Title: GABA ELECTION SPECIAL REPORT Credit: Chris Banks Features Saturday 10th September 2005 - 12:00pm1126310400 Article: 905 Rights
It was an election special at the Gay Auckland Business Association's Fruits in Suits meeting at the Birdcage bar last Wednesday, but as with last year's Auckland City mayoral forum, the candidates present to peddle their wares once again largely ignored the constituency they were speaking to in favour of trotting out their respective generic party lines. Issues pertaining specifically to the GLBT community were left for question time, which followed each of the eight candidates speeches. National's Pansy Wong got off incredibly lightly with no questions or mention of the Exclusive Brethren scandal which was breaking around her. No mention was made either of National's abysmal voting record on the Civil Union Act, nor their support for United Future's bill to ban gay marriage. In a passionate speech about tax cuts, Wong's only apparent nod to her audience was a comment that National's tax cut policy doesn't favour those with children, unlike Labour's. A large rent-a-crowd of National supporters had accompanied her, their presence overwhelmingly obvious by the fact they all stood together in a group, didn't interact with other GABA attendees, and shouted and jeered loudly during the speech from current Auckland Central MP, Labour's Judith Tizard. Tizard struggled through a speech which was drowned out in parts by the Wong cabal, but received a resounding cheer and applause at the end from the rest of the room. asked Tizard at question time whether Labour believed in a “moral backlash”, and whether they were running scared from it in light of recent accusations that the party's rainbow policy for the next term had been watered down. “There is a moral backlash,” she replied. “But what we have clearly signalled is we are making a serious commitment to being a tolerant and inclusive party.” Tizard added that she was very proud of Labour's record on issues for GLBT people. NZ First representative Judith Baragwanath spoke at length about her party's education policy, engaging with the crowd in a manner which suggested she was completely oblivious to the fact her leader Winston Peters has spent the best part of the last two months touring round the country referring to gays and lesbians as “gender benders” and slamming gay marriage. Reminded of this by at question time, Baragwanath responded that she “couldn't speak for other people in her party, but NZ First exercised a conscience vote on the Civil Union Bill, and if I had been in Parliament I would have voted in favour of it.” She added that politics is all about persuasion, and that if elected to Parliament she would do her best to work to change attitudes. With the increasingly bizarre behaviour of his offsider Stephen Franks in appealing directly to Christian voters with promises to discriminate against the GLBT community, ACT leader Rodney Hide found himself whistling even louder to drown out the noise of the ideological war that is now very obviously going on within his party between the liberals and the neo-Christian conservatives. Hide played down the importance of Franks' “Vote ACT because you're Christian” brochure, and accompanying letter to Christians, saying that nothing should be read into it. He had also noticed Franks public grandstanding on behalf of Dunedin Christian activist Madeleine Flannagan, who alleges she was assaulted by Labour minister Pete Hodgson at a recent protest. It appeared that Franks' recent actions were taking place entirely independently of Hide, and without his foreknowledge. Following his speech to the GABA gathering, in which Hide emphasised the role of ACT as the “freedom party”, his first question from the crowd was a man who asked if ACT were truly the freedom party, why did so many of its MPs vote against the Civil Union Act? Hide dodged the question, prompting widespread shouts from the room for him to answer clearly. He didn't. asked Hide if Franks recent appeal to Christian voters, in which he said ACT would repeal the Human Rights Act, was ACT party policy and whether it would be a bottom line for any coalition arrangement with the National Party. Hide replied that it wasn't party policy, but that ACT did not support the Human Rights Act because people should be free to discriminate how they choose. "It is my belief that you don't deal with bigotry by driving it underground," he said. Bronwyn Yates of the Maori Party managed to escape entirely questions about the dubious moral conservative credentials of some in her party, including leader Tariana Turia's voting record on the Civil Union Act and her cosying up to the Family Rights Protection Party, formed out of the Pacific Island communities specifically because of outrage from some quarters over equal rights being extended to same-sex couples. Nandor Tanzcos of the Greens spoke sensibly and rationally about sustainability, only to be asked by a member of the crowd how he manages to wash his hair. Laughs aside, it was an indication of the political apathy that – even with the rise of the anti-gay religious right over the last year – still frighteningly exists. It is hard to imagine this crowd, overall, being less politically motivated if they were being wheeled unconscious into a gas chamber. With just a week to go in the election campaign, perhaps most have made up their minds already. Perhaps they feel so "integrated" into society that they feel no need to attend a political forum specifically put on for a GLBT audience and demand that the MPs present actually discuss issues specifically pertaining to them. Perhaps they'll all sleep in next Saturday and miss going to the polling booth altogether – I don't know. Pass the cheap wine, please, I need another drink. Chris Banks - 10th September 2005    
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