This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity
Georgina Beyer: Right, my name is Georgina Beyer, and in the mid to late 1970s through to the early 1980s prostitution was part of how I earnt my income, amongst other things. Prostitution in those days was a dangerous game, mainly practiced of course by women working out of massage parlors, as they were called. There weren’t very many girls that plied their trade on the street. That was normally the preserve of the drag queen scene, the streetwalker scene. Occasionally there were some straight girls that would be around there, and of course the ship girls, and that could either be straight girls or queens, actually, who would also service the carnal needs of sailors in on shipping and fishing vessels, Merchant Navy vessels and stuff like that that would come into the port in Wellington at the time.
It was a hard and dangerous and pretty unsavory kind of vocation to be involved with at that time, always open to a lot of abuse. The onus was always on the sex worker, there was never any culpability on the behalf of the client. A lot of abuse; a lot of exploitation; a lot of criminal elements who would – pimping, I’m talking about, particularly for girls who were under duress as far as that was concerned.
And money was okay, I suppose, but yeah, it was exploitative and somebody, especially from within parlors and things like that, would be there to clock the ticket so to speak, from the clients that you had.
There was no protection, certainly not when it came to condoms or anything like that. This was pre the advent of HIV and AIDS I suppose. And like I say, there was a lot of abuse that could go on: the clients on sex workers, sex workers amongst each other, their pimps and their minders, and a lot of exploitation in that regard, and there was nowhere you could go to get any kind of support or justice or whatever because it was, of course, considered morally corrupt and it was illegal.
Prostitution per se was not illegal, but soliciting was. So you could, say at a parlor, be found with extraordinary amounts, especially into the ‘80s and ‘90s even, with great supplies of condoms, and suggestions that there might be more than just massage going on in a massage parlor, and that sometimes could be an excuse for the police to arrest you and take you away and process you for those sorts of things. So it was very unfair.
Gareth Watkins: And then fast forward to the early 2000s and you find yourself in Parliament and this bill comes before Parliament which is The Prostitution Reform Bill.
Georgina: Mm-hm. The Prostitution Reform Act, as it is now, but bill as it was then, was a members’ bill promoted by Tim Barnett, who was a Labor MP in the then Helen Clark Labor led government, and so it was a private members’ bill, not a government bill.
And essentially it was seeking to address the injustices that exist within the sex industry for the sex workers. It was also a huge health and safety issue because, you know, the oldest profession in the world, STIs, STDs, HIV, all of those kinds of things were very prominent as far as being health issues.
Occupational health and safety was a major force behind it, and also the bill promulgated the idea that instead of being punitive, which is where you would think people would mainly go, that we should perhaps look at it differently to address the issue and provide fairness and equity and some rights for the sex-working industry. And that, I guess in sort of a nutshell, is what the Prostitution Reform Act was about.
Of course it was hugely controversial. You know, the mainly conservative New Zealander was not ready to be confronted with this kind of liberalization, decriminalization of sex work, but it was really a matter of the public looking in the mirror and saying, well it’s been brushed under the carpet, essentially, in a legal sense for so long it hasn’t addressed the issues of abuse, the issues of health and safety within the sector for anyone who comes in contact with or accesses the services of that industry, and it’s as important for the clients as it is for the sex worker that it be a safe, functioning environment.
And I have to say that at that time we had no... New Zealand had no facts and figures that were reliable on how this industry worked, or of being able to monitor how it was working, and that people’s needs and things were sort of being properly and more formally addressed – so that was part of the reasons for it.
So, the bill was introduced and drawn from the ballot, which is always a bit of a lottery in Parliament, and it came up for its first reading, gosh, what year? 2000, 2001? I can’t quite remember when it came up for its first reading.
And of course by this time I’d been elected into Parliament in 1999, and when I got up to make my first reading speech on the prostitution bill.... And obviously Tim had said, oh, it’s going to be great having me around to support the bill, and I on the face of it did support its intentions. And when I read my first reading speech I can remember saying, “Mr Speaker, I guess I’m the only member in this House that’s ever worked in the sex industry.” Nobody denied that and I was able to speak from a position of experience about it, and that we could right the wrongs here; that really we needed to address this issue in a sensible and intelligent way as a country and albeit that it’ll be difficult and people will be going (gasps), taking huge gulps of, you know, good God, what are we doing here? kind of thing. But, you know, it’s not turned out to be as horrible and as bad. There are some elements of it now that need to be addressed again.
