Title: Tim Barnett: Change for the better Credit: Tim Barnett MP Features Wednesday 29th November 2006 - 12:00pm1164754800 Article: 1498 Rights
Tim Barnett MP Tim Barnett says Rainbow Labour's team of five in Parliament have achieved much, but their mission is far from complete. I am proud to be the first of the five out queer Labour Members of Parliament to be writing a column for The idea is that the five of us - Georgina Beyer, Chris Carter, Charles Chauvel, Maryan Street and myself - will each write a column every 10 weeks, which means a new column on line every 2 weeks. Being the first off the blocks, I have an enviable freedom to set the pace. So I thought I would set the scene around the 2005-2008 Parliament for the queer community, and in doing that also overview our Labour Rainbow team of five. The job of a Member of Parliament (MP) is a fascinating and complex one. Our salaries (undeniably comfortable) are public knowledge. Every three years we risk defeat, either at the hands of an Electorate or through the List process within our parties. Our mistakes are usually very public and can rapidly lead to our downfall. We come and go with some rapidity - indeed, the combined Parliamentary service of the five Labour Rainbow MPs is 28 ½ years, so our average as a group is around the Parliamentary average career of about 6 years. Just over half of all MPs represent electorates, with the rest being from their party's List. Again we are reasonably representative - Charles, Georgina and Maryan are list MPs; Chris represents Te Atatu (West Auckland) and I represent Christchurch Central. Every MP comes to Parliament with personal and political dreams. Of becoming Prime Minister, of championing a great cause, of being remembered for doing good. Rainbow MPs come with the hopes of a community surrounding them. Queer people have been able to live openly with some degree of dignity in New Zealand for only one generation, and still we are tidying up the edges to make sure that laws do not treat us as second-class citizens. When Labour came to power in 1999, lesbians and gay men faced real, deep, official discrimination. Our relationships were not recognised (meaning, for example, that partner benefits through ACC did not apply to us), our vulnerability to hate attacks was sidelined, it was only a year earlier that the National Government had narrowly failed in its attempt to exempt all New Zealand laws from human rights standards. Over the seven years since we have all but cleansed New Zealand law of discrimination against us, in the process agreeing the Civil Union Act, a once-in-a-generation measure which placed our country at the forefront. New Zealand was the first country outside Europe to give same-sex couples equal rights, including access to an institution with the same rights as marriage. Through recognising the special vulnerability of people from our communities to attack based on prejudice, via the hate crime provisions in the Sentencing Act, we went beyond pure equal rights to recognise the state's responsibility to protect its citizens. So what remains to be done? In terms of law reform, very little. Adoption; provocation law; wills law (currently passing through Parliament) is about it. In time all that will happen. Of course, when it comes to making sure good laws produce fair outcomes, and that Government services are sensitive to who and what we are, the work really never ceases. When it comes to guaranteeing a fair deal for young people who think they are different in some way, and then realise they are lesbian, gay or transgender, the task is very tough indeed. And when it comes to the struggle to get law changes in our neighbouring Pacific Islands and many countries of Asia, to give basic rights to lesbian, gay and transgender people there, then the barriers to overcome are truly immense. So don't let anyone tell you the task is over! Look as far as the General Election just over a year ago, when the Exclusive Brethren spend large in supporting National to defeat Labour. I believe it was hatred for us which lay behind the extraordinary passion of their approach. That will not go away in a hurry. And so what will the Rainbow Labour MPs be doing over the next while? We will be working on those issues of law, policy and attitude change. We will be profiling at queer community events. We will be helping to build networks of community supporters in places where a Rainbow Labour branch might be too hard to maintain. And we will be writing our columns for, of course! If you want to contact us please visit our web page And if there is an issue which you would like us to think about as a Rainbow MP team, please send us an email to Tim Barnett Member of Parliament Christchurch Central Electorate Senior Government Whip Tim Barnett MP - 29th November 2006    
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