Title: Editorial: Divisive Don dogwhistles the "mainstream" Credit: Chris Banks Features Friday 16th September 2005 - 12:00pm1126828800 Article: 910 Rights
National leader Don Brash has spent the last 24 hours of his election campaign once again making veiled references to "mainstream New Zealanders", insisting that Helen Clark and her government are not part of it. "If they were, then you wouldn't have seen the political correctness we've seen for the last six years," he told TV3 News tonight. Brash's transformation from social liberal to flip-flopper over the last year has been extraordinary. Looking back to the interview he gave in April 2004 not long after taking up the leadership of the National Party is quite fascinating in light of his more recent public statements. The last time Brash played the “mainstream” card it got him into a lot of trouble. Confronted by Morning Report host Sean Plunket, Brash made the faux pas of saying that gays and lesbians weren't part of the mainstream. He then had to backtrack, returning to the “dog whistle” technique of veiled references to political correctness. Brash didn't define exactly what this political correctness was, which is hardly a surprise. He didn't know what it was when he took over the leadership either, when we asked him to define it. “I'm not sure, frankly,” he said. “I contest to being a little ambivalent on this in that I can understand some of the concerns of people who have promoted a PC agenda... it's become a term of abuse in a sense. I was asked by one of the newspapers to write a piece on political correctness and I actually declined because I'm not quite sure what it does mean. It means different things to different people.” And then there's the business with the Exclusive Brethren. First Brash knew nothing about the secretive religious cult's $500,000 anti-government leaflet drop, then he admitted he did, and that he'd met with them several times in the past year. Coincidentally, one of these meetings occurred just before Brash's surprise turnaround in support for the Civil Union Act. “I think we are substantially a secular society, but whether we're secular or religious there's a lot to be said for separating church and state,” Brash told us in April 2004. “I think that's one of our fundamental values. And in that situation, there's quite a lot to be said in having a means by which two people can contract to each other outside of that context.” Unless, of course, you have half a million dollars worth of support coming from an anti-gay religious sect. What was the quid pro quo? Why did the Brethren leaflets mention nothing about the “moral values” they hold so dear, choosing instead to stick to National's core campaign messages? Where was the trade-off? Until the revelation of the Brethren involvement in the anti-government leaflet drop, no-one could understand Brash's fundamental reversal in support for the civil rights of gays and lesbians. “I would be very concerned indeed if gay and lesbian people thought that they were unwelcome in National,” he told us in April 2004. “I can say I support the ideal of having children raised in a two-parent family because I think that is the optimal situation, but it doesn't make me the least bit embarrassed about being pro-gay or pro-lesbian.” After Brash's civil union vote flip-flop, everything changed, even the attitude of his parliamentary office in answering questions from When Brash first took over the leadership, we were treated amiably and with the courtesy any other media outlet would be afforded. After the civil union flip-flop, Brash's press secretary became rude, abrasive, patronising and dismissive. With many of the minor parties vowing to repeal or at least hold a referendum on the Civil Union Act after the election, this week decided to seek some clarity on where a National-led government would stand on the civil rights of gays and lesbians after this election. The ambiguous answers and side-steps given us were disturbing to say the least. It looked bad from the start, when Brash's office didn't even want to talk to us on the phone, asking us to send them an email. Our questions were answered, not by Brash – the man who will be responsible for making the decisions that affect our future – but by family spokesperson Judith Collins. Our questions were: (a) Will National will be making any amendments to the Civil Union Act if it forms the next government, and if so, what will these be; (b) Will National hold a referendum on the repeal and/or amendment of the Civil Union Act; (c) Will National will amend the Marriage Act to exclude same-sex couples specifically; and (d) Will National agree to any of the above options if a minor party coalition partner requires it? Collins answered, via email: “The Civil Union Act was a conscience vote for National MPs not a party issue. National has no plan to change the legislation. We are focused on the important issues this election.” We reminded Collins that as a news website focussing on issues pertaining specifically to the glbt community, that issues surrounding the civil rights of same-sex couples were important issues for our readers. We also noted that she had failed to answer any of our questions. She replied: “The answer is the same for each of the questions. A conscience vote is a conscience vote.” Most alarmingly, in response to the question about demands from coalition partners, she answered: “Any coalition talk is premature and will be addressed after the Election.” National had already lent its support to United Future MP Larry Baldock's Marriage (Gender Clarification) Bill earlier this year. The Bill would have permanently barred same-sex couples from the Marriage Act and would have altered the Bill of Rights to allow the government to “promote” heterosexual marriage. While National had always fallen back on their decision to hold a conscience vote on the Civil Union Act in order to avoid being questioned about it, they decided to hold a party vote on Baldock's bill – something which could again be on the cards after the election. And so Brash has returned in the campaign's final hours, with his party running neck-and-neck with incumbent Labour, to dog-whistling those “mainstream” New Zealanders tired of “political correctness” and “social engineering”. The definition remains unspoken, in order to avoid frightening off the naive liberals, but we all know who his audience pictures when those magical phrases are spoken. In retrospect, the writing was always on the wall. In April 2004 we wondered whether Don Brash was trying to be all things to all people. By pandering to the bigots with his veiled references, while telling the glbt community and its supporters that he doesn't really mean we're not mainstream (sort of), he gets to have his cake and eat it too. “National wants every vote they can get, frankly,” he told us then. Why should gay and lesbian voters trust National, we asked him. “I could turn that around and say why should you not trust National?” was the reply. I think we now have our answers – in spades. See you at the polling booth. Chris Banks - 16th September 2005    
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