Gareth: At that time were there any other countries in the world that had either decriminalized sex work or legalized it?
Georgina: I don’t think legalized it so much. One or two of the Scandinavian countries I think had a slightly more liberal outlook on it but there were still some punitive effects of it.
But to criminalize someone for being a sex worker, and for clients to have gotten off scot-free was just sort of really quite intolerable when it came to the law because it does take two consenting adults in this financial transaction that occurs regarding sex, and that’s essentially what it was.
The difficulty is that a lot of transmittable sexual diseases can occur, and the kind of clientele that accesses the services of sex workers are not your plastic mac brigade, they are ordinary men and women who, so the husband might have a flirtation somewhere overseas or with a New Zealander or whatever, could pass on anything unwittingly to a spouse or a partner. And with HIV being particularly highlighted as something where safe sex was the message we were putting out, well, you know, how can you guarantee that you’re going to get safe sex if you’re accessing the sexual services of a prostitute and no health matters are being considered, i.e., wearing condoms, et cetera, or having non-penetrative sex or whatever it might be. That just is one aspect of it.
So no, there weren’t any other countries around the world at the time that were looking at approaching the issue of prostitution the way that this bill was going to address it.
Gareth: What was the debate like in Parliament?
Georgina: Oh, it was venal. It was difficult, and not just in Parliament but I mean throughout the country. It was sensational around the country and hugely divisive and an extraordinary amount of work and lobbying and debate and discussion occurred. I think the campaigners for prostitution reform, Catherine Healy of what became the Prostitutes’ Collective, other women’s’ organizations, even the National Council of Women if I remember rightly, were supportive of it. Some of them wanted to have caveats around it, but it was just about really a matter of all or nothing, you know; you can’t just sort of cherry pick pieces off it.
And I think eventually the public, because we’d actually been through – the country and the world, I guess, had been through – very, very comprehensive debates around things like HIV and AIDS and finally getting that right. It was not a gay disease, you know. I mean, there were so many people around who were preferring that it just belonged to them and it would never affect us; it’s not true of course. But I think because in the New Zealand context we had been able to get through those debates and handle it very well, actually, at the end of the day, when it came to addressing these kinds of issues we were probably a little more prepared for a robust debate, no doubt, over something like prostitution reform where common sense, at the end of the day, I think won out.
It was politically a nightmare, I think, to try and pull – for Tim particularly – to try and pull together enough support because it was going to be a conscience vote, not a Party vote, in the Parliament; so, each individual MP will make up his or her mind as to whether or not they would vote in favor of it. And so that required a huge amount of lobbying and coercing, I suppose for want of a better term, from Tim and his team to persuade other members of Parliament to not make such a political decision, because it’s easy....
You know, every electorate was probably around saying don’t you vote in favor of that bill! And, so, many MPs put their political lives on the line, I think, in voting in favor of it. I was one of them of course. I was an MP for a rural conservative electorate and they sure as hell didn’t want me to be supporting prostitution reform, and so I took the political risk to vote with my conscience, not for what was politically expedient for me at the time. And that’s not the only bill I voted like that on, I must admit.
But it passed its first reading; I can’t remember what the ratio of votes was, but it was probably very slim. But it passed its first reading, which is probably the easiest thing for an MP to agree to be able to do that, because if you get it to a Select Committee then you get the whole public debate feeding into the Select Committee process, and that’s democracy working. And so that was good that we got it over that hurdle into the Select Committee.
The Select Committee process went on for a long time. I did not sit on the Select Committee so I wasn’t really present for... I think I might have sat in once or twice to fill in for another MP on that committee to hear submissions. Again, it was robust, difficult debate that occurred. The Select Committee process came to a conclusion. The committee reported back to the House. It came up for its second reading.
In that period of time a think tank called The Maxim Institute in Auckland had recruited – and they’re a conservative think tank with a bit of a religious conviction about them – they had recruited a doctor from the United States, a Doctor Melissa Farley, to come over to New Zealand and conduct some research into the sex industry in New Zealand. She only had a very short period of time to do it. And she had done some work and come up with some very suspect calculations and analysis, because like I have mentioned before, there was very little factual data on how the sex industry was operating in New Zealand anyhow.
