Article Title:How gay-friendly is our new Parliament?
Category:Comment
Author or Credit:Doreen Agassiz-Suddens
Published on:9th August 2002 - 12:00 pm
Published by:GayNZ.com
Story ID:39
Text:While all attention is on the conservatives in Labour's new partner party, United Future, politics columnist Doreen Agasiz-Suddens casts looks further afield, at the MPs who make up the newly-reconstituted Parliament. As the dust starts to settle on the final format of government and parliament overall we can take note of what we already know and what might happen in the future. The Labour government's position would have been stronger, and more clear cut, if they had received a majority of the seats so that they could govern alone. This was not to be, and this insecurity has been compounded by Labour's natural coalition partner Jim Anderton's Progressive Coalition only returning two MPs, much lower than expected. The PC party are supportive of gay and lesbian issues, as evidenced by 'out' gay candidate Trevor Barnard standing in the Mt. Roskill electorate for them. People turning to smaller parties and a low voter turn out has exacerbated the situation. So, what does this mean for us in the gay and lesbian community at present? Will parliament be more gay friendly? As far as candidates go we still have the same three MPs that we had before the election - Labour's Chris Carter, Georgina Beyer, and Tim Barnett. We did not lose, but we did not win. This election saw many more 'out' candidates standing for a variety of parties, which I think made all of us in the community feel heartened. But unfortunately most were too far down their parties lists to have been propelled into parliament. Maybe next time gay and lesbian candidates should insist that they have a placement within the top five, and then they could be sure of having more success. I would have thought the Greens who profess diversity would have had a gay or lesbian MP by now. But they still do not have an openly queer candidate high enough on their list to make it into power - why is this? The Greens could also be responsible for forcing Labour into seeking support from the 'family values' United Future Party to remain in power. After the Progressive Coalition Party Labour's next logical ally would be the Greens, and yes there would be issues that both parties can work well together on, but the threat by the Greens of bringing the government down over GE would only lead to insecurity and tension within parliament. A modern progressive government on many other issues, including gay and lesbian issues, could be brought to collapse by the inflexibility of the Greens over one issue. This inflexibility of the Greens, and Labour's desire to save the government, could force Labour to form a closer relationship with United Future. If the conservatives of United Future have power it will have been given to them by the intransigence of the Greens. And as most of us know the United Future Party is full of unknown family values Christians, which is not good for us in the gay and lesbian community. Although my perception is that Peter Dunn may not be as hard line on Christian family values as the rest of his party's MPs seem to be. So, because of the influence United Future may have in parliament, especially when coupled with the MPs of the also conservative New Zealand First party, and the rabid law and order members of ACT and National, we need more than ever to strengthen the Rainbow sectors within all political parties. This strengthening would be especially important within the Labour Party, for they could have more influence on the government through the Rainbow MPs. Also with a stronger sector they could be more vocal during policy formation and alert policy makers to the effects they will have on gays and lesbians. This could happen in the same way that policy is looked at from the women's sector perspective and the ways that the policies will impact on women. How will National fit into this new parliament now that they are just one amongst five non-governmental parties? The saddest thing I think for the gay and lesbian community was that Belinda Vernon was not returned to parliament. She was a hardworking, honest, MP who could work on important issues across party lines. So who can we turn to now in the National Party for support, and an understanding of a gay perspective. The only name that comes to my mind is Katherine Rich, who although she is straight is sensitive and understanding over our issues. But the problem about Rich is that she will not know if she will remain as a List MP until all of the special votes have been counted. Official election results will not be known until 10 August. I learnt of Rich's views on homosexual issues when I interviewed her for my MA thesis on the Pink Vote. Belinda Vernon, whom I also interviewed, arranged for me to talk to Rich as she had been helping Vernon on gay and lesbian issues. Rich stated then that she found it difficult to argue about why a person in a same-sex relationship should not have the same property, adoption, or marriage rights that she has as a heterosexual. Will we see in the future a National MP declare their homosexuality in the same way that Conservative MP Alan Duncan did in Britain recently? It was stated in the 'The Scotsman' newspaperthat Duncan's 'coming out' was 'a move aimed at driving home the party's new tolerant image'. He said that he 'outed' himself because: "Living in disguise as a politician in the modern world simply isn't an option". He has been supported by his Party's leader Iain Duncan Smith. The Conservatives in Britain are in a low polling position similar to what National is now. They have been trying to modernise their party by 'ditching its traditional male, heterosexual image for a more tolerant and open approach'. It is interesting that the Conservatives view homosexuality as a way to modernise their party, and as a vote catcher. If only all parties would think in such progressive terms - especially the New Zealand National Party. We need to keep gay and lesbian voices heard by strengthening our presence in our respective parties. We also need to keep in mind that homosexuality transcends political ideology. When one is threatened then all of us are threatened. In the end our ideology will not save us by our unity will. Doreen Agassiz-Suddens - 9th August 2002    
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