|Stephen Berry Openly-gay ACT candidate Stephen Berry canvasses a range of issues, including why the party is the one for him, and why he believes the party’s vote against ending the ‘gay panic defence’ wasn’t anti-glbti.
Are you ACT’s first openly-gay candidate, do you know?
Normally I like being the first to do something, but in this case I’m glad not to be! Act has previously stood openly gay candidates in elections, including in 2011. There are gay members on the current Act board. Some years ago the party also fielded an openly transsexual candidate in the West Coast.
In your opinion, does that matter?
I really don’t think it matters at all. I believe in individual freedom and aspirations, so I avoid putting individuals into particular categories, whether they are based on sex, race or orientation. I also don’t think it matters to the majority of New Zealanders. This country as a whole has often been at the fore-front of socially liberal change and those who cling on to old prejudices are becoming an ever dwindling minority of voters.
What do you think of the belief that most gay people are left wing?
I don’t know for sure that most gay people are left wing and have never seen any polling which demonstrates this definitively. However there is no denying that homosexual politics is certainly more visible in left wing parties. This is especially so in Labour and the Greens where they have LGBTI caucuses in Parliament and separate organisations within their parties.
I’m glad Act does not have these organisational distinctions based on sexual orientation as I believe each person is an individual in their own right, not a part of a societal category. When I stood for the Auckland Mayoralty last year, I took issue with the Council organising ‘Not Your Usual Hui’ to give LGBTI voters the opportunity to “have their say on the Unitary Plan.” I absolutely agree that the Government should be canvassing the opinions of individuals when it embarks on policy implementation; however I think putting different people with varying sexual persuasions into a box and claiming that is the LGBTI view is patronising and offensive. It would be as worthwhile as getting a group of 31 year old white males in a room, and claiming the result is the opinion of the 31 year old white male community.
Why did you choose the ACT Party?
The policies I ran on in 2013 are virtually identical to the principles the Act party espouses today, so the transition was not difficult.
I’ve always felt that people have the greatest opportunity to improve their own futures when the Government stops trying to micro-manage their lives and gets out of the way. Yes, there are those who will fall upon hard times and need a helping hand, but when we see middle income families now living on middle class welfare via Working for Families, then that demonstrates the involvement of Government in our lives has gone too far.
If I’m not harming someone else, then I don’t want the Government telling me how I can or cannot live my life. While gay individuals thankfully do not face the state persecution they faced before 1986, all New Zealanders still face different types of interference in their lives. The government dictates how much of your income you are allowed to keep, where you may send your child to school and even the days you can work! I want a Government that leaves individuals alone to get on with their own lives, while protecting us from those who wish us harm and helping those who need help.
Why should gay people vote for the ACT Party?
The landmark legislation for LGBTI’s has all been passed now so no party can claim they are the right one to represent gay people. Any individual who wants a lower, flatter tax system should vote Act. If people want the Government to take a tougher stance against burglars, then they should support Act for their Three Strikes policy on burglary. If you care about affordable housing, then Act is the best option for your party vote because we’re the only party that understands government regulations are the cause of the current housing bubble, not the solution to it.
This Government has just passed the most left wing National budget since 1983. The Labour party is on the verge of resurrecting Karl Marx in its goal to promise voters more and more of other people’s money. National claimed they were spending more money than ever; Labour claimed they still were not spending enough. Act is unique in Parliament because we don’t say “Why doesn’t the Government do something about this?” Act knows the issues this country faces are caused by the Government actually doing it!
Do you think ACT has changed much under its new leadership?
I absolutely do think that this is a fresh, new revived Act party following the change of leadership. Over the last six years, Act had lost its way. It was embroiled in sideshows and soap operas and people didn’t know what we stood for. I backed Jamie Whyte for Leader during the selection in February. I re-joined Act the day Jamie Whyte became Leader.
Like me, Jamie is philosophically a true liberal. He is taking Act back to its foundations of advocating small government, low taxes and personal liberty. It is this dynamic change which motivated me to get involved and seek to represent Act in Parliament.
How important is it for people to vote in the election?
I don’t think the electoral process is enhanced by pressuring or coercing people into voting. If you’re not interested in politics, don’t vote. However, don’t be surprised when politics still takes an interest in you!
However, if you are interested, then like most MMP elections your vote is still very crucial. Despite the National party polling consistently at the 45-50% mark and John Key being the most popular Prime Minister in New Zealand political history, it is still possible for the left to win because coalitions are key to success in elections.
Act will support a National led government following this election. There is no doubt around that. However if you support a stable centre-right Government, you cannot guarantee that by voting National. If National manages to get a third term and is propped up by several different single MP parties, John Key will continue to stray into the Labour side of the spectrum and the country will not progress as well as it could.
The best way to achieve the best quality centre-right coalition Government is by giving your party vote to Act. We will hold Epsom, so every one of your party votes counts!
What could you bring to Parliament?
My journey into adulthood doesn’t sound like the most promising of stories. I left school with only School Certificate to work full time in a supermarket. My Careers Guidance Counsellor was horrified. However, over the last fifteen years I’ve worked very hard to better myself and make a decent career from those choices. I want to bring an aspirational voice to Parliament. I want to represent those who take the initiative to better themselves whatever their circumstances and not be blocked at every opportunity by bureaucracy.
New Zealand has been built on a culture of innovation, diversity and personal responsibility. I want to go to Parliament to preserve that culture and wind back successive Government measures which have worn it down.
Parliament is now virtually monopolised by career politicians who believe ‘nanny state knows best.’ I’m standing for Parliament to represent the individuals who say, “Bugger off.”
Finally, I would just like to add a comment regarding Act voting against the banning of using the defence of provocation by persons who had attacked gay people following advances. In my view, Act’s position on this was not anti-GLBTI. While we are tough on crime, that does not mean we oppose the best possible due process for people who are accused of crime. My personal view is that a person on trial should be able to defend themselves as best as they are able; it is a very important part of ensuring proper justice is achieved. That doesn’t their defence correct or moral and it doesn’t mean it will be accepted by a judge. If you are claiming provocation as a result of the advances of a gay person, then you are effectively justifying assaulting or killing someone based on homophobic prejudices. I think that makes you a special form of low-life and I would hope the judge would agree. Stephen Berry, with GayNZ.com - 20th May 2014