And anyhow, so Dr Melissa Farley lobbied Parliament of course, lobbied all the MPs around Parliament, and she went on a bit of a crusade. And she did come and talk to me at one point and put up some quite compelling arguments and debate which gave me pause to think about my support for the bill. And we were coming up to the second reading debate in the House and she had just timed it, I mean in the same week I think she had come up, and I was angsting over it. And I can’t remember the details of what she told me but she’d thrown some figures in my face and I was sort of taken aback by them, and she a reputable doctor and so on and so forth, and so I took her at her word, et cetera of it.
And the word was getting out that I was starting to waver on my support for the second reading, and Tim was very concerned and so was Catherine Healy, and various others were very concerned that I might not vote, that I would vote down the second reading, and if that happened then what message would that send not only to the rest of the politicians in the House but to all the anti prostitution-reform people out there? It would be a huge victory for them.
Peter Dunne’s United Future Party had quite a number of MPs in Parliament at that time: Larry Baldock, Murray Smith and various others, but I just remember them particularly because they sat next to me in Parliament. And the word, the scuttlebutt was going about the Parliament that Georgina Beyer might be voting down the second reading, and I remember United Future got very excited because they were dead-against the bill and were getting very excited, and they all rushed to the chamber when it came for second reading, were waiting with bated breath for my speech to torpedo the entire bill by getting up and saying I wouldn’t vote in favor of it.
But, because Tim and Catherine and them had heard that I was being persuaded by Dr Melissa Farley that perhaps I shouldn’t support the second reading of the bill, they got a person to come and visit me who had agreed to be part of Melissa Farley’s research team when she got to New Zealand. And that person had spent not much more than a day or two working with her before she decided that this woman had no idea what she was doing, and that what she was doing was skewing and quite inaccurate on what it was she was getting together, and stopped doing the work. So they sent this person, whose name escapes me, to visit me and just tell me what her experience was with Melissa Farley while she went around doing her very quick research on prostitution in New Zealand, and that indeed she had been very misleading in some of the figures that she’d come out with.
So I get up to do my speech on the second reading and I started out sounding very grim and dour, and that I don’t know whether it was... and eventually I sort of turned around and much to the shock horror of United Future, in particular, I absolutely slammed – and in fact if I hadn’t had the protection of Parliament, i.e., in the chamber, saying what I said could have been considered to have been defaming Melissa Farley. And of course I voted in favor of the second reading. It had its second reading and went through the committee stage.
Without going through all the boring process of how Parliament works, but that bill came in – I think you may need to correct this – but I’m sure it was either... its first reading happened in either 2000 or 2001, but it didn’t pass into law until 2003, and so it transcended an election. We had an election again in 2002, and prostitution reform didn’t get its third and final reading until after that.
At its third and final reading, oh God, the atmosphere in Parliament was absolutely electric. The chamber was packed to capacity, upstairs in the gallery and everything. And it was absolutely... we had no idea if it was going to pass. The Parliament was utterly divided on it. You just couldn’t tell where it was going to go. And we get down to the final....
A third reading of a bill in Parliament usually consists of 12 ten-minute speeches, so any 12 people can speak. And I had not intended to speak in that reading, but Tim came to me and said: You’ve got to get up and speak. And I said, well I can’t, the slots have already been allocated. And he said no, someone’s prepared to share five minutes of their time, you know, forfeit five minutes of their time so that you can at least give a five-minute speech. So I was unprepared. I hadn’t prepared for a speech or anything like that, but I agreed and suddenly was very nervous.
I can remember another transgender figure, an Auckland figure, Mama Tere Strickland, who’s passed away now, sadly, and Mama Tere had also been recruited by the Maxim Institute in Auckland, and she was against prostitution reform. And she was sort of put up, in my view, to counter me, in Parliament, who was for it. And I can remember Mama Tere sitting in the chamber that day sort of directly opposite, upstairs in the gallery, from where I was sitting, looking at me with daggers and all of that sort of thing. I was shocked that she was against prostitution reform because she was a former sex worker herself and she worked amongst the sex industry, in South Auckland in particular, up in Auckland. And so I was shocked that she was not in favor of it and couldn’t see the merits of what we were trying to do with this bill.
