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Jim Anderton's Progressives: Prepared to front up

Tue 4 Nov 2008 In: Features View at Wayback View at NDHA

This is the sixth and final in a series of brief interviews with representatives of political parties conducted in the lead up to this Saturday's General Election. Presented in the order in which they were able to be arranged and conducted, the first was United Future's Peter Dunne, followed by NZ First's Doug Woolerton, Act's Rodney Hide, Labour's Maryan Street and The Greens' Kevin Hague. Jay Bennie is the interviewer and 'in the chair' this time is The Progressives' Jim Anderton. The Progressive's Jim Anderton Jim Anderton has come to personify his party, even to the extent of registering it formally with the Electoral Commission as Jim Anderton’s Progressive party. When Anderton first entered Parliament, in 1984, he was a Labour MP in the socially progressive Lange government. So it comes as no surprise that talking with Anderton on issues of importance to glbt people is rather like talking to Trevor Mallard or any other informed and on-glbt message Labour MP. "We've been supportive" of glbt initiatives, says Anderton from his ministerial car - in the Labour-led coalition he's Minister of  Agriculture, Biosecurity, Fisheries, Forestry and  a handful of other portfolios - as it dips in and out of cellphone range somewhere in deepest central North Island. "That support stems from my personal commitment to equality in New Zealand in terms of race, sexual orientation, age, gender, whatever. "I was the first person in the Labour Party to select openly gay and lesbian candidates. I picked Ian Scott, and he was the first openly gay candidate Labour ever had. I was very disappointed when he didn't win, to be honest.” Anderton voted in support of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill, "and as candidate for the Labour Party I was supportive of gay and lesbian issues and made so secret of it. And I've been consistent all through. The Progressives and its predecessors have always been liberal on these issues, and we've been staunch in defending the rights of gay people in the community. The Civil Union Bill got our strong support… so I think we've been stride to stride with our Labour Colleges on this – right through. So if we ran through the Progressive candidates list, the top few of whom will only realistically enter Parliament if Anderton wins his Wigram seat yet again, would we find any glbt folk? "To be perfectly honest, we don’t ask about sexual orientation at all. And I have to presume that there would be some. But they’re not people that I would feel I would like to name because I may be wrong. I’d hate to out someone who denied it vehemently. "With a cross-section of the population, pretty much, when you're choosing people, it's done on a random basis in the sense that you're not asking for a particular kind of specification. But it's almost certain that you're picking some gay and lesbian candidates. We don’t make a fuss about it, one way or another. But we would have some, and I've got a pretty good idea who they are, too, but I’m not at liberty to just name them." If it became known that one of the candidates from Jim Anderton’s Progressive party was gay or lesbian, would that become a political liability? "I don't think so. I went through all that when I selected Ian Scott for Eden. And I don’t think it made the difference between him being elected or not, and that was quite a long time ago. Since then we've had Georgina Beyer, who of course won the mayoralty of a small Wairarapa country town... if you'd asked me where was the worst possible place you could stand as a transgender candidate, I would have probably picked that town. But she won, and then she won the seat. So I think New Zealand, by and large - although I have to say there have been a few emergencies in the last week which have made me wonder a bit, but they have been relatively small in number in terms of the people involved, and I've been a bit disappointed with the right-wing, almost religious fanaticism of some of the participants - but by and large, if you look at the history of New Zealand, we're a remarkably liberal country when it comes to voting for people who are different. We tend to do it almost… I don’t know if we're making a thing of it… but the kind of background you have doesn't seem to be seriously effecting whether or not you can win elections. And I'm pleased about that." Asked if he is aware of any glbt issues to be addressed in the near future, Anderton pauses for thought. "If the gay and lesbian community has some issues that are high priorities for them, then obviously we'd have a look at them, and work it out. I think we’re reaching a stage where these issues are not going to be around gender or sexual orientation. And that's a good thing. We're just going to be dealing with [individual need]. I think that’s big progress, actually." Like most of the other party representatives we’ve interviewed for this pre-election series, Anderton says he hopes for a future where being part of a sexual minority is unremarkable. "It's a bit like a situation where you hope that you no longer have to have the ambulance there at the foot of the cliff. I think in twenty years, or whatever, I would like to think that it is seen as entirely unexceptional what sexual orientation anybody has. That there's just an acceptance of people as they are, and we don’t have to worry about names or explanations or sexual orientation as a worry in any way shape or form… or any other race, religion or creed." Summing up, he hopes for "acceptance of everyone as human beings." It's soapbox time, because as glbt people we have broader lives than just our sexuality. So why should we vote Progressive? "Because we have shown how you can get on the agenda of the senior coalition partner a number of significant issues that they don’t have on the top of their priority list. I'd name Kiwibank, which Labour didn’t want. There's paid parental leave, four weeks paid leave, the creation of the Ministry of Economic Development, which Labour didn't want. I was able to convince them that these were good ideas. "And in this latest term of office, we've developed the concept of a fast forward fund, which is going to be invested in the future of food production and processing in New Zealand, which is our core business, a seven hundred million-dollar fund has been set aside with guardians to protect it, and industry is going to match it dollar for dollar. "So we've shown that you can do a lot of very significant things, and convince the main party that they are good ideas." The cellphone is cutting out with increasing regularity as his driver negotiates hills and valleys, so there's just time to ask Anderton to name a glbt person he believes is, or was, particularly impressive or admirable. His answer differs from most we have had in this series of interviews. "I don’t think I've ever made a particular study of this, but I did discuss this with a couple of people and we came up with the brilliant British mathematician Alan Turing, who was pivotal in breaking the Germans' Enigma code during the Second World War." Despite shortening the war and saving hundreds of thousands of lives through his ultra-top secret work, Turing, suddenly considered an unacceptable security risk because of his homosexuality, was denied a high security work clearance as the war ended. He was forced to take hormone injections in an attempt to 'cure' his homosexuality. Deeply distressed, the man who conceived and saw through to reality the first workable electronic computing machine, the forerunner of every computer and micro-chip driven device in the world today, took his own life by poisoning an apple and eating it. "Turing got a hard time and I don't think he was ever given the credit he was due... a bit of an unsung hero." [Editor's note: Two political parties we invited to field representatives to pitch their approaches to glbt issues are rather conspicuously missing from this series. Tomorrow, in an editorial looking ahead to polling day, we will reveal which and, to the extent we are able, why.] Jay Bennie - 4th November 2008    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Tuesday, 4th November 2008 - 7:13pm

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