WHAT HAPPENED IN AUCKLAND on Saturday, 25 March 2023, revealed the power of officially-sanctioned protest. That power was demonstrated to even greater effect the following day in Wellington. New Zealanders are blessedly unfamiliar with this type of politics, which is more commonly associated with authoritarian regimes such as Viktor Orban’s Hungary, or Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela. Nevertheless, the mass demonstrations against Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull (a.k.a “Posie Parker”) strongly backed by government ministers and the state-owned media, revealed just how potent a weapon the mass mobilisation of sympathetic citizens by official, or quasi-official, forces backed up by the news media, can be.
Since Keen-Minshull has announced her intention to visit New Zealand again in September of this year (perilously close to the election date!) it will be interesting to see whether the same politicians and media outlets who denounced her attitudes towards the trans community back in March – “inflammatory, vile and incorrect” – are prepared to offer the electorate a repeat performance six months later. Were they to do so, there can be little doubt that the result would be the same. New Zealanders sympathetic to the trans-gender cause would rally against Keen-Minshull in their thousands.
The response of those who share Keen-Minshull’s views about the impact trans-gender ideology is having on the rights of women and children will, however, be very different the second time around. Should Keen-Minshull return to these shores in September, she is certain to arouse a powerfully demonstrative response from those who support her cause. The March spectacle of 2,000 trans-gender activists and their supporters drowning-out and then physically attacking Keen-Minshull and her fewer than 100 supporters is unlikely to be repeated.
Citizens hailing from both the left and the right of the political spectrum will not be backward in coming forward to Keen-Minshull’s defence. Moreover, since the trans community set the rules of political engagement so violently in March, Keen-Minshull’s defenders in September are unlikely to pull their punches.
Given, that Keen-Minshull is calling for New Zealand women to speak up for their rights outside the Auckland courtroom in which the person who showered her with tomato juice back in March is set to stand trial, the egregiously “hands-off” policing on display on 25 March (now the subject of an internal Police investigation) will not be an option. Indeed, if two vast crowds of mutually hostile demonstrators seem determined to confront one another outside His Majesty’s courthouse, then Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has no option but to prepare a very “hands-on” response. Hundreds of police officers will be required to maintain public order.
Scarcely a fortnight out from the General Election, with early voting already underway, it is difficult to conceive of anything the Labour Government would welcome less than dramatic evidence of the deep political animosities dividing New Zealand society. The very real possibility that some deluded individual, inflamed by the white-hot passions besetting the trans-gender issue, might turn protest into tragedy, will only heighten the Government’s trepidation. Political violence on the streets is the last thing Prime Minister Chris Hipkins needs as he goes head-to-head with the Opposition leader, Christopher Luxon.
Which is why Immigration Minister Andrew Little will be under enormous pressure to deny Keen-Minshull entry to New Zealand under Section 16:1(iii) of the Immigration Act – the sub-clause which authorises the Minister to deny entry to any non-New Zealand citizen who “is, or is likely to be, a threat or risk to public order”. This was the clause cited by the trans community back in March as they attempted to keep Keen-Minshull out of the country. The courts ruled against them then, but they may not to do so a second time. It would not be difficult for Little to make the case that Keen-Minshull’s arrival in March did, as predicted, contribute to a breakdown of public order, and that given the intensity of feeling aroused by her ideas, and by other people’s reaction to those ideas, it risked doing so again if she was granted permission to enter New Zealand.
What Little almost certainly would not mention is that, back in March, Keen-Minshull’s opponents were arguing that public order would be threatened by attacks on the trans community perpetrated by Keen-Minshull and her supporters. If a second attempt is made to keep her out, Keen-Minshull’s defenders will, quite justifiably, respond that on 25 March it was the supporters of the trans community who broke through crowd barriers to harry, harass, and inflict serious physical and emotional harm upon the few dozen people, many of them elderly, who had assembled in Albert Park to join Keen-Minshull in speaking up for women’s rights.
If Little does decide to bar Keen-Minshull’s entry, then the story is most unlikely to end there. The Free Speech Union (of which the author of this opinion-piece is a member) is practically certain to launch a bid to rescue Keen-Minshull from the so-called “Thug’s Veto”. It will argue that those presenting disorder as the most likely outcome of Keen-Minshull’s visit and, hence, the best reason for banning it, are the very people most likely to cause it. Equivalent to Ku Klux Klansmen warning a civil rights worker that if she insists upon addressing the local Black Baptist congregation, then there’s just no telling what might happen to their little church.
Recognising Labour’s discomfort, National and Act would be most unlikely to refuse the political gains of presenting themselves as the staunch defenders of Free Speech. Nor would they likely forgo the opportunity to castigate the Labour Government for lining-up with extremists who cannot give a straight answer to the question: “What is a woman?” They would pillory Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori for lacking the guts to defend the core principles of a democratic society. The Right’s message to the country would be unequivocal: Those who threaten the right of freedom of expression must not be appeased, they must be fought!
The parties of the Right might even feel emboldened to take a leaf out of Labour’s own playbook by throwing their weight behind a mass demonstration in support of New Zealanders’ right to speak freely and without fear of being shouted down or attacked. Were they to help organise such an event, they could be absolutely certain that elements of the Left would not be able to resist organising a counter-demonstration. Like Keen-Minshull, herself, they could rely upon the intolerance and aggression of their political opponents to clinch the argument.
What the Labour Government should do, of course, is what any democratic government should do in such circumstances: uphold the right of both sides to make their case. Let Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull and her supporters have their say. Let the trans community register its disagreement and disgust. And make damn sure that hundreds of cops, in full riot-gear, are standing between them. Holding the ring, as the state is bound to do, and keeping the peace.