My five minute speech came along and I had no idea what I was going to say, and I got up and I just asked the rhetorical question allowed, and I said, “Why do I support this bill?” and I just went off into this probably three-and-a-half minutes of the most fabulous Parliamentary theatre that you’ve seen: I support this bill for all the prostitutes who I’ve ever known who were dead before the age of 20. I support this bill because I cannot stand looking at the hypocrisy of a country that cannot look itself in the bloody eye; and on and on and on I went in this powerful, considered, straight from the heart. When I finished my speech and I sat down there was this absolute silence in the chamber. You could have heard a pin drop as everyone sort of took a breath, and then this thunderous ovation, absolutely thunderous ovation. Most people in the gallery rose to their feet. It was the most incredible sort of ovation that a girl’s ever had, you know, in that sort of sense, and it was quite remarkable.
But there were a few more speeches to go. Mine was just one of them. Long story short, my speech and the speech by a Pacific Island woman MP, Winnie Laban – now Winnie of course, and she ended up voting for and she put up a very good argument in her third and final reading speech – my speech and Winnie’s speech changed the minds of two, possibly three MPs sitting in the chamber that day, that particular moment, and changed their minds to vote in favor of it. And with that support, and with one abstention from Ashraf Choudhary, one abstention, the Prostitution Reform Act passed on an abstention. You couldn’t get any more slimmer than that. So, it was victory for the Prostitution Reform Act and it passed into law.
Well, you know, of course the world was going to fall in. God, this is the end! You know, we’ll become the sex capitol of the world, and da, da, da. Well of course we’re 10 years down the track and nothing of the sort has happened.
One of the areas of prostitution reform that unfortunately we did a once-over lightly during the select committee process and did not address at all well is the matter of street prostitution, which has still been a major issue particularly for Hunters Corner in South Auckland, and until the earthquakes also a difficult issue for Manchester Street in Christchurch. But I think there needs to be some amendment around that and I think the sex industry sector has had ample time to tidy that up and meet society halfway about the street prostitution thing.
And because they haven’t been able to clean it up I think it’s disgusting and disgraceful the way the street workers are behaving in South Auckland. It’s not necessary to be like that in these more liberal and safer times, so it is a choice that they have had that gets just a bit antisocial. Well, you know, you either use the liberalization and the generosity it has given to that industry or you lose it, and if they don’t watch out it’ll become more punitive.
I mean, part of what the Prostitution Reform Act has done has empowered local authorities to designate where sex work can occur – not that it can’t, which is what many local authorities wanted, to just ban it completely. Wake up! In the real world it does not go away simply because you say so. They don’t call it the oldest profession in the world for nothing, so better that you have a grip on it, that there is some regulation around it, and that you are able to monitor it and ensure that people who are either working in the industry or access its services are getting fair and, you know, justice as it comes to pass. But I think....
Oh, and the rest of the world finds if they ever come across these debates in their own countries, often now look toward the New Zealand legislation. It was world leading at the time, scary, and I think we’ve proven in our country that it has not turned out to be the horror that people, that the naysayers to it, thought that it was going to be.
Now, we are some islands down at the bottom of the world; geographically our situation is different to that of somewhere like Europe. I think even Sweden’s gone more punitive as opposed to more liberal on prostitution reform in their country. I remember going to Copenhagen to speak at a university conference – I was asked to go and talk about our experience with prostitution reform – and was quite surprised to hear that somewhere like Sweden was going to criminalize clients as opposed to becoming more liberal about it. But the situation in something like Europe is different; they’ve got the Economic Union and the euro and all of that, and they’ve got borders that people can easily cross so the matter of sex trafficking and all of that sort of thing is a very major issue.
It’s not quite so... I mean, I think we made some amendments to our Immigration Act here that just doesn’t allow people to flood in just because you can go and be a sex worker in New Zealand and it’s okay. There’d be many of the naysayers out there who’d say: That’s exactly what’s happened. Just look at Auckland and look at all the Asian prostitutes and things up there like that. No, people fulfill... you cannot get residency and everything here just because you want to be a sex worker; sorry, it doesn’t work like that. We did put measures around that in the Immigration Act through amendments so that you can’t come to New Zealand just like that. I think we’ve got a working population in New Zealand of around 6,000, perhaps, who are in the sex industry. And the sex industry is more than just prostitution of course.
And as distasteful as it may be to many people I think that the way New Zealand has handled sex work and prostitution is an intelligent and common-sense approach, which is not being ignored by archaic laws of the past, that there is protection there for all involved, and that with liberalization comes a huge amount of responsibility, too. And so yeah, there it is. You know, a lot of people still ask me now do you still stand by your support for prostitution reform? And my answer is yes, of course I do. I’d be a bit of a bloody hypocrite if I turned around now and said oh, no, I don’t think I should have supported that. Of course I do.
