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Auckland councilors ignore Voices for Freedom link in meeting they addressed

Two Auckland councilors who played key roles in a community meeting on co-governance said they were unaware of the organizers’ links to the anti-mandate group, Voices for Freedom (VFF).

Rodney Ward Councilor Greg Sayers was MC for the UnifyNZ meeting in Warkworth, while Albany Ward Councilor John Watson was one of three main speakers and accepted $100 for expenses.

Two-term councilor Sayers MC attended the July 30 meeting at Warkworth Town Hall, organized by a new group, led by former Warkworth coordinator for VFF, Teresa Gibson.

UnifyNZ described its vision as expanding “regional awareness on critical and timely issues” and the two public meetings so far have focused on “democracy not co-governance”.

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VFF is among individuals and groups linked to fake news and violent rhetoric, subject of the trick circuit documentary fire and fury and played a key role in the occupation of Parliament grounds which ended in a riot on 2 March.

Gibson said there was “no connection between VFF and Unify NZ, although there are people interested in both groups”.

Watson delivered a forceful speech to the audience of 100, criticizing co-governance and Auckland Council’s handling of an ultimately unsuccessful complaint against him under the code of conduct for alleged ‘misinformation’.

He spoke of his experience at the co-chaired Hauraki Gulf Forum and said the council’s code of conduct complaints process had been “armed on controversial issues or to shut down” free speech.

Auckland Council Albany ward advisor John Watson, at the UnifyNZ town hall meeting in Warkworth.

Todd Niall / Stuff

Auckland Council Albany ward advisor John Watson, at the UnifyNZ town hall meeting in Warkworth.

Watson shared the speaking platform with Casey Costello, a Hobson’s Pledge trustee, who does not accept the Waitangi Treaty created Maori-Crown partnership, and Scott Bright, a Pukekohe-based leader of the group Farmers Protest Groundswell.

The three-term Albany ward councilor is seeking re-election and said he had not heard of UnifyNZ when he contacted him and invited him to speak, and did not not research the relationships he might have had.

“If I get an invitation in my public role as an adviser, I accept,” Watson said.

“These were people who were pro-free speech, which is relevant to this council tenure – through my own experience, it has been to hamper free speech and my ability to challenge. “

When said by Things of UnifyNZ’s links to VFF and asked if he supports them, Watson replied: “It’s worrying – definitely not, that sort of association is damaging”.

Sign up for the UnifyNZ Warkworth meeting attended by Auckland councilors Greg Sayers and John Watson.  (File photo)

Todd Niall / Stuff

Sign up for the UnifyNZ Warkworth meeting attended by Auckland councilors Greg Sayers and John Watson. (File photo)

Watson said he was given a thank you card which, when he opened it later at home, contained a “small sum” of money which he would not disclose. Gibson said he received $100.

Sayers said he had never heard of UnifyNZ and “still doesn’t know what they do” and agreed at the last minute to step in as MC.

His unfamiliarity was apparent, mispronouncing the band’s name in his introduction as “Yoo-niffy NZ” prompting a correction from Gibson in the front row.

“I thought it would be good for my profile,” Sayers said.

Greg Sayers, Rodney Ward Councilor of Auckland Council, chairing the UnifyNZ town hall meeting, flanked by Hobson's Pledge Casey Costello, left, and Albany Ward Councilor John Watson.

Todd Niall / Stuff

Greg Sayers, Rodney Ward Councilor of Auckland Council, chairing the UnifyNZ town hall meeting, flanked by Hobson’s Pledge Casey Costello, left, and Albany Ward Councilor John Watson.

“I don’t know much about Voices for Freedom, I’d have to research it.”

Rodney local board member Colin Smith watched the proceedings from the back of the room.

Smith said he was not aware of any connection between UnifyNZ and VFF, and was not affiliated with VFF but was “not uncomfortable – anyone can contribute something something at the table is better”.

“For me, it is time for us New Zealanders to rise – that is lacking at the moment. New Zealanders are full of Maori stuff and I’m not into this co-governance shit,” Smith said.

Auckland mayoral candidate Craig Lord was in the audience at the UnifyNZ meeting.  (File photo)

Auckland mayoral candidate Craig Lord was in the audience at the UnifyNZ meeting. (File photo)

In the audience, and asked to acknowledge himself to the public, was mayoral candidate Craig Lord, for whom Warkworth was the area in which he polled the most in 2019.

“The guy who invited me was at the Warkworth housing escalation meeting a few weekends before, and he suggested I show up at another local meeting and listen,” he said. declared.

Lord said he “hadn’t really heard of VFF” until the past few weeks and wasn’t really “into it”.

“At the moment I’m trying to go as far as I can for obvious reasons – if it was a [Brian] Tamaki meeting, I probably wouldn’t have gone,” Lord said.

Footage from the Stuff Circuit documentary Fire and Fury, which examines Voices for Freedom and others.  (File photo)

MATERIALS CIRCUIT

Footage from the Stuff Circuit documentary Fire and Fury, which examines Voices for Freedom and others. (File photo)

Warkworth-based UnifyNZ coordinator Teresa Gibson would not be interviewed by Things but answered the question in an email.

“All speakers and the master of ceremonies were encouraged to check out our website. They also received an overview or talk from the speaker before the event,” she said.

“UnifyNZ formed in May 2022, so it’s understandable that one of the speakers didn’t know much about us as our website was still in development.”

At the group’s August meeting, NZ First leader Winston Peters spoke about ‘Democracy, not co-governance’ – a speech which led to a subsequent appearance on Australian TV channel Sky News .

Speakers for a September UnifyNZ meeting have yet to be named, but topics are listed as: “How the World Health Organization, World Economic Forum and (investment managers) Blackrock and Vanguard are internationally connected” and “How the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the ‘Green energy policies on food, transport, agriculture and heating are impacting Kiwis’.