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Thursday 09 October 2008

Charles Chauvel's tribute to a liberal Nat

Posted in: Features
By Charles Chauvel MP - 20th March 2008

Rainbow Labour's Charles Chauvel pays a public tribute to a soon-departing National MP who did the right thing by our communities…

Labour MP Charles Chauvel
Katherine Rich is a National Party MP from Dunedin. She became a Member of Parliament in 1999. Nine years on, she recently announced her decision to stand down from politics at the general election that must be held later this year.

These days, perhaps sadly, people don't expect to see a lot of cooperation and goodwill across the House. But I believe that Parliament will be poorer for Katherine Rich's departure and I want to use this article to pay a public tribute to her.

Since 1999, the Helen Clark-led Government has worked hard to dismantle legal barriers to equality for our communities. Most of those barriers have now been removed, and we are working to identify and get rid of the rest.

Many of our political opponents have chosen to pillory members of the Labour caucus, and our political allies on this issue, as we have carried out this process. We have been labelled anti-family. In talkbackland, conservative politicians have exploited prejudice against gay and lesbian New Zealanders to whip up resentment against Labour for spearheading reforms like the Property Relationships Act and the Care of Children Act.

National MP Katherine Rich
Katherine Rich didn't do any of that. She didn't always vote for legislation that formed part of the systematic dismantling of legal discrimination against us – presumably her party didn't give its MPs a "free" vote on all these issues. But on three key bills – the Civil Unions Act, the Statutory References Act and the Marriage (Gender Clarification) Bill, she did the right thing – in company with only a handful of her National Party colleagues. Not only did she vote the right way on civil unions, she added her name to the full-page newspaper ad in support of the Bill that ran in newspapers during the campaign to pass the legislation.

Obviously I didn't agree with Katherine on all political matters. But I admired the liberal stand that she took on a range important social issues. On the Child Discipline Bill, she consistently supported the repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act throughout that debate. In fact, she was the only member on her side of the House who consistently championed that cause publicly. She also refused to demonise beneficiaries at a time when this has become a popular pastime inside her Party.

Regrettably, Katherine's departure from Parliament means that, at the same time, the National Party caucus probably becomes a significantly less safe place for people who are willing to speak up about the dignity of GLBTI people. It leaves that caucus with only a few discrete liberals, a leader who voted against civil unions, a deputy who has never supported our rights at any level, and one increasingly tiresome openly gay MP who harps on about not wanting to be 'typecast' as an advocate on our issues.

The ongoing willingness of the bulk of the National Party to play the redneck card on equal rights for gay and lesbian New Zealanders is a matter with which we should deal through our power to vote and to participate politically. But those are topics for another day – this is intended as a tribute to a political ally, not a condemnation of many of her regrettably less-than-brave former colleagues.

We lose an important parliamentary ally when Katherine leaves Parliament.

Thank you, Katherine. You'll be missed. Sincere best wishes for your future.

Charles Chauvel MP - 20th March 2008