You know, I hated prostitution myself, I hated working in it. You know, I don’t like it, but for myself and some of the experiences that I had as a prostitute I hope that people who work in the sex industry these days never have to endure what I and many of my generation and those who’ve gone before us had to endure, with nowhere to go for help or safety.
Gareth: Within the space of a year or so we also had the Civil Union bill come in, and I know it’s a bit of a long jump to go from prostitution to civil union, but I mean that was another... [interrupted]
Georgina: It’s not such a long jump because we dealt with... that particular government dealt with two....
Well actually, again, civil union became a government bill but it started out as Tim Barnett’s members’ bill. And it wasn’t that it necessarily had to be civil union, it’s just that when we debated around what to go for, as opposed to marriage, et cetera, and amending the Marriage Act and so on and so forth; we did have that debate during civil union, and all of that. But a lot of people would sort of say, ah, social engineering, and whether it be prostitution reform and then what became civil unions there were both venal and divisive debates that occurred at the time.
And I don’t think that the gay community in New Zealand, and certainly the gay-friendly community in New Zealand, ever thought that we would see the kind of debate again that we had endured through Homosexual Law Reform in the 1980s, but sure enough our detractors of the day had just crept away somewhere and they came out full force when civil union came along. People wanted to play real politics with the civil union thing, and of course it had the emergence of outfits like the Destiny Church and Brian Tamaki and all the Christian conservative right-wing fundamentalists who found a platform by which they could jump on. And to further liberalize already somewhat liberalized gay related matters was just beyond the pale for them, so they were pushing and talking about family values and, look, this country’s going down the tubes, we’ve got prostitution reform and now they want the gays to be able to get married and have civil unions. It was a very venal debate at the time.
I can remember during civil unions right from the get go, from its first reading onwards, every day during the debate on civil unions a little group of Exclusive Brethren would come and sit in the gallery at Parliament and they would go in rotas, you know, so you’d have four or five or a few of them, half a dozen of them sitting up in the gallery, just sitting there, passively sitting there, by their presence and the way they dress you knew that they were Exclusive Brethren, and it was just their passive protest, I guess.
This is a church organization that apparently doesn’t get involved in politics, but felt so emboldened that they must get involved this time around, and who was to know what they were going to do in 2005. (laughs) But that got found out by the Greens.
But anyhow, there they were and every day they came into the chamber, you know, for the afternoon sessions and the evening sessions of Parliament, and I’d sometimes walk into the chamber to go and do my lag in the House or whatever, and I’d see them up there and just to sort of piss them off, really, I’d just wave at them. (cheery voice) Hi! I’m here! And on some occasions I’d actually go up into the gallery and sit down and welcome them into Parliament – Oh, hello! Nice to have you here. I hope you’re enjoying the debate. It’s getting a bit boring isn’t it? And they’d just about recoil in horror that I was within their body space. You know, that was sort of the feeling that I got sometimes. But yes, every day they would turn up until the bill passed.
I can remember when the Civil Union bill had its third reading and again the chamber was absolutely packed to capacity, and when the final vote came – again it was a conscience vote of the Parliament – I cannot remember, I think it might have passed...it was a slim, maybe no more than 10 votes maybe, you’d need to go back and check the facts on that, but it was a slim passage for Civil Union on a conscience vote. And when it passed I can remember when the results of the vote were announced in the chamber, the chamber erupted and everyone up in the gallery who were supporters of the bill all flew to their feet, and suddenly there were these little patches of a couple of people who were against the bill and they suddenly felt completely overwhelmed by the amount of people in the chamber that day that were in favor of it. It was another great moment and another great move forward for common sense, really.
You know, yes, in the gay community obviously we’re now in the midst of the debate over the marriage-equality legislation that Louisa Wall has got before Parliament at the moment, and I know that there’s been... obviously you’ve had the Bob McCoskries and others, Garth McVicar and people like that, who’ve spoken out against marriage equality, but I do not sense the same degree of moral outrage throughout the country over marriage equality as there was over civil union.
Although even in the gay community there’s a preference for marriage rather than civil union, if we had not had civil union it wouldn’t have provided the leverage that marriage equality is just going to – it’s going to be a doddle, I’m sure it’s going to pass very easily in comparison to civil unions, in comparison the Homosexual Law Reform, so incrementally over time these things change.
