The phrase freedom of speech is being lobbed around like tennis balls at Wimbledon as a controversial speaker heads to Central Otago tonight.

Lowburn Hall, just out of Cromwell, will be the venue for the next Stop Co-Governance meeting, which were being run around the country by company director and former teacher Julian Batchelor.

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan allegedly told Batchelor he was not wanted in the town, Invercargill Mayor Nobby Clark opened two meetings in Invercargill for Batchelor.

Venues have been cancelled, meetings have been held in secret and there have been accusations of racist audience selection.

Lowburn Hall committee past secretary Laurie McAuley said the hall was booked some time ago then they found it was for ‘‘someone going round New Zealand giving a talk on how he saw things’’.

‘‘We based our decision on freedom of speech. Someone said we might get protests and we agree that if we did they were quite welcome to book the hall and have their say. So we made the decision that free speech was the principal we voted on.’’

Mr McAuley said he had heard what some people had been saying about the Stop Co- Governance meetings but was willing to hear what they had to say before making any judgement about it. He expected there would be differing views on what was said at the meeting but it was up to people to draw their own conclusions.

‘‘It’s not a matter of the Lowburn Hall committee making the decision he shouldn’t talk.’’

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan said he found out about the Lowburn meeting yesterday morning. Asked about the range of responses from his brother in Balclutha to Invercargill’s Mayor to the meetings he said it was a tricky balance.

Freedom of speech was important but it had to go both ways, he said.

He had read that the group denied people entry into their meetings based on race or would shut down people who disagreed at a meeting.

‘‘Freedom of speech is something that has got to be protected but if intolerant people are allowed total freedom of speech then I think that you wind up in a situation in the end when the tolerant people won’t be allowed to speak.’’

Lowburn Hall is not a Central Otago District Council facility but is run by an independent committee.