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Lawyer, company director and now... NZ's newest gay MP

Tue 11 Jul 2006 In: Features

Charles Chauvel New Zealand's LGBT representation in Parliament increased this week, with the entry of long-time Labour Party stalwart and openly gay Wellington lawyer, Charles Chauvel. As the person next in line on Labour's List, he replaces long serving Labour MP, Jim Sutton, who is retiring from politics to take on roles as Trade Ambassador and Chair of Landcorp. Chauvel, 37, is listed by the international legal directory, Legal, as one of New Zealand's six top employment lawyers. He drives a sporty Mercedes and lives in the swanky Wellington suburb of Oriental Bay. With a French Tahitian father and a Scottish mother, Chauvel cuts a striking and well-groomed figure, especially when dressed in expertly tailored suits. A fresh face for a traditionally blue-collared party, he pays homage to his immigrant roots, and pinpoints the Homosexual Law Reform campaign of 1985-86 as the moment of his commitment to Labour. “I joined the Labour Party when I was at school in Gisborne at the age of 15 in 1985,” says Chauvel. “I was politicised by Fran Wilde's Homosexual Law Reform Bill, which was introduced around about the same time that I was discovering my own identity as a gay man.” Chauvel was impressed with the “principled” stand of Wilde and most of her colleagues within the Labour Party, and their track record on LGBT rights ever since. “My experience has been that Labour has in general been instinctively on the side of many of the important issues that concern our communities,” says Chauvel, though he stresses that he enters Parliament as “more than just a one-dimensional person.” “Commentators have generally talked about me as a leading commercial lawyer and company director who happens to also be gay, “ he says. “That suits me fine, and I think it is how people should think of me and other LGBT figures in public life in contemporary New Zealand.” Chauvel's pleased that Labour's openly LGBT parliamentary representation has “increased to around 10 per cent… people talk a lot of nonsense about Labour being too ready to take on minority representation. I've thought for a long time that, all other things being equal, the House of Representatives should actually try to live up to its name, and the Labour caucus looks and feels a lot more like New Zealand's society in general than [other political parties].” Chauvel suspects this is one of the main reasons why the electorate has endorsed Labour for three terms under Helen Clark. He salutes LGBT candidates who have gone before him, particularly Ian Scott, “our first openly gay candidate,” who stood for Labour in Auckland's Eden electorate in 1981. “Chris Carter, Tim Barnett, Georgina Beyer and Maryan Street have all made it a lot easier for me to come to Parliament as an openly gay candidate.” But Chauvel has earned his position. He's been prominent in the Labour movement ever since his Gisborne days – he served as President of Auckland University's Labour Club, was elected President of Young Labour in 1988, and has served on the party's governing body, the New Zealand Council. He campaigned for the Maramarua seat in the 1990 election, “against Bill Birch, who had a long and consistent history of voting against liberal party positions.” Currently Chauvel serves as co-Chair of the Party's Rainbow Sector Council. Chauvel has worked closely with Wellington MPs Annette King, Marian Hobbs and Winnie Laban and stood for the electorate of Ohariu-Belmont, against United Future's Peter Dunne, one of the leaders of the anti-Civil Union Bill campaign. To his satisfaction, last year's results showed “the voters rejected Peter Dunne's alliance with the fundamentalist Christian Right,” with the “most significant improvement in both Labour's Party and Electorate Votes compared to anywhere else in the country for a non-Labour held seat.” While "obviously delighted at the prospect of serving as an MP", Chauvel admits to mixed emotions about his entry into Parliament. For instance, he's "sad to see Jim Sutton go. "Despite coming from a conservative rural electorate, in 1986 Jim voted for the Homosexual Law Reform Bill, and he has always been supportive of the idea of LGBT people – along with everyone else in society – getting a fair go.” Sutton is “without doubt one of the most intelligent MPs and has done a great job,” particularly in the field of international trade. “Parliament will miss him.” Chauvel says he looks forward to representing the diverse constituency of New Zealand. He believes his broad life experience will enable him to make a valuable contribution as an MP, particularly in the fields of “law, health and business.” He's proud of the minority representation within the Labour Party, “with LGBT, Pacific, Maori and Asian MPs... but I'm more glad that the sum total of their talents has made for a very effective government.” Above all else, “MPs need to be people of ability and integrity.” New Zealand's newest gay MP lives with his partner of 11 years, former police officer David Hollander, and has a one-year-old son, William, who lives with his mother and her partner. Chauvel is starting to familiarise himself with his new role and is expected to enter Parliament in early August. David Parrish - 11th July 2006    

Credit: David Parrish

First published: Tuesday, 11th July 2006 - 12:00pm

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