I say”. Should a mayoral candidate’s promise still mean something?


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