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Issue-based parties and LGBT politics

Sat 25 Jan 2014 In: Comment View at NDHA

The new "Mr Big" of New Zealand politics? With the launch of Kim Dotcom's new Internet Party, issue-based parties are in the New Zealand political spotlight. How successful are these parties and how do they reflect LGBTI concerns? New Zealand has had few examples of this category of political party, other than the fundamentalist microparties and the interminable Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, in its never-ending single-issue purist campaign to have marijuana removed from Class C of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981. This may be because of our two dominant electoral systems, First Past the Post (until 1993) and MMP (1993- ). In the case of FPP, it tended to concentrate power into the hands of two dominant political parties, Labour and National. Under MMP, this became two centre-left and centre-right voting blocs, still dominated by Labour and National, but also including the Alliance, the Progressive Coalition and Greens on the left, and ACT, United Future and New Zealand First on the right, as well as the Maori and Mana Parties. Across the Tasman, the Single Transferable Vote electoral system has meant multiplication of issue-based parties at the level of the New South Wales Legislative Council, South Australian Legislative Council, and the federal Senate. As well as the fundamentalist Christian Democratic and Family First Parties and the Cold War anti-communist/conservative Catholic Democratic Labor Party, this has meant such entities as the Shooters Party, which campaigns for relaxed recreational firearms controls, Protectionist Party and Free Trade Party (on opposite sides of international trade debates), Anti-Socialist Party, Tasmania's Revenue Tariff Party, the Nuclear Disarmament Party (peace issues), the Palmers United Party, Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party, No Pokies Party (anti-gambling, South Australia), and Liberal Democratic Party (libertarian). In the Netherlands, an animal rights party (Party for the Animals) is in the federal Dutch House of Representatives and Senate, while in Germany, the cyberlibertarian Pirate Party focused its attention on escalating government surveillance and data interception technologies, copyright issues and online censorship, much as its New Zealand namesake and Kim Dotcom's newly announced Internet Party plans to do. However, MMP doesn't encourage single-issue parties, due to its five percent party list-only representation threshold, unless a microparty wins a bolthole constituency seat despite polling below the threshold. ACT, New Zealand First, United Future and the Progressive Coalition have all benefited from this loophole in the past. How might the Internet Party do in this context? Centre-right blogger Cameron Slater thinks that the Internet Party is excessively narrow in pursuing its planned political niche and that it might therefore remain an unelectable microparty. Is he correct about this? Dotcom's proposal sounds similar to that advanced by the German Pirate Party and its cyberlibertarian counterparts in New Zealand, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Nepal, Norway, Slovenia, Poland, Switzerland, Tunisia and the United Kingdom. Of these, state German Pirate Parties have won state legislature and city council seats, the Czech Pirate Party has a Senate and city council seats, the Iceland Pirate Party has three parliamentary seats in its national parliament, the Swedish Pirate Party elected two European Parliamentary members and the Swiss Pirate Party has two municipal councillors while the Catalonian Pirate Party has two municipal councillors. So, parliamentary and local council representation does seem possible, although it seems to be the case that cyberlibertarian parties have had their greatest success in European politics, particularly within the German state and municipal context. Could that be replicated here? There have been considerable public protests about Key administration online surveillance and data interception legislation and its potentially chilling effects on government transparency and accountability and civil liberties. However, the federal German Pirate Party failed to pick up Bundestag seats due to its political naivetie and absence of legislative experience. Still, given that former Scoop parliamentary press gallery journalist Alistair Thompson is interim party secretary, the Internet Party may be able to sidestep these potential teething problems. But is New Zealand too economically underdeveloped for such parties to be politically viable? Or could the Greens end up incorporating cyberlibertarian concerns into their greater party agenda? The question of the Internet Party's future leads one to observe the following about New Zealand politics. Aggregate interests and multiple issues tend to be reflected in our major political parties- Labour, National and the Greens. National represents business interests and rural communities, Labour represents the trade union movement and New Left new social movements like feminism, LGBT concerns, Maori and Pacific Island concerns and the peace movement, while the Greens represent New Zealand's strong environmentalist movement. The Maori and Mana Parties are both dedicated to insuring the inclusion and continuing significance of the Treaty of Waitangi and issues of Maori land ownership, linguistic and cultural continuity and economic development related to it. How does the Conservative Party fit into this? Obviously, it represents a particular cohort of religious social conservatives. Colin Craig is obsessed with reversing the criminalisation of parental corporal punishment, although the Conservatives are also anti-abortion, anti-prostitution and blindly support binding citizens referenda. Is there enough support for decriminalising the use of parental corporal punishment again? Fundamentalist Protestant Christians may be obsessed with the issue, but over time, public interest has waned in the prominence of this single issue. It has been seven years since parental corporal punishment was abolished here, and given the enduring global recession, issues of employment and public service quality tend to take understandable precedence within New Zealand politics. Added to which, Conservative Party religious social conservatism itself will antagonise several influential categories of voters, mobilising these potential constituencies and fostering their engagement in political activism and parliamentary politics. As well as LGBTI voters, feminist, green, social liberal, concerned professional associations and other organised constituencies may drift away from centre-right affiliation, reduce its voter share and even enable an upset centre-left election victory in December 2014. With the achievement of marriage equality, LGBTI voters have our own share of concerns. Which parties will support comprehensive antibullying reforms and transgender rights legislation and policy reforms? Which parties will further reform our adoption laws to include de facto and civilly united couples as eligible prospective parents? And which parties are fully trustworthy and which are not? Craig Young - 25th January 2014    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Saturday, 25th January 2014 - 10:18am

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