But I do give you this warning: In some respects law is easy to change. Attitude takes generations, and that complacency can never be allowed to pervade once you think that you’ve got something like that. It only takes a change of government and a vote by a simple majority to repeal these things, so don’t think that once these things pass that they’re just there forever. Don’t get complacent about that. Attitude: well I congratulate New Zealand for their attitude regarding marriage and civil unions and such things as being something not to be afraid of anymore, that the fabric of society is not going to unravel as some would want you to believe, simply because you provide equality for all its citizens, not exclusivity for some of its citizens.
Gareth: Did you ever sit on any of the select committee hearings for the Civil Union?
Georgina: One. I sat once down in Christchurch. I filled in for a... because the Justice and Electoral Select Committee I think saw the Civil Union bill through, and it so happened that Tim Barnett chaired the Justice and Electoral Select Committee, as well as he was the Senior Government Whip, I think, at the time, too. He was a whip at least, anyhow.
And I went to Christchurch one day to fill in for select committee hearings down there. I was barely at the table five minutes before I was spitting outrage at some submitter who’d come forth who spewed out this absolute venal tirade. He was absolutely horrified to be sitting and having to submit to the likes of me, and have Tim Barnett sitting at the head of the table. He just thought it was outrageous. And just some of the horrible, horrible things; I had to leave the room because I would have disgraced myself by just going right off, and that would be most unseemly for a member of Parliament to do that. But I was, you know, deeply offended by this man, and he was deadly serious. He was almost shaking with rage that people like me, particularly, and Tim were even in our Parliament, were even allowed to be. You know, this was the kind of... and I thought, oh, I thought all that sort of stuff was gone, but it wasn’t.
And if there’s one thing I’ll say in their defense is that I will defend their right to... even Brian Tamaki and Destiny Church and that horrible Enough is Enough march that they had through Wellington.... You know, that march... that man had no idea what effect that that particular protest that Destiny Church had in Wellington where 8,000 of them turned up to Parliament to protest against civil unions and uphold family values. And they held this sort of evangelical meeting out in front of Parliament where I stood there for hours protesting with my rainbow flag, standing on the steps of Parliament.
And it felt like you were at a Nuremberg rally, that sort of felt like all the fist punching in the air, the black uniform thing that they were wearing and all of this kind of stuff.
It was horrible, and I actually think instead of helping their cause he and the Destiny Church helped our cause because when the public saw that they were offended by the way he presented himself, not what he was debating. I didn’t agree with what he was debating, I would defend his right to say it and to do it and to protest – we live in a goddamned democracy. But the way they presented themselves, not only to Parliament but, obviously through media, to the nation, the nation was not impressed with that and they did not like the imagery that he presented that day.
I had people in Lambton Quay in offices who were emailing my office as they watched the march go through town, who were absolutely outraged and insulted and offended at what they were seeing, and they were in disbelief. And they were emailing in their support. I heard of people who were brought to tears on the street when they saw this imagery: Men and boys marching in Roman formation down Lambton Quay and down toward Parliament, punching the air like, you know, doing Nazi salutes – that’s what it sort of looked like, that’s not what they were meaning, even if it was black-power salutes – and this, “Enough is enough! Enough is enough!” That was a pretty powerful day.
And when I compare that protest and the imagery it portrayed and its intention, and I compare that to the hikoi over the Foreshore and Seabed, which was probably the largest protest that’s ever gone to Parliament: angry but awesome and dignified, and that was palpable, that was the hikoi for the Foreshore and Seabed. I give points to the hikoi for Foreshore and Seabed over and above what Brian Tamaki and Destiny Church were trying to present over civil unions.
And again, the world did not fall in because we passed civil unions, and indeed if anything it’s probably sadly embarrassing that not that many people really, in the scheme of things, have used the legislation for civil unions. I mean, maybe a couple thousand at most, fifteen hundred maybe have used it. And civil unions of course was not exclusive, it is inclusive, it was for anybody who wanted to have their partnership solemnized in that respect.
And let’s remember that marriage, at the end of the day, is a civil action, it is a marriage license – that is civil. But the gay community and others want to go for marriage equality, and that’s fine, I can respect that but I’m also perfectly comfortable with civil union. I think getting pernickety is up to each individual person how they feel about that.
