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Thursday 09 April 2009

Gay Vote08: Coverage and absences

Posted in: Features
By Jay Bennie - 6th November 2008


Glbt New Zealanders have benefited enormously in the past two decades from our remarkably liberal democracy. Sure, we have had to fight for progress but our political system has responded, blending fairness and commonsense with just a touch of pragmatism.

Voting is important, and encourages you to get out and vote this Saturday for the candidate and party of your choice. Vote for the future good of New Zealand and for the continued progress towards social and legal equality for your glbt brothers and sisters.

Bear in mind that, although many broad-reaching human rights problems have been tackled, there are still issues affecting the lives of glbt individuals which require positive leadership in Parliament. For instance, equal adoption rights for same-sex couples, the striking down of the 'gay panic' defense, anti-discrimination protection and the tidying up of official identity procedures for transgenders, and the still difficult to define 'hate speech' and 'hate crimes' issues.

Over the past month we have presented short interviews with representatives of selected political parties. We invited parties likely to be part of whatever government is formed, plus those whose MPs have had something to contribute to the various public and parliamentary debates on glbt issues in recent times.

All but two responded by nominating glbt-friendly spokespeople and we presented their views, leavened where necessary with a little contextual information. We urge you read our interviews with
United Future's Peter Dunne, NZ First's Doug Woolerton, Act's Rodney Hide, Labour's Maryan Street, The Greens' Kevin Hague and The Progessives' Jim Anderton.

In a democracy it is important that voters are informed and knowledgeable about their electoral choices. We were therefore saddened that two significant parties ignored our invitation.

In the past the Maori Party has generally been willing to engage on glbt issues, generally in the person of Pita Sharples. This would have been a good opportunity to speak to, and for, New Zealand's widely scattered glbt Maori, but the opportunity was passed up.

More troubling was the total non-engagement of the National Party, one of the two most powerful forces in New Zealand politics. National chose not to speak through and thus short-changed our tens of thousands of readers up and down the country. Given that, by recent polling, National stands a better than even chance of leading the next government, it seems inexplicable that they would not engage. Or is it?'s invitation to a pre-election interview was included in the first formal approach we have made to National since late last year when we carried coverage of how its deputy leader Bill English was knowingly allowing his teenage son to publicly post viciously anti-gay epithets on the internet. For over a month English, who has stressed 'family values' and parental responsibility, completely ignored the glbt community concerns we put to him, then threatened legal action against us when we went public. But the instant the story migrated from to the mainstream media the offensive internet content was withdrawn and English eventually admitted elsewhere that his son was indeed responsible for the homophobic tirades. No parental apology to glbt people, nothing. Along the way his boss, John Key, downplayed the postings as merely 'a bit rugged.' For publicising concerns about the complicity of a leading politician in the all too common spread of hatred generated against gays and lesbians we are, it seems clear, to be isolated by a wall of silence.

For the record, National also ignored our request for information on its quietly announced plan to disband the Families' Commission and divert funding through community groups including vigorously anti-gay evangelical Christian groups. was the only news media to explore this proposal from a glbt viewpoint.

When we realised that our invitation to a pre-election chat was being studiously ignored by National we sought advice from their only openly gay MP, Chris Finlayson. We are now aware that Finlayson, who has had a courteous relationship with, has close personal ties to the English family. Perhaps he has been unintentionally placed in a difficult spot, because suddenly he, too, hauled up the drawbridge in no uncertain terms.

There was little more we could do. Other party spokespeople from across the political spectrum fronted up and so we moved on.

Our election reporting moves on this weekend when we will present regular live reports on Saturday evening and Sunday. We will focus on what the emerging results mean to our existing gay and lesbian MPs, to those waiting in the wings, and to the parties who have either supported or obstructed moves to have Parliament equalise our standing in society alongside our other countrymen.

The New Zealand general election may not have the world-gripping drama of the US presidential election, but the process is responsive to voters' wishes and its outcome is central to how our lives will be lived, on so many levels, for years to come.

- Jay Bennie
Content editor,

Jay Bennie - 6th November 2008