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Local Bodiless?

Wed 24 Aug 2016 In: Comment View at Wayback View at NDHA

In October, New Zealand local authority voters will head off to the polls to elect mayors and local Councillors for another four year term of office. But when it comes to local authority politics, are LGBTI New Zealanders blase and apathetic? And if so, why?   For starters, New Zealand is a highly centralised and unitary nation-state. We haven't had any significant provincial governments or large metropolitan local governments to challenge the overall pattern of centralisation until the creation of the Auckland supercity amalgamated council and mayoralty 'rationalised' Auckland local body politics in 2010, after the Key administration convened a Royal Commission into Auckland Governance. Auckland is currently governed by two-term Mayor Len Brown and a twenty-person council, elected by first past the post. Mayor Brown is standing down at this local election and looks set to be replaced by Phil Goff, former Labour leader and Labour Mt Roskill MP, who is far ahead of any rival centre-right candidates for the mayoralty. Given Goff's liberal parliamentary voting record, we can expect him to continue that conduct as Auckland Mayor. Of course, local body politics haven't always been a smooth ride for New Zealand LGBTI community members. Carmen Rupe (1936-2011), the legendary and much-missed drag diva of Wellington, got herself into trouble when she ran for Wellington mayor and happened to mention that some MPs were closeted, resulting in her facing Parliament's Privileges Committee after those allegations were made in 1977- which was before homosexual law reform, and before any New Zealand MPs did come out. After that, trouble resurfaced when right-wing gym owner Les Mills served two terms as Auckland Mayor in a newly consolidated council, with fundamentalist David Hay as his Deputy Mayor. Mills tried to pressure the council and local authority civil servants to deny funding to the LGBTI Hero Parade, which threatened it with closure, until it received public donations to continue operation. Moreover, LGBTI Aucklanders aligned themselves with Mills and Hays' opponents, leading to the departure of Mills and Hay at the 1998 Auckland Council election. After Christine Fletcher's election, Auckland local politicians learnt their place. Even more surprising were the two non-consecutive mayoralties of John Banks, a former National Party MP, Police Minister, radio talkback host and fiery opponent of homosexual law reform and the Human Rights Act 1993. However, as Auckland Mayor, he more or less behaved himself, realising that if he carried on as he did in Parliament, on low-rent and now defunct talkback station Radio Pacific, and ignored Auckland metropolitan social diversity and public opinion, he would face a similar fate to that of Les Mills. And so he did, although his fiscal conservative policies led to unpopularity and a truncated mayoral career. David Hay appears to have gotten a similar message. Dick Hubbard made an ill-advised signature on a letter against civil unions from "For the Sake of Our Children Trust," a short-lived Auckland Christian Right pressure group during his single mayoral term, followed by the return of Banks. The latter only served one more term before Auckland supercity consolidation and the election of former Manukau City mayor Len Brown as new mayor. Unfortunately for the transgender community, Brown and assorted conservative Labour Right aligned lower echelon local community figures agitated for the passage of the Manukau City (Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill, which failed in the end at its second reading (109-11). Brown's mayoralty has been dogged by questions of costly use of mayoral sponsorship, public transport synchronisation, and his relinquished extra-marital affair with former staffer Bevan Chuang. Speaking of the Christian Right, things are quiet on the conservative Christian front during this local authority election season. The Conservative Party fielded a broad Auckland local authority ticket in 2013, but the civil war fought between former board of management member John Stringer and Colin Craig led to decimation of the party membership and therefore, possibly also its infrastructure. For whatever reason, the Conservatives are not fielding an active ticket in 2016. Neither is Family First producing a "Value Your Vote" docket for evaluating whether Auckland councillors and mayoral candidates are square with anti-LGBTI and other dogma, as they did in 2010. Meanwhile, outside Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch mayors and local councils tend to reflect metropolitan liberal social values. In the end though, what is it all for? Granted, Auckland Council controls assets worth $34 billion, but local authorities tend to have a limited purview of political power. They control local public transport, waste management, events management, regional public services and water supply, and little else, made even more straitened by pressure from the Key administration to sell local public assets if they want to raise surplus revenue for extended services. As the Mills administration showed, however, a determined and hijacked city council can obstruct LGBTI events and health promotion strategies if it wants to. However, that said, Mills and Hay have been out of power in Auckland for nearly two decades and New Zealand society and Auckland City have both changed substantially. That, and legislative reform, health policy and other primary LGBTI concerns continue to be concentrated at central government level, and that means Wellington and Parliament. Craig Young - 24th August 2016    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Wednesday, 24th August 2016 - 8:46pm

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