The right to free speech was celebrated at the re-launch of Kāpiti Speakers’ Corner at the weekend.
After being summoned by the sound of a shofar blown by the originator of Speakers’ Corner, K. Gurunathan, all speakers referred to the considerable freedom enjoyed in New Zealand with Dr Cathy Strong noting that only 14% of people live in a country where there is free speech. Throughout, the master of ceremonies, John Murray, quoted references to free speech throughout history.
Opening speaker, Kāpiti Coast Mayor Jenny Rowan, was also concerned that there are three areas where the right for social discussion is being eroded. She cited the conversion of public servants to people who deliver doctrine, boards of enquiry that do away with the environment court and the lack of education on what it is to live in a country such as New Zealand. Referring to her own sexuality, she highlighted the freedom of choice and the right to speak about it.
Kane Te Whaiti, spoke of the need for youth to have a basketball court in the Raumati Beach area. He indicated that this is not only for physical but for mental health. He is particularly keen to discourage drug taking.
Eva Rawnsley, from Paekākāariki, is a member of a Jewish family, based in Hamburg, who fled Nazi Germany to settle in New Zealand. She described the persecution and hatred she experienced early in her life and of the freedoms she found in this country something she thinks is taken for granted.
Poetry has always been a method of expression. Highly regarded local poet and script writer, Gill Ward added to the celebration by using poetry as a powerful way of advocating in an issue. She talked of a time when there was a proposal to take some public land in Raumati South for housing. She read the poem she had written at the time.
To round off the planned section of the re-launch, Kaumatua, Don Te Maipi, referred the audience to the wisdom handed by Maori elders who praised speaking and dialogue.
In the open mike session that followed the planned speeches, Margaret Harris advocated the elimination of plastic bags, Dr Cathy Strong referred to the controlled environment she experienced in the Middle East and, in a light hearted manner, then proceeded to criticise politicians, just “because I can in New Zealand.” K. Gurunathan contrasted the controls on behaviour in his home country of Malaysia with this country where a speeding Prime Minister can be stopped by a police constable and issued with a ticket. Shane Cave told the audience that not all speech needs be serious and read a humorous poem he has written.
Kāpiti Speaker’s Corner is now again available seven days a week at any time. Further information is available on the Internet at www.kapitispeakerscorner.org.no