Title: Taking stock of Don Brash Credit: Chris Banks Comment Thursday 6th May 2004 - 12:00pm1083801600 Article: 241 Rights
It was a loaded question, I admit. But when the leader of New Zealand's leading conservative political party starts making pro-gay noises, particularly when every single other right-wing leader is falling over themselves to take us back to the days of pre-law reform, you have to wonder what's on the cards. So I had to ask – what is National leader Don Brash's understanding of gay and lesbian lives and culture? His answer – he doesn't have a great understanding of it. But, he qualified, he's unsure that there is such a thing, and when I told him I was glad that he understood that there was not really any great cultural divide between gays and straights apart from preconceived notions, he replied he was pleased to have that confirmed. We're all individuals, he believes, an opinion that has been formed through the gay and lesbian people Dr Brash knows as friends and individuals. It was a matter-of-fact and sensible answer to a – dare I say it? – politically correct question. Certain individuals and groups from the right are desperate to paint an image of a country fed up with that malleable beast known as political correctness, and with the National Party once again at the forefront of the right-wing vote after some time in the wilderness, you would expect Dr Brash to be table-thumping the anti-PC agenda. The thing is, Dr Brash has no more idea what political correctness actually is than anyone else. One newspaper assumed he would be happy to write an entire column on the subject, but he declined. He feels that political correctness has even become a term of abuse, something that gay and lesbian people these days certainly can relate to – it's rare to hear the term without it somehow being related to a gay issue, be it civil unions, same-sex parenting, or even in extreme cases, our very right to exist. Brash is a very down-to-earth man, seemingly very free of the spin or puppetry that may have come across in the recent “Hurricane Brash” documentary. It would perhaps be going too far to paint him as a social liberal, but he is no conservative either. However, he is naive at best to think that he shares any meaningful common ground with the Christian think tank Maxim Institute, at whose conference on political correctness he was a guest speaker. At worst, he is trying to be all things to all people. He says his “present intention” is to support the bill. Should we be paranoid and take note of that fine print? Can Dr Brash's mind be changed? Like it or not, he is currently the reluctant poster boy for the anti-PC brigade, something which no doubt has United Future leader Peter Dunne crying into his shandy at night. Dr Brash has done more for the “common sense” fraternity than Dunne could ever hope for, and National haven't needed to use taxpayer funds to take out nationwide advertisements denigrating gay relationships as “silliness”. In the last few days, we've had salvos from various ministers, some of whom have spent entire columns attacking the civil union bill. National MP Judith Collins continued a popular line of ignorance which would have the public believe that gays and lesbians already have equality under the law therefore the bill is unnecessary, whilst adding that she has never heard any public clamouring for civil unions. That is probably the key right there – if we want this, we have to let our leaders know. Brash has indeed offered an olive branch to gay and lesbian voters, whether one chooses to observe that cynically or not. If your political inclinations lean in that direction, it may be wise to accept that offer before the spin doctors (or Gerry Brownlee, for that matter) convince Brash that recognising our communities is, like settling Maori grievances, pure “silliness”. Chris Banks - 6th May 2004    
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