Point of Order looks forward to hearing from Dr Gaurav Sharma, MP for Hamilton West.
Our interest in him and his sensibilities was whetted by a recent Parliamentary debate in which he indicated he had been upset by something National’s Simon O’Connor had said on the subject of academic freedom.
The occasion was the first reading of the Education and Training (Freedom of Expression) Amendment Bill, a private member’s bill promoted by ACT MP James McDowall.
The bill required tertiary institutions to protect freedom of expression and enabled them to issue codes of practice that set out procedures for students and staff to follow to uphold freedom of expression.
ACT and Nats supported the Bill. Labour, the Greens and the Māori Party had the numbers to sink it before it went any further.
Sharma followed O’Connor in contributing the debate:
Dr GAURAV SHARMA (Labour—Hamilton West): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I had written a speech, but before I read what I was going to say initially the last speaker, Simon O’Connor’s words were quite unfortunate and sad, especially for somebody like me who, as a man of colour, has faced a lot of abuse—including to the point when I was running for election. The sort of comments the speaker was making are the sort of comments behind which a lot of people hide behind and make those comments—not just in private conversations, but also out in public. So, I just want to say the last five minutes were very unfortunate, and the words that came out of that speaker’s mouth were really, really unfortunate.
Those words suggested O’Connor had said something of a racist nature.
Point of Order emailed Sharma to confirm this and/or otherwise help us understand why O’Connor had vexed him.
Lest he had forgotten, we included the Hansard record of O’Connor’s speech.
SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki): Against the spirit of free speech, Mr Speaker, may I suggest that for mine, you can turn your hearing aid off for five minutes and then turn it back on.
To illustrate the very problem that the left and the radical left are putting across tonight, I would just like to say I have found every contribution from the Labour Party and the Greens—$200,000, Chlöe Swarbrick—offensive. It’s hurt me. I’m mentally anguished by what they’ve said. My tribe, my community, and my identity has been deeply offended, and no one on that side could dare to critique that, because that’s my experience.
Don’t you dare question what I’m feeling. My feelings trump anything you think and anything your group thinks. My tribe, my feelings, are right, and I am very upset tonight.
I want everything that the Labour Party and the radical Greens say banned. I don’t want to see them on the universities, because if I walk there tomorrow, I could have a hurt feeling. I could have a hurt feeling.
Do you know what—do you know what? I could go to a university, and someone could say “Simon O’Connor, we don’t agree with you”, and do you know what? That’s just going to cut—according to the Labour Party—so much to my heart.
They’re going to say, “Gosh, you’re a Catholic.” Oh, what terrible sin could that be? That’s a terrible thing, you know, and I’d feel really hurt about that. “You’re an academic—you’ve studied. You’re privileged.”—gosh, that’s going to hurt.
I’m doing this as parody, because what doesn’t seem to get the left is that freedom of speech relies on the ability for, actually, an array of ideas. The whole point of freedom of speech is not for the speech we agree with; it’s the speech we don’t, and, unfortunately, our universities have been captured by a bunch of left-wing progressives.
It only needs one quick example: Auckland University of Technology—I’ve written to them recently.
Guess what? A bunch of women—that’s probably the wrong pronoun and collective pronoun, but anyway. A bunch of women—I want to be really specific about that gender; a bunch of women—wanted to go on to the university and talk about women, and do you know what happened? They were banned. Women were banned from talking about women’s rights, and not only that; they were abused, they were given hateful speech, they were harassed, and they were bullied from people who called them inclusion officers—from academics. It’s an absolute disgrace.
It’s an absolute disgrace, and let’s be under no illusion here: this is nothing to do with freedom of speech from the other side; it’s all about control. You will only be allowed to think, say, and preach what they believe in. That is autocracy, that is a totalitarian mind-set, and it infects like a virus our universities. It’s an absolute cancer, and like any cancer—and the doctors know this—you rip it out, and the best way you rip it out is some sunlight.
There is an absolute arrogance, an arrogance of the highest degree, from the left and the radical left that they know best. The thing is that you don’t, and I can say that with confidence, because I might be on the other side and I might have a different opinion, but do you know what? I don’t think I know best. I think I have an opinion; I could be wrong.
I’m actually willing to be told I’m wrong without having a bloody cry-baby in the corner—”I need a safe space.” Grow up.
To those academics, those of you who responded to the survey talking of freedom as some appropriated colonial concept: get out. We pay our taxes; you’re an absolute disgrace.
To those academics, including those who fought for COVID, who bullied and harassed other academics, those seven who stood up at the Royal Society—an absolute shocker and a shame. To those COVID scientists being paid huge amounts of money by this Government who were harassing their colleagues—an absolute disgrace.
So, we need legislation like this. We need more legislation like this, because at the end of the day, our universities are no longer filled with academics.
They’re filled with activists, and their mind-sets are weak—and they shake their heads on the other side. We know it’s so weak, because they cannot even sustain the most coherent, simple, basic arguments without crying.
University has flourished throughout the world. It’s been given to New Zealand. By the way, universities are appropriated into New Zealand—I just thought you left-wing academics needed to grow up. They have a lineage of free speech and ideas.
So, the final message is really simple. To those on the left, to those academics who do not believe in freedom of speech: grow up. And if you’re not prepared to grow up, go and become a kindergarten teacher.
We have published the full speech here to avoid being accused of editing out the bits that Sharma found “unfortunate” and “sad”.
The email which asked him to explain his objections was sent on May 27.
An unnamed staffer acknowledged receiving it and advised us
If your email is an invitation to an event or a media query, your request will be processed, and a staff member will be in contact in due course. Please note it is not always possible for MPs to attend at a short notice especially on sitting days of Parliament.
This email further said:
We appreciate your patience. Thank you for contacting us.
Office of Dr Gaurav Sharma
Member of Parliament for Hamilton West
We shall continue to be patient.