Article Title:John Banks Speaks!
Author or Credit:Doreen Agassiz-Suddens
Published on:17th October 2002 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:53
Text:Doreen Agassiz-Suddens suspects John Banks' interview in express was just used by Auckland's notoriously conservative and anti-gay Mayor a chance to mouth off a few politically expedient platitudes to the gay community. A few years ago I was staying in Windsor in England. By the Windsor railway station was an exhibition that touted the attraction 'Victoria Speaks'. This involved a model of Queen Victoria who would mechanically get up, say a few words to her subjects , then mechanically sit down again. I was reminded of this piece of entertainment when I read the interview with Auckland City's Mayor, John Banks, in the gay and lesbian newspaper 'Express' of 9 October - 22 October 2002, in which Banks spoke to our community. Through speaking to 'Express' Banks has now put his more recent comments about us (and himself) on record where his views can be opened up for scrutiny in the public domain. So, now that we have him on record, what do we make of it?  From the interview the perception was that Banks was implying that much of the anti-homosexual rhetoric credited to him had been uttered by 'another person' who was a junior member of parliament for Whangarei over twenty years ago. A person Banks now distances himself from, and added that he was, 'not an apologist for junior back- bench members of parliament'. Banks seemed to be laying the blame for his past political views at the feet of a lowly back-bencher (himself). I found this excuse to be rather amusing because over the years of his parliamentary career he was more than just a low level back-bencher, he was also a high profile Minister of Police, and of Local Government. He also implied that many of his alleged views may have stemmed from misreporting, or through a misunderstanding of what he had said. He stated in the interview, 'some of the things that I have been reported as saying, and some of the things I did say are quite different'. But we can go to the official record of Parliamentary debate, Hansard, and see some of the things that he actually did say - especially during the debate on the Homosexual Law Reform Bill. In the Second Reading of the Bill in 1985, John Banks said amongst other things, 'this so-called social reform is a threat to the family unit and to democracy as I know it', and added, 'perhaps time will bring some common sense to those members who want to make so-called social reform so quickly that they will do so much damage to the nation', and he continued, 'if the Bill is passed it will have an evil, insidious consequence for future generations of New Zealanders'. He further stated that, 'the Bill will bring down some of the building blocks that are the strength of the nation: a healthy and decent family environment'. During the Third reading of the Bill in 1986 which was to lead to it becoming an Act of Parliament, Banks was again on his feet in the House to voice his opposition. He stated that, 'this day will be remembered as a sad and sickening day for New Zealand. A very black cloud hangs over Parliament tonight, and those members who wheel themselves through the doors of the Ayes lobby to vote for legalised sodomy at the age of 16 should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, particularly as the family unit in New Zealand is under siege'. He also declaimed that, 'I am prepared to say in the House on behalf of most of my constituency that homosexuality is wrong on every occasion'. Today John Banks would like us to believe that he has moved on from the views he espoused in Parliament, and a close reading of the 'Express' interview should give us an insight as to whether this has happened. Should we give Banks the benefit of the doubt, or is he just another wily politician looking after his vote and position? As a person who is the same age as the Mayor I am in agreement with him that when we were younger we thought we knew it all, and age has shown us the truth of the saying, ' the more we know, the less we know'. So yes, people are capable of changing, but by how much, and how deeply, can only be measured by the actions and statements we now manifest. Banks and his views, where gays and lesbians are concerned, are still open for scrutiny. It is impressive that he came from such an impoverished background and emerged as a successful businessperson and politician, and that he has put energy into animal rights. But do we really know him? Perhaps by looking at the role models in his life we can get a better understanding of him.Amongst the list of people he admires are: Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela, and Sir David Beattie. He considers them to be on the 'centre-right of the political spectrum'. They are a strange collection of people. I would consider Thatcher to be more of a hard-right conservative than centre-right, and what is it that he admires about her? Is it her politics, or her personality? Surely not her handbag! It would have been insightful if he had expanded on the reasons for his admiration. As for Sir David Beattie - goodness what did he do to inspire such awe - apart from being yet another conservative Governor General? And how did Nelson Mandela get on to this centre-right list? I am sure it would be a surprise to him to know that Banks admires him so much. As a regular marcher (usually with the cowards and elderly groups) in the anti-apartheid, anti-Spring Bok tour, and free Nelson Mandela days, I do not remember seeing Banks marching with us. I must have missed him hidden under a large crash helmet in the front lines! Banks also seems to have much faith and admiration in the silent majority which is 'always there' for him. What does he mean by the silent majority? My view is that they are the more conservative elements in society who uphold the status quo. I would like to know more about his views on them. And apart from the silent majority, Banks stated that 'overwhelmingly the queer community of Auckland supported me and voted for me'. How did he know that many in the community had voted for him? For it is a different impression from the one that I hold. Also, he said many 'Express' readers (I assume he means gays and lesbians) have come to work for him and understand him more than they did a year ago and are now not frightened by him. He also said that he had gays and lesbians on his campaign team whom, 'enjoy very much their relationship with me'. I am looking forward to some of these people writing a political column for the readers of (with their real names of course!) telling us about the new improved John Banks - I would be very interested to read it. But we have to remember that working for him is not the same as moving your own rights and views forward under the Banks regime.  Banks implied that he had to change his views and be more inclusive when he came to Auckland because he was from a small provincial town with conservative people, with conservative views, (I'm sure some would say redneck). But what about the many years he spent in Wellington as an MP for Whangarei? Why did the diversity of that city not rub off? Yet the diversity of Auckland has become important to him. Could the answer be that there are votes to be won in Auckland? I also find it difficult to accept that Banks sees the Hero parade as being on an equal footing with the Santa parade. Hero is about the understanding and pride of the gay and lesbian community. A community which has been vilified, and treated as second class citizens over the years, and who are now wanting to play a more active role in the city. Hero is also one of the few activities that helps to raise money and awareness of the HIV/AIDS situation in the Auckland area. The parade stands for more than just waving a flag at an elderly gentleman with a candyfloss beard once a year. The Santa parade is for entertainment, Hero is for the respect and social understanding of the gays and lesbians of the city. But Banks seems to analyse both parades by using a financial perspective. The Hero parade and festival, should not be treated as a purely financial transaction by our 'very commercially focused council' and by our 'commercially driven' Mayor. There are times when the council and the Mayor need to be people-focused, and accept that these people will often need financial support! Banks also should take into account that the Santa parade is mainly supported by a large business organisation which would have more expertise in the art of being 'fiscally prudent', whereas Hero is staged, more often than not, on a year to year basis by an ad hoc group of mostly unpaid volunteers. So, after reading the John Banks record of views in Express, is there evidence that he has truly changed to become more accepting of us as a community? On the whole the answers he gave in the interview were very politically honed to give the appearance of a new inclusive John Banks. I think one of the ways we can judge if the Banks mayoralty and council are supportive and inclusive of us is if we look behind the scenes to see how much funding is being given to other gay and lesbian projects - leaving aside the Hero situation. Are the local Community Boards giving their discretionary project money to places such as Gayline and the Pride Centre as some had done under the Christine Fletcher regime, or have these funds now gone to more traditional and conservative groups within society. And what of any other funding available through the Council? Has Banks now become a friend to the gay and lesbian community, or do we still need to treat his pronouncements with caution? Hopefully we will find out before the next mayoral election! Doreen Agassiz-Suddens - 17th October 2002    
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