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Monday 08 November 2010

Carter's "hideous year"

Posted in: Features
By Jacqui Stanford - 7th October 2010

Chris Carter at the GABA auction in July
Chris Carter is pretty much over it.

The longtime MP revealed to this morning that he has decided to "reluctantly" withdraw his nomination for the Te Atatu seat, because he knows that Labour's national council is going to kick him out of the party on Monday anyway.

"I made a decision about six weeks ago that my time in politics is really over. It's been a hideous year. There's been remorseless pressure with all this nonsense about expenses, which has been such a beat up and has been so hard, particularly for my partner to deal with," he says.

"We've spent 20 years working in this area – and I've got lots of faults but lack of hard work isn't one of them. And I spent 15 years as an MP, six years as a Cabinet Minister, working my guts out really. And to have this stuff with my partner constantly on television and named, his school named where he's principal. Who's ever heard of another MP or minister's partner ever being dragged into it like this?

"To have Phil Goff say it's not homophobic – of course it's homophobic. Why was I different to everybody else? Because I was the top spending MP? I wasn't actually. Because I was the top spending minister? I was number four actually. And I was the Education Minister. Of course I had to be. International students are our fourth largest overseas earner.

"So that's been really difficult to deal with. I have to say that not all of my gay colleagues in my caucus have been particularly supportive with it either. Charles Chauvel's been great. But I'd prefer not to speak ill of the others, but they have not been supportive. That was really difficult to deal with as well. But you know, I don't want to sound bitter, nasty or unhappy."

Carter is the most emotive when he talks about the reality of no longer representing an electorate he adores, and which his partner Peter Kaiser chairs. "I'm sad to be leaving because I have such a personal relationship, of course, after 15 years with my electorate. I live here, Peter's principal of a school in Te Atatu. There isn't a street in the electorate where Peter and I don't know people, where funny things haven't happened over the last 20 odd years – gotten bitten by dogs, met very unusual people," he laughs.

"You build up relationships with the community . . . there's a sense of almost divorce really. And that's quite a grieving process which I know that I'll go through and have to work through."

He says he found the electorate work the most satisfying thing he did as an MP, saying the fact National won the local party vote at the last election, but he won his seat by 5,300 votes was a mark of a support for him as a person rather than just as a politician.

"My electorate committee and the Labour Party members in Te Atatu have until today, the day before the nominations close, unanimously supported me and have not wanted any other candidate. And that's been really heartening too, that I've got total local support. Something Mr Goff seems to have considered not at all relevant really."

Carter's dissatisfaction and frustration with Goff's leadership is palpable, although the gay MP concedes his actions in sending out a 'coup letter' to press gallery journalists, which resulted in him being expelled from the party's caucus, was not the wisest move.

"How I did it was stupid. It was the result of a year of stress, a year of feeling that he had been incredibly disloyal to me. I have to say, I was loyal to him a lot longer than he was loyal to me. Hanging me out to dry over that ministerial travel – he was one of the ministers that signed it off."

Carter questions why any concerns about the travel spending were not raised at the time, saying he believes there were no concerns. He says every trip has to be approved and if he had not gone another minister would have.

"So when that happened, when he just got so spooked by the media campaign that he decided to sacrifice me, I knew at that point that our relationship was hopeless," he says.

"And so do I feel bitter about what's happened? To a degree, yes."

Carter under the media spotlight
Carter says his overall feeling in making today's announcement is sadness at leaving his constituency.

"I really enjoyed the electorate work. But I'm so over politics at the moment. I'm so over having this constant media scrutiny," he sighs.

"You know Paul Henry spun out when two Herald reporters set foot on his property. I had TV3 with a spotlight on our front door, mounted on a huge truck. And our house staked out for days and days. They even went to our bach at Waiheke and filmed through the windows. This remorseless media campaign has just been horrendous really."

Carter realises the next few days will be more of the same, but is somewhat relaxed about it. "It's the final wrap really," he laughs.

The proudly-gay MP, who has been the voice and face of gay New Zealand in Parliament for almost two decades, at least in the eyes of the mainstream and the media, has one lingering disappointment. Two weeks ago he received an invitation from the British Labour Party to come and speak at the Rainbow Network Fringe event in Manchester.

"I felt that I couldn't go because of my estrangement from the Labour caucus. No other New Zealand Labour Party politician has ever been invited to speak at the British Labour Party Conference before."

Carter says he has a personal connection to the area as his family emigrated from Preston, near Manchester.

"That's been my greatest disappointment really, in this whole drama. Because I would have been so proud to have gone and talked about the achievements that Helen Clark's Government did for equality in our country really."

Carter intends, at this stage, to finish his Parliamentary term.

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Jacqui Stanford - 7th October 2010

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