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Thursday 09 April 2009


The Greens: Equality is party policy

Posted in: Features
By Jay Bennie - 1st November 2008

This is the fifth in a series of brief interviews with representatives of political parties conducted in the lead up to next Saturday's General Election. They are being presented in the order in which they were able to be arranged and conducted. The first was United Future's Peter Dunne, followed by NZ First's Doug Woolerton, Act's Rodney Hide, and Labour's Maryan Street.

Jay Bennie is the interviewer and in the chair this time is The Greens' Kevin Hague.


kevin_4.jpg
The Greens' Kevin Hague
Co-spokespeople. It’s a very Greens thing. So when it comes to nominating a spokesperson on glbt issues to speak with GayNZ.com the Greens nominate two: a man and a woman; a South Islander and a North Islander; one high enough on the party list to stand a chance of entering Parliament, one way further down; one gay one lesbian... you get the picture.

When we ask them to pare it down
for practical purposes to just one interviewee Kevin Hague wins the toss but insists on discussing the broad subject range of the interview with Linda Persson ahead of time so he can speak on their combined behalf. Very Greens.

The Greens entered Parliament in 1995, a decade after the groundbreaking Homosexual Law reform legislation was voted in, a standard starting point when discussing historical glbt-friendliness. “We weren’t in Parliament for Law Reform in ’86, or indeed the Human Rights Bill from ’93,” says Hague, “but essentially on every issue that has come into the House since we’ve been in Parliament, the Green Party has voted the ‘right’ way... voted in favour of lesbian and gay interests, as a matter of party policy, not through a conscience vote, as other parties have done.”

Most moral issue bills entering Parliament to better the lives of glbt people are treated by the house as conscience votes, leaving plenty of wiggle room for MPs on both sides of the issue. “Yeah, why are they ‘moral’ votes, would be my question. And that’s the Green Party’s question too. When it comes to things like Civil Unions, for example, why should that be a moral issue or a different kind of issue from any other question that Parliament decides. And the Green Party voted for Civil Unions as a matter of policy.

When it comes to glbt issues currently circulating the back corridors of power but yet to see the light of public debate, Hague, rumoured from his days as the boss of the NZ AIDS Foundation as a consummate 'massager' of the bureaucracy, makes a clear distinction between Parliament and Government. “Because Government works much more broadly than Parliament itself. Parliament itself is concerned with the business of making laws, and there are some areas where legal reform is still useful. In particular there’s the question of adoption. [Senior Green MP] Metiria Turei has a Bill currently before the House, to equalize the law with regard to adoption. That’s I guess the last one of the really major areas in law, although certainly we don’t see why marriage should only be available to heterosexual people, so that would be another question for us too.”

“The Gay Panic Defence – that’s another aspect of law reform,” says Hague. “There are various aspects of law reform that are still required. But the area that we have been focusing on particularly is the need to provide a much more supportive environment for lesbian or gay young people. We think it’s not good enough that schools are able to not permit peer support groups, or refuse to allow permission to the school from groups like Rainbow Youth. So we’re very anxious to see concerted Government action to actually ensure that there’s appropriate support mechanisms for those young people in the schools. And also provide proper resourcing for groups like Rainbow Youth and other lesbian and gay community institutions.”

Asked where the Greens believe LGBT should fit into society in the future, Hague seizes on an basic and important flaw in the question. “We would almost see it the other way. That rather than gay and lesbian people needing to ‘fit in’, we would actually say that society needs to change to reflect the genuine diversity of its members. So we’re not simply talking about an inclusive society, we’re talking about one that really does celebrate the diversity of the people who are part of it.

“Social justice is one of the core principles of the Green Party, and all our policies are based on that – and if you have a look at our Party List, it reflects exactly that. So we don’t want the kind of society where ‘provided that gay and lesbian people act lie heterosexual people they’ll be fine and they’ll be entitled to protection from discrimination’. We actually want one that says ‘we want to celebrate all of these diverse cultures’.

The Green party is second only to Labour in the number of openly g, l, b or t candidates it is fielding. Highest on the list is Hague, at number seven, “so I’m next into Parliament after the current MPs, and very much looking forward to that. The person I’ll come to next is Linda Persson. Linda’s further down the list, but she and I are co-spokespeople for the Green Party on Rainbow issues. Linda is the candidate for Hamilton East, and is well-known in the lesbian community in Auckland and Hamilton, and she actually lives in Rotorua. She’s a well-known person and has been involved in many issues we tend to have been, in the Greens.”

John Carapiet is position 31 – but it’s kind of a 31st equal. He’s standing in Mount Albert. He’s a market researcher, he’s been the National Spokesperson for GE Free New Zealand, and is a very strong candidate. The next person to highlight is Xavier Goldie, he’s currently a student, and is standing against gay Labour frontbencher Chris Carter. Xavier’s great fun, I did a GABA Forum with him and was really impressed with his wide command of issues.

Hague believes those candidates reflect quite a strong group of lesbian and gay men within the Party. He says many Greens senior party staff are also gay or lesbian. “I think the reason for it is that the Green Party has been a really explicit champion for diversity. So I think that’s a natural beacon for gay and lesbian people. Also, people who have a history of unfair treatment, discrimination, oppression even… that experience can actually be quite politicizing and consciousness raising. One of the consequences of that is gay and lesbian people may well be more attuned to other issues of injustice. And the Green Party is the logical place for those to find expression.”

Glbt issues aside, why should glbt people vote Greens? Knowing this would be asked, Hague speaks firstly for himself. “We believe that everyone should vote Green with their Party Vote, because we are the Party that stands for real sustainability, we stand for social justice and fairness. And we’re the Party which has demonstrated a record of integrity and ability to work across party lines with everybody else to achieve good goals. And I think that’s what New Zealanders in general expect and should demand of their MPs. The Greens have exemplified being able to do that. I think that we have the best policies and also the best people.

Determined to give Persson a chance to answer for herself, Hague reads Persson’s short reply to the same question: “I believe in a society that is not measured by our GDP, but that has a balance between social and cultural dimensions, environment and economy. I’m proud to be a member of New Zealand society and to stand up and say that the decisions I make are also within the Green party rhetoric – that we are passionate, positive, peaceful, practical and principled… five P’s.”

It’s clear that, asking for the most admirable or inspirational person they know or have known of, we are not going to get away with just one name. Refleccting his history of involvement in the early and deeply distressing days of the HIV epidemic, Hague nominates one of the first gay men to go public with his HIV positive status; a tireless volunteer worker for prevention awareness and support for HIV positive people, the late Alistair Hall, who died in the early 1990s. “Many of your readers won’t know of him, because he predates many of them of course. But I think that Alistair’s personal courage in fronting those early HIV campaigns and efforts, and the sort of tireless campaigning that he did, for me was extraordinarily inspirational.

Persson, by subsequent email nominates Marilyn Waring, “an international leading commentator on political and economic issues and a challenger of  capitalist paradigm GDP as the measure of a countries wealth, believing that we should include social and cultural imperatives. And the humble people who are just out there doing their bit, people too numerous to name.”


[Editor's note: Just after this interview was conducted the Greens announced that they would be prepared to go into coalition with Labour, but not with National. See news story link below.]


Next up: The Progressives' Jim Anderton


Jay Bennie - 1st November 2008