I don’t have a huge amount of respect for the institution of marriage in itself, and why do I think that the churches should win out because it’s the connotation that marriage has. Of course marriage is not about the church. The church part of marriage is an add-on. It’s a ceremonial thing. It is to acknowledge that religious side of things if that’s your persuasion, but marriage technically, legally and every other way at the end of the day is a certificate of registration that you are married, and that it’s a legal solemnization thing, and that’s a civil matter – civil union.
Gareth: During both the Civil Unions and also the Prostitution Reform how were your Labor colleagues? I mean, was it a supportive caucus?
Georgina: No. No, not by any means. The leader supported them of course, so that was helpful – Helen Clark. But no, there were elements of Labor, most of whom you just need to go back and look at how people voted in the Parliament over that to find out. But there are a few names that I can think of who were against it: John Tamihere, Clayton Cosgrove, Dover Samuels, Ross Robertson, who else? oh yeah, probably a few others but those are a few that just come off the top of my head at the moment.
Gareth: And on a personal level how did you deal with that?
Georgina: Well, you’ve got to respect that these matters of conscience, it is their conscience they’ve got to vote on. Obviously some MPs made a political decision because, you know, whenever you hear an MP on a conscience vote say, “I must go and canvas my electorate first and find out what the feedback is and what they think,” fair enough, that’s fine. But at the end of the day should you actually be swayed simply because you think, well if I don’t do what they want me to I might be out of my seat at the next election? And that, I’m sorry, is the cold, hard reality of it for many MPs.
And there are some of them that, nope, couldn’t care less about it. The piece of legislation may not be that important to them, they’re going to go with their electorate and vote against it.
Now, my electorate in Wairarapa were definitely against prostitution reform, they were definitely against civil unions. I voted with my conscience and what I believed and I took the political risk and voted in favor of those bills.
For another example, Foreshore and Seabed. My electorate definitely wanted me to vote in favor of the Foreshore and Seabed legislation, but I as a Maori did not want to vote in favor of the Foreshore and Seabed.
It was not a conscience vote, it was a Party-whipped vote, and although I resisted and would have left Parliament with Tariana Turia if I’d had the same choices as she had, I couldn’t and I didn’t and I had to vote in favor of it against my will. I was backed into a corner over it. I spat the dummy about it, I expressed my displeasure with having to vote in favor of it, and all of that. But again, I had to against my will vote in favor of it, really I suppose at the end, because it was a Party vote and not a conscience vote and my Party wanted me to vote in favor of it, my electorate wanted me to vote in favor of it.
But my gut feeling as a Maori: No this is wrong, what we’re doing is not right, there’s got to be another way around this particular issue. And yeah, it was horrible.
In fact the Foreshore and Seabed was the beginning of the end of my political career, and a complete change of my attitude about being in Labor, and it was the issue that prevented my ever getting promoted in Labor because I’d proved that I could be disobedient, you know, and not afraid to express my feeling about it. And yeah, I find for me the Foreshore and Seabed was the worst thing I ever had to do in Parliament. Everything else, prostitution reform, civil union, all of that, not a problem, but that legislation, it absolutely threw me into a... I was disillusioned after that. I hated it; it was terrible. And I’ll never forgive Labor for making me have to make those choices.
And you know what? On the Foreshore and Seabed how vindicated did you think I felt when Michael Cullen came to leave Parliament at the 2008 election, and the week he’s leaving Parliament he finally acquiesced and acknowledged that perhaps Labor had got it wrong on the Foreshore and Seabed. And I can remember hearing that on the radio and yelling out to myself at home at the time, yes! I was right. That I’d felt guilty all that time since then about my not being cooperative at that time over it, and then finally to hear one of our leaders at the time, toward the end of his Parliamentary career acknowledge that we got it wrong on Foreshore and Seabed.
So when the newly elected National government, along with the Maori Party and others, repealed the Foreshore and Seabed Act and replaced it with the Takutai Moana Marine and Coastal Area Amendment bill, which is probably about one sentence more different than the Foreshore and Seabed, I went to Parliament as a former member and sat in the chamber that day to watch the third reading of that Takutai Moana bill go through, just so. Because when you sit in the chambers as a former member you’re sitting right there with the opposition benches, so I’m there with the old Labor colleagues looking at me and wondering why I was there, because I was sitting in opposition now. And I came back just so that I could see that bill, see Foreshore and Seabed get repealed and chucked out, and just for my own self-satisfaction to sit there and go, see, you all gave me a hard time at that time, but at the end of the day I was right. I was right.