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Tuesday 11 April 2017

ACT: Getting government out of our lives

Posted in: Features
By Jay Bennie - 22nd October 2008

This is the third in a series of brief interviews with representatives of political parties conducted in the lead up to the November 8th 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.

Jay Bennie is the interviewer and in the chair this time is ACT's Rodney Hide

Act Party leader Rodney Hide
Given that it wants as little government interference as possible in the lives of New Zealanders, it’s not surprising that ACT wants government influence and legislative restrictions out of our bedrooms and out of our relationships.

ACT stands for freedom, according to party leader Rodney Hide. "I believe in the freedom of the individual. I believe that adults can live their lives as they choose... and that determines how I vote.

ACT is also seen as being on the right of right on some issues and Hide acknowledges that the party has attracted its share of social reactionaries from time to time. "In the past we have had people who are more socially conservative in our party." But of recent times that has not been an issue, given what Hide says are his fellow ACT MP's views. "I've been quite lucky... Heather Roy is very much a liberal too." He says that as party leader he does not believe in 'whipping' his colleagues' votes. "I don’t tell people how to vote. I try, if they ask me, to persuade them."

Hide believes the word 'liberal' is very abused. "Like, I'm not a socialist. By that I mean I'm consistent: I don't think the Government's job is to boss us around the bedroom or in our business. But I do believe the Government has a job in keeping us safe from the bullies and locking them up for a long time, which people don’t think is liberal, but I believe is a liberal view. So the word 'liberal' covers a multitude of issues. And I describe myself as a classical liberal, which means I believe in the paramount freedom of the individual, and that it's Government's job simply to uphold that liberty and protect it from the bullies."

How politically tenable would it be for ACT to have an openly-glbt candidate? "I couldn't give a toss either way. It’s just one of those things… I don't know, it's a funny thing, it doesn't ever come up in my mind. I don’t know why. So if there was a good candidate that was gay, that would be great, and if there's not one, that's not a problem either."

Hide pauses and laughs... "And according to Winston Peters, my own sexuality's fluid." He's referring to the innuendo flung across the house by Peters as he became embroiled in the Serious Fraud Office enquiry instigated after a formal complaint lodged by Hide. Asked by media, including, if there was any truth to Peters' veiled 'accusation' in the House that Hide is not heterosexual, Hide famously answered "Not yet," a reference to his belief that many people uncover their own sexuality late in life and that it can be a fluid matter for some. (So, is Hide gay yet? He laughs. "I'm still trying.")

Hide says he has recently become aware of the difficulties faced by transgender  people. "I've had a bit of an interest in meeting with transgender groups, in [conservative] Epsom, funnily enough. And I’m just becoming aware of the issues around support for transgender people, and the difficulties that they confront. I imagine there are unresolved issues there – certainly in providing them with support, and it's not just about operations. I don’t know the answer to that, but it's been one of those things that has fascinated me, actually. I think it must be a hell of a struggle. I read the book of a poor fellow that suicided, I can’t remember the name, but it was truly a touching book. So that would be an issue that’s in the back of my mind."

Where does ACT stand on adoption by same-sex couples, the subject of a Bill hovering on the edges of the House? "I've got no problem with gay people adopting kids", he says. "I've got a number of gay friends and I’d rather some of them were looking after my son than a lot of my heterosexual ones." And 'Gay Panic Defence'? "That’s something that needs addressing. It’s about equality."

Hide sees society’s attitudes about homosexuality changing slowly, in much the same way as attitudes to personal relationships other than traditional marriage have changed over the years. "Hopefully we’re headed to a place where it just doesn't matter. I guess like now it’s no longer an issue whether people are married or decide to live in some other arrangement. And I imagine a person's sexuality should be a matter of the same indifference. Legally, and from the point of view of policy and government, everyone should have the same rights."

Asked why, broadly speaking,'s readers should vote for ACT, Hide happily drops into a truncated version of his stump speech. "We don't play gender politics, or identity politics, given our philosophy. We are a Party of free enterprise and we want government expenditure brought under control. Lower taxes. We want to be tough on crime and we have policies for that. We want to dump the Emissions Trading Scheme. And so what we’re saying to people is, if you want to change the government, you’ve got two choices with your party vote – you’ve got the National party, or you’ve got the ACT party. But the thing about the vote for National is you change the government but you keep the policies of Helen Clark. If you vote for ACT you change the government and you change the government’s direction.

"And so that's what we're working on. Good economic policy and good law and order policy."

As with all the spokespeople on glbt issues put forward by the political parties we approached for interviews, Hide is asked to name a glbt person he has found inspirational or admirable. "I've been thinking about it. I always enjoyed Georgie Beyer. I have admired her. I think she did a fabulous job at being a mainstream politician, if I may use that phrase without being patronising. First by being mayor and then by winning a Parliamentary seat. And actually not making a thing about herself... by getting on and doing the job of being an MP. And I’ve always found her to be great fun as a consequence, because she was a person first, to me, and not [defined by] her sexual orientation.

"I think she did a great job, because New Zealanders warmed to Georgie… and I got to dance with her too, a few times."

Next up:
Labour's Maryan Street, followed by the Greens' Kevin Hague.

Jay Bennie - 22nd October 2008

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