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Tuesday 10 April 2012

Rainbow Wellington candidates' forum

Posted in: Features
By Tony Reed - 17th October 2011

As previously advertised, we held a candidates’ forum at the Wellesley Hotel on 12th October. A list of our main topics of concern, and the parties’ responses have already been circulated and widely publicised.

About 40 people turned up at the Forum, and a lively debate ensued. Representatives of the 6 parties present all spoke, and a general Q&A session followed. It was clearly a good idea to focus on these issues, as I felt that the debate stayed far more relevant than in the past, when some parties have clearly wanted to talk about something else instead. As it was, these topics clearly gave structure to the evening.

The following highlights are taken from my notes, and do not represent an official report, but my own personal reactions to the evening. I am sure others have comments they could add. Please feel free to do so if that is the case, and we can add those to a future newsletter.

Generally speaking, the Greens and Labour probably had the easiest ride, but that is probably because their answers to our questions were the most satisfactory ones from our point of view. Labour has just produced the Rainbow Issues section of their election policy document, so this could be circulated at the meeting. It is also available at: . The main point of disagreement between these two parties was the strategy for adoption reform. Kevin Hague, of the Greens, reported his attempt to build up an all-party group for reform, and criticised the recent Labour attempt to “go-it-alone” with Jacinda Ardern’s Bill. For Labour, Grant Robertson and Charles Chauvel replied that, after the Government’s continued refusal to act, even after the Court ruling last year which further confused the situation, they felt that an all-Party approach had clearly failed.

The Māori Party spokesperson, Helen Leahy, also got off fairly lightly, and I felt was somewhat sidelined during the debate. Her presentation concentrated almost entirely on the central role of whānau in the issues under discussion. I thought that she could have been challenged on this, as it could easily be pointed out that, whilst this may indeed be an option in many cases, for some young LGBTI people, the family can present the biggest problem of all. If it takes a homophobic stance, then solutions outside have to be sought.

Peter Dunne fronted up quite bravely I thought for United Future. He was well aware that his Party’s track record on civil unions in particular was not one that was well appreciated in our communities. His apology and regret for his actions at that time was unambiguous (and possibly he could teach the PM a thing or two there!). He supported adoption reform, and hoped that it could happen in the next Parliament. He pointed out that over the years his votes in the House had been otherwise supportive, especially on human rights issues. Although his Party’s responses still do not measure up to those of Labour or the Greens, and I cannot imagine UFNZ would pick up many votes from our communities, he made the effort and fronted up to us, and I think that was appreciated by many present.

National was represented by Wellington Central candidate Paul Foster-Bell. As a member of the liberal wing of the party, supporting both adoption reform and same-sex marriage, he was obviously at a disadvantage, given the responses from his leader’s office to our issues. But at least it shows that the Nats have learned from the Stephen Franks debacle, and picked a candidate who is rather more appropriate for the electorate. He is no.57 on the List, so may well get in as a List MP (from at least one comment he made, I doubt whether he is expecting to beat Grant in the electorate), in which case he would certainly be a better addition to the caucus than some.

The ACT spokesperson, their Wellington Central candidate Stephen Whittington, who at 25 was also the youngest candidate there, presented a traditional picture of his Party as a beacon of enlightened liberalism. He personally supported both adoption and marriage and was critical of the National Party responses. However, that position rather opened him up to the obvious questions – what about John Banks? He is after all the most likely ACT MP after the election, and his record on our issues is most certainly not one of enlightened liberalism. The only answer Stephen could really give is that ACT MPs took individual positions on such issues, and other MPs (including, he claimed, leader Don Brash) would vote on the side of the angels.

The Banks issue was taken up further and the Labour MPs reminded us of his homophobic actions in the House when Chris Carter came out as the first openly gay MP. Stephen agreed this was wrong, but in turn accused Labour MPs of making homophobic remarks about Chris Finlayson, a charge which was hotly denied. Stephen was obviously sufficiently worked up about this to investigate further, and sent me a message the next day. He said that he had first come across the accusation from an interview with Kevin Hague (who interestingly said nothing at this point in the debate), and then gave me chapter and verse from Hansard. So I may as well report this, to allow you to draw your own conclusions. On two occasions in 2009, Labour MPs Trevor Mallard and Clayton Cosgrove referred to Mr Finlayson as “Tinkerbell”. I could find no further such references (just go into yourself, go to the Debates page and search for “tinkerbell” – it does not produce a lot of hits), so any such references appear to have ceased after that date. Trevor of course has a very good record on LGBT rights (Clayton rather less so), but it might be fair to say that they are both on the combative wing of the Party. It is interesting that such name-calling does not appear to have happened during the last two years. So please draw your own conclusions. My point was far more on Banks’ voting record (one of only 3 MPs to vote against the Human Rights Act on 3rd Reading), although of course his statement when the Homosexual Law Reform Bill passed, “this is a dark day for New Zealand” has gone down in history.

The next day (at 6 am!), Morning Report on Radio NZ had quite a good piece on us. However, it was removed rather rapidly from their website, and when we asked why, were informed that the report contained an error. What that was remains a mystery for the moment, but I can assure you that it was not in my (fairly brief) contribution!

It remains only for me to thank all our speakers for an informative and enjoyable (and relatively hassle-free) evening. If it was up to them, we would probably have a new Adoption Act tomorrow. And to chide NZ First and the Mana Party for not bothering to respond. A particular vote of thank must of course also go to our Facilitator, Jeremy Pope, who chaired the meeting so efficiently and effectively.

Tony Reed - 17th October 2011

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