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'Fine line between free speech and hate speech' — Anti-co-governance movement sparks protest in Ōrewa

March 22, 2023

Interview by Caeden Tipler, adapted by Ashley-Rose Redstone

Hibiscus and Bays Local Board member Jake Law (pictured) says that public interest in Julian Batchelor’s 'Stop Co-Governance' tour stems from a misunderstanding of co-governance and spreads a warped perspective of Māori and Te Tiriti. Photo: supplied by Jake Law.

Listen to the full interview

A protest against a ‘Stop Co-Governance’ meeting in Ōrewa over the weekend has gained national attention. 

Members of local iwi Ngāti Manuhiri and Te Herenga Waka o Ōrewa Marae attended the Ōrewa leg of Julian Batchelor's anti-co-governance roadshow on Saturday 18 March to condemn anti-Māori racism, disinformation, and opposition to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and co-governance. 

Ngati Mānuhiri and supporters from the community protested the meeting peacefully by singing the waiata ‘Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi' and the national anthem in Te Reo Māori. Attendees of the anti-co-governance meeting then retaliated with the English verse of the national anthem.

Batchelor has held several meetings across Tāmaki Makaurau and Northland, with his meetings in Kerikeri, Whangarei, and Dargaville also sparking protests. 

Activist and member of Aotearoa Liberation League, Samah Huriwai-Seger, told Caeden Tipler on 95bFM’s The Wire that "the protest was a beautiful show of solidarity between mana whenua and tauiwi who came together in unity.”

“It highlighted where we're at with this, showing that they're not coming from good faith or criticism of co-governance; they are just trying to remove any Māori governance from the conversation." 

Huriwai-Seger said the police’s reaction to the protestors, which involved police forming a barricade of officers dividing the two groups while facing the protestors, was unfair and disproportionate to the issue.

"It felt uncomfortable to see that, and it highlights the structural racism within our institutions. It's not a surprise to us as activists because every time we protest, the police show up and are against the protesters. They're there to protect the interests of the property-owning class."

Huriwai-Seger argued that Batchelor uses inaccuracies and negative stereotypes about Māori in his presentations to incite fear over co-governance.

Huriwai-Seger said it is important to recognise that Batchelor is part of a larger anti-Māori sentiment in Aotearoa, citing political parties who openly support anti-co-governance and prominent actors in mainstream media that reinforce negative stereotypes about Māori.

Hibiscus and Bays Local Board member Jake Law, who was present at the rally, told The Wire that he’d attended the meeting with an open mind but had discounted Batchelor's arguments as he could not support his points with facts.

Law argued that public interest in Batchelor’s tour stems from a misunderstanding of co-governance.

“There's a fine line between free speech and hate speech. I'm a supporter of free speech, but we have to ask ourselves where we draw the line on hate speech or misinformation.”

Law called Batchelor’s perspective on Māori and Te Tiriti warped, and referred to an interview in which Batchelor failed to define co-governance when asked.

“I welcome criticism of co-governance, but it needs to be coming from a place of truth and fairness.”

Public interest journalism funded through NZ On Air