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On the cusp of history: Kevin Hague

Mon 4 May 2015 In: Features View at Wayback View at NDHA

If his tilt for the Green Party co-leadership is successful, Kevin Hague will become the first ever openly-gay leader of a major New Zealand political party. Picture: David Tong Making such history would mean a lot to Hague. He is a proud gay man and longtime lgbti rights activist and advocate, who would love to be part of another milestone. “We’ve been through waves haven’t we?” he tells “Of having doctors and professionals and the first politicians come out. We’re still waiting for our first All Black. But at every stage it has been important for us - in establishing that we really are everywhere has been an important narrative to the liberation movement. So leadership of one of our major political parties probably is one of those last areas of ‘who is our first one going to be’, with sports teams the other significant area.” While it’s important, he laughs “it’s not actually why I’m doing it.” He just feels he has a contribution to make, and now is the time to make it. “At various times in my life I’ve had this situation of stepping out of something else that I was doing to take on something that was kind of values driven. Stepping out of the book trade and into the anti-apartheid movement. Or, out of the book trade again into going to work for the AIDS Foundation. And then leaving my job leading a District Health Board to have a tilt at becoming an MP.” He says he is a strongly values-driven person, and was driven to be an MP by the urgency climate change issues. He felt he had a contribution to make. “And the time to make it was now, and putting it off to some indeterminate time in the future actually wasn’t an acceptable thing to do.” Now, with Russel Norman stepping back, he felt he again had a new challenge. “If he’d been staying on I’d have been happy to continue working for him. But with him stepping down, again I sort of asked myself ‘what’s my responsibility, what’s the role that I can play here?’ And I feel that with my record of leadership I probably have a particular contribution that I can bring to this position.” Hague says that is the experience of knowing how to extract value and achieve things, even in difficult circumstances. “Right now we’re in opposition. Even if we become part of the government, that doesn’t suddenly give you carte blanche to achieve whatever the hell you want. You still need to drive the hard bargain and negotiate the space to be able to do the things you need to have the practical knowledge to sequence the wins, so that things that you get early create the stage and the space for the things that you need to achieve later on.” It was a strength he was noted for in his time at the New Zealand AIDS Foundation – getting significant results from negotiations, particularly with the government of the time. He mentions he is proud of being dubbed Mr Effective by in 2012, after the marriage equality win, for his ability to work cross-party and get things done. This record of finding ways to achieve things, even from opposition, has been really important to him. “I persuaded the Government that we should move on the ‘gay panic defence’ for example. And that was removed from the statute books. We achieved something pretty positive. Then I worked behind the scenes with Louisa on marriage equality. Again, it felt like my contribution probably made a big difference to the success or otherwise of that campaign. “And in other areas too that are probably not so directly important to our community like ACC reform, reform of health and safety legislation in the wake of Pike River - actually figuring out how to make gains even from the position of apparent weakness that we have in opposition.” Hague (left) with the Greens' crew at the 2014 Auckland Pride Parade Hague reveals that prior to joining the Greens he was actually approached by both National and Labour, at different times. “But for me the Green Party is the party that’s the closest match to all of the things I’ve been involved in over the years. The compromises involved in some of those other parties would have been too difficult for me. It’s very much the best mix in politics to my personal values.” His run at the leadership of the Green Party and fellow gay MP Grant Robertson’s tilts for the Labour leadership are in stark contrast. Robertson’s sexuality was a big deal. Hague’s isn’t. Hague says well before he was even involved, the Greens backed full legal equality and understood they needed to be proactive in this area. “Rod Donald was out there busy campaigning to support our issues. I entered the party back in 2007/2008 into an environment that was already very positive,” he recalls. Since entering Parliament, Hague has been a strong champion for lgbti issues, and expects this would only be amplified if he became a leader. “Simply because, I’m not going to not say any of the things that I would say now, but I will be saying them from a position of more advanced leverage,” he explains. “I anticipate that Jan Logie and I will continue to share the Rainbow Issues portfolio that we’ve held. The work that I have been doing on improving school environments, for example, the advocacy for that will be coming from the leader of a political party. Not from one of its MPs. So that is going to carry more weight.” Hague says he is running against really impressive candidates, and Green Party members are looking for the person who will be best for the party. “I’m pretty confident that’s going to be me. But I have no doubt the others feel that they’re the best match as well.” There will be no issues with sour grapes or lack of support for whoever wins though, simply due to the way the party is run – its own MPs don’t even state publicly, or within the party, who they are backing. Leaders are actually elected, or more commonly re-elected, via an STV process every year at a Queen’s Birthday Weekend AGM. But there have only been contests when someone has stepped down, or in the case of Rod Donald, passed away. One thing that is clear is that his sexuality won’t come into it, at least not in a negative way. “It certainly isn’t an issue for our members. If anything, it’s probably seen as a positive asset in my candidacy, rather than a risk that needs to be somehow mitigated.” Jacqui Stanford and Jay Bennie - 4th May 2015    

Credit: Jacqui Stanford and Jay Bennie

First published: Monday, 4th May 2015 - 2:03pm

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