17 Oct 2018

Don Brash speaks at Massey University after controversy

6:17 pm on 17 October 2018

An appearance by former National leader Don Brash at Massey University, that was mired in controversy when first announced then canned in August, happened today without any protest.

Don Brash speaking on The Panel at RNZ. 7 August 2018.

Don Brash touched on the importance of freedom of speech. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Dr Brash was asked to speak at the university in August, but that was cancelled by the Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas who, as emails later released revealed, feared the university would be seen to be endorsing racism.

However, he was invited back, and spoke to a crowd of nearly 100 people today.

Greeted with applause - Don Brash quickly launched into his speech, touching on his childhood, and taking the crowd through his career.

Before he'd entered the lecture theatre a warning had been issued - anyone who protested, would be asked to leave.

Not surprisingly Dr Brash also touched on the importance of free speech, and the possibility there could be legislation to protect it at universities.

There was no heckling - but the floor was opened up after his speech, and one person asked Dr Brash if he is racist.

Dr Brash replied that he did not think he was racist, but like almost everyone, he did think it was possible he had unconscious bias against people who did not look like him.

He said he had lived with a man for five years who was Sri Lankan, and he had come to see him as a brother, not a Sri Lankan.

Mr Brash said he did believe in the Treaty of Waitangi, but that the country's founding document meant for all people to be treated equally, regardless of race.

"I think the Treaty says we have equal rights, in 1840 that was an extraordinary thing to assert, they were asserting to people who were predominantly illiterate, still widely practicing cannibalism, Hobson was saying 'you have the same rights now as I do', a fantastically enlightened thing to say."

Despite raising the ire of some during the question and answer session, Dr Brash was pleased with how the audience behaved - he had feared he might be forced out by people who disagreed with him.

Dr Brash's visit was organised by the university's politics society.

Successfully inviting Dr Brash back was not quite a win for free speech on the campus, spokesperson Michael Curtis said.

"It's a positive but it's not a victory yet we still have to wait for massey to decide what they're going to do with the vice chancello rand as long as those emails about her wanting to ban Brash and defund the club linger it's not a victory yet something needs to be done about that she needs to be held accountable.

Mr Curtis agreed the coverage the talk got in August meant more people came along.

Karl Pearce, who wrote the letter to Jan Thomas that prompted the cancellation of August's event, said today Mr Brash showed he is racist.

"Somebody who believes that his culture is the culture that we all should be following, one law for all presupposes that that law is his law, and everybody is equal under that."

Speaking to journalists afterwards, Don Brash refused to be drawn on what he makes of Jami-Lee Ross and National party saga, which continues to unfold.

"I'm very keen not to comment on that. I've been leader of the opposition and I know how tough a job it is so I'm not keen to comment on that."

The review of the Vice Chancellor's actions in cancelling Don Brash's speech in August is still underway, with a result due back in November.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs