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NZ First: "Fighters against prejudice"

Sun 19 Oct 2008 In: Features View at Wayback View at NDHA

This is the second in a series of brief interviews with representatives of political parties conducted in the lead up to the November 8th General Election. They are being presented in the order in which they were able to be arranged and conducted. The first was United Future's Peter Dunne. Jay Bennie is the interviewer and in the chair this time is NZ First's Doug Woolerton. Doug Woolerton As one of NZ First's list MPs with an extensive background in Waikato dairy farming and manufacturing, Doug Woolerton is understandably the party’s spokesperson for Economic Development, Primary Production, Agriculture, Forestry, Rural Affairs, Land Information, Environment, and Conservation. So he chuckles when he advises that he has just been appointed as the party’s first-ever official spokesperson on glbt affairs. Woolerton was a founder member of NZ First and was party president for its first twelve years. "When we started the party, we deliberately decided on two things: that we wouldn’t get involved in local government, and that we wouldn’t get involved in groups, because they are costly because you have to divert resources to them. That’s no problem for big parties, though. So, being a small party, we have never had a 'gay rights' or 'rainbow' group. But having said that, neither do we have a 'young NZ First' group, or a 'Maori' group, or any of those other things." "So we've not had a record or stance on [glbt] issues. Personally, I think I’ve always been pretty liberal. My dear departed friend Brian Donnelly has helped me through a lot of those issues. I think my stance has been reasonably liberal over the years." 'Reasonably liberal' maybe, but the affable Woolerton himself wasn't liberal enough to vote in favour of Civil Unions, the most recent - if slightly flawed - litmus test of politicians willingness to back the needs of their glbt constituents. However, this interview is about the party, which has encompassed attitudes ranging from its clearly anti-gay leader Winston Peters, who also voted against Civil Unions and uses anti-gay slurs and innuendo in the house against at least one fellow, straight, MP, to the late and revered Brian Donnelly who revealed in the House that his brother’s homosexuality and parents' embracing family values underpinned his vote in favour of Civil Unions. So, if NZ first doesn't have a specific party line on glbt issues, what values does it espouse that might embrace glbt issues? "People should be able to go about their business freely, without prejudice. We should fight prejudice wherever it occurs. Be it racism, or ageism, sexism, those sort of things. We believe that it’s a... I don’t know if 'Human Rights issue' is exactly the right description, but that’s the words that I would use. It’s a Human Rights issue. We have made sure that we have fought prejudice and that sort of thing, where we have found it." Woolerton is quite sure that NZ First has no openly or closeted glbt candidates, standing in the November 8th General Election, but there have been a couple in the past. "One was even [a party member at a very senior level]. Mind you, two’s not a very good record, as far as you’re concerned, because we've been going fifteen years now. I know of two that have stood for us, but none have been elected. And there are none, at this point." Following the 'set piece' structure for’s Party interviews we move on to test awareness any desirable or impending legislative moves to address problems experienced by glbt people. “Well, the first and the biggest ongoing one is prejudice. Parliament is where we make laws and whether the laws are there or not, the way Parliament behaves does send signals. Not misbehaves, I might tell you, but… when we say we’re going to be more accepting, and there’s more homosexuals and gays in Parliament, that sends a message to the rest of the community. And I firmly believe that it has. “The other one of course is adoption. Subject to all of the normal criteria of a good and stable home and financial ability, and that the child would be loved and all that sort of thing, we wouldn’t have too much of a problem with that.” What about 'Gay Panic Defence?' "I probably will answer personally. I was not aware of that one, and I was quoted the section [of the law]… and quite frankly I was horrified to realize that a person could be let off with a lesser charge because somebody who was gay had approached them. I was horrified and opposed to that law – that needs to be changed. I didn’t even know it existed. I related it to Texan law where somebody who’s having an affair with your wife or something like that, and you shoot him, you can get off on manslaughter in Texas on that basis. It is outrageous and it should be changed." And, painting with a broader brush, what would NZ First’s vision be for LGBT people's situation in the New Zealand of the not too distant future? "I think it should be that we don’t know the difference. I was brought up in politics alongside the Women’s Electoral Lobby who were endeavoring to break the glass ceiling. So I’m well aware of the sort of problems that are faced. And I’m using that as an example because I think that is a good example, and that is what must happen with gay and lesbian people... that’s the right word, 'gays' is it?" I assure him that it's a fairly widely used but imperfect catch-all for grouping all glbt people. "Where I think it should end up is that we should be colour-blind, we should be sexual orientation-blind and all of the rest of it. We should judge people by the fact that they are human beings, and they could be good, bad, obnoxious, or wonderful. When we get to there, then I think we’ll have truly succeeded. The fact that we have to fight so hard, and when I say 'we' I mean we as a country, to get over these prejudices, I think is an indictment in itself. But that is the way it goes, and with the Women’s Electoral Lobby that I championed as a younger man, we have gone amazingly well along the track on that, and I think gay rights and gay participation in society will be almost precisely like that. We won’t even need to mention whether we have a gay Prime Minister or a woman Prime Minister or whatever. Those things will not be a part of the deal. And that's where I think we should end up. It’s probably a few years away, but we'll get there." What party policies should attract glbt people to vote for NZ First? "I understand that could be an issue with some people, but I would answer in the same way, that if there’s an area where there’s a fair few Maori and we've got a non-Maori up there, or vice-versa, then I think that the same thing applies – and the same criticism can be leveled at us, that we have not been sensitive enough to reflect the area by our candidate. Sometimes it is just very hard to get all of those things right. In fact, that’s one of the wonderful things about MMP – that we do take notice of how many people we have who are Maori, or who are women, or who are gay. Now we have not even got a decent amount. We’re pretty alright with Maori/non-Maori, we’re sadly out of whack with women, and we are non-existent as far as MPs who are gay. I am not the President anymore, so I don’t know whether we have any gay candidates or not, but I have not been told of an identifiable one, so I assume we don't." But, sexuality aside, what about the Party's other and more general policies? "Well I think a vote for NZ First is a good idea because we believe in fighting against prejudice. We have had to fight against it as a small party, and so we will continue to fight for that sort of even-handed treatment in society. And that’s the reason they should vote for us, because we understand that, and we have lived it as a small party and we are sympathetic to minorities." As will be usual in this series of interviews, we’d like to know if there is any glbt person anywhere or at any time the party spokesperson has found inspiring or admirable. "Well I have to give you two," chuckles Woolerton. "One is current and has just retired from Parliament, and is liked by most people I know, and that is Tim Barnett. And he got through the… what do you call the pseudo-marriages that you guys are not that happy with? ("Civil Unions?") "Yeah, Civil Unions. He did it in a way that was very upfront, no mucking around, and was respected by most people I know in Parliament. He saw the Prostitution Law Reform through, and did the same thing there. So he’s a guy that I admire professionally and someone I’ve got on well with personally. And there are others in the Labour Party likewise. "But there's another guy, he may or may not want to be mentioned, but I came in contact with him in the National Party many many years ago. He's a brilliant organiser and a very motivational type of guy. He's a hairdresser here in Hamilton, and he stepped up to the plate in an electorate in the National Party that was not a gay-friendly situation in those days. I admire that. In New Zealand First, as you can probably guess, we’re a little bit anti-establishment – and sometimes my leader is very anti-establishment." There's a brief pause and Woolerton chuckles at that statement. "And so I admire people who are able to put themselves out there and do things that they should, that they want to do, that others might shy away from. And [the Hamilton man] was that person. I'm still friends with him, he still votes National, and I wish we could get him into New Zealand First. I really admired him then, and admire him now. In fact, I have to tell you I admire him more now because that was about 25 years ago and I did not fully understand how uncomfortable it probably was for him in those days." Next up: ACT's Rodney Hide, followed by Labour's Maryan Street. Jay Bennie - 19th October 2008    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Sunday, 19th October 2008 - 9:40pm

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