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July 24, 2017 | by  | in Politics |
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Political Round Up

Queer Politics

Parliament’s apology on July 6 to people who were convicted of once-criminal acts of homosexuality put queer rights back on the political agenda, but there is still little consensus on LGBTQ+ issues within New Zealand politics.

There has been considerable debate over legislation produced since the Homosexual Law Reform Act of 1986, showing Parliament’s division over LGBTQ+ issues. Although the Marriage Equality Act passed in 2013, there remained a significant degree of pushback. In total, 36% of MPs voted against the legislation, including half of National’s MPs, three Labour MPs, and the entire NZ First caucus.

Politicians are divided by party lines rather than generational attitudes regarding LGBTQ+ rights. Of the current MPs who were in the House at the time of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1986, three Labour MPs voted in favour of the bill (Trevor Mallard, Annette King, and Peter Dunne), and one former National MP voted against (Winston Peters).

Prime Minister Bill English voted against the Marriage Equality Bill and the Civil Union Bill in 2004. Since becoming Prime Minister in December last year, however, he has expressed regret about this stance, saying that if a vote on marriage equality were to be held now, he would vote in favour of it. “I don’t think that gay marriage is a threat to anyone else’s marriage,” he said in a press conference on December 12, 2016.

While his new stance on same-sex marriage could be seen as a politically expedient move, English has reaffirmed his position this year to conservative supporters. Speaking to a “Forum on the Family” meeting on July 7, the PM was challenged by one attendee on his opinion on same-sex marriage. “I said that and I meant it,” English replied. He also said last year that he will not use his position as Prime Minister to create socially conservative legislation.

The PM’s promise not to push through socially conservative policies may bode well for the LGBTQ+ community, but New Zealanders will only find out the true extent to which tolerance for queer people has improved when further LGBTQ+ issues are debated by Parliament in the future.

The Regions

As the election nears, parties are beginning to broaden their campaigning outside of the major cities. In bids to garner votes in regional electorates over the past two weeks, several parties have announced major initiatives to boost regional growth.

NZ First leader Winston Peters unveiled several new policies designed to create wealth in the South Island during his “Regions Tour” in July. He announced that the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter would be nationalised to ensure that its profits are reinvested in Southland, and that his party would ensure government offices and state housing would only buy carpets made from New Zealand wool rather than synthetic materials, which would prop up a dying wool industry that was once a key part of rural South Island economies.

NZ First also wants to consolidate its gains in the north after its leader won the 2015 Northland by-election. The party will stand former Labour Party-heavyweight Shane Jones in the Whangarei electorate for the upcoming general election. A critic of the Resource Management Act, Jones may appeal to National-leaning voters in Whangarei, but he has a tough campaign ahead as the current seat-holder, National’s Shane Reti, obtained a 13,000-vote majority in the 2014 election.

Peters is attempting to present NZ First as a viable alternative to National, particularly as voters begin to tire of the current government as it nears the end of its third term. Peters’ campaign has evidently influenced some former National supporters. Glenys Dickson, the staffer at the centre of the Todd Barclay taping scandal, went to one of Peters’ rallies in the Clutha-Southland electorate on July 9, according to NZ First’s Mark Patterson.

National has turned its sights on the regions too, proposing on July 11 the creation of a $1 billion housing infrastructure fund for five regional councils. The government also said on July 12 that it will create a new $50 million fund to help young people find jobs in the regions of Hawke’s Bay, Bay of Plenty, Northland, and the East Coast.

The Māori Party focused its attention on the East Coast with the announcement of its “IwiRail” policy — the building of a state-funded freight and domestic travel rail line which it estimates will provide an economic benefit of $1 billion per year.

At no time do rural communities and regions outside the main population centres receive more funding promises than during election years and, as the upcoming election looms, parties have been quick to mobilise support in the heartlands.

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