Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The prospects for progress

Last Parliamentary term is seen as a high-water mark for progressive social legislation, with Acts such as the Civil Union Act, Relationships Act, and Prostitution Reform Act perceived as causing a conservative backlash against the government. National has exploited this backlash to strengthen its hand in Parliament, bringing in a host of new MPs, while liberal and progressive voices were eroded from the Greens and Progressive Party. So at first glance, the prospects for further progress seem dim. Coalition considerations mean that there is no hope for cannabis reform this term, and the backlash to civil unions means that the government is unlikely to push forward gay adoption or hate speech legislation (the latter of which isn't exactly a bad thing). It is also likely to pressure its MPs into not putting Private Member's Bills on controversial topics forward - they have already reportedly forced Georgina Beyer to withdraw her Human Rights (Gender Identity) Amendment Bill.

But that doesn't mean there is no hope at all. While the government may be unwilling to push for progress, others can always use the tool of Private Member's Bills in an effort to advance a liberal agenda. Perversely, probably the best hope is for gay adoption. Looking through the candidate profiles at NZVotes reveals that there are 2 National MPs in favour - not including traditional National liberals such as Pansy Wong, Clem Simich and Katherine Rich (a year ago I also would have included Don Brash in this list, before he decided to pander to bigots in an effort to grub votes). There are also 6 National MPs who are undecided - not including wobblers like Lockwood Smith and Georgina te Heuheu. Such a bill is likely to attract heavy support from Labour, with only the most retrograde opposing it; this combined with support from the Greens, Progressives, Brian Donnelly (who is unusually decent for an NZFirst MP), and ACT (who have culled all their conservatives) means that there will be less than five votes in it. I think there's a majority there, but a narrow one, regardless of which way the new Maori or National MPs swing.

What about other issues? While there seems to be similar support in National for gender identity equality, that bill would be likely to fail due to a lack of support from ACT. Euthanasia is an issue that refuses to die, and I expect someone to bring a bill; unfortunately while there's been a small shift of opinion within National (against not much in Labour), this is likely to fail due to the shrinking of ACT and NZFirst. But the prospects on this front I think are good for the future, and I think there's a good chance for such a bill in the 2008 term. Finally, the anti-smacking bill is likely to run into difficulty, though the strong support of child-welfare groups may be enough to see it through.

In general, then, the prospects for progressive social legislation aren't good. If we want progress this term, we have to work in areas where there is a chance of attracting greater support from socially conservative National MPs by appealing to values we have in common. Freedom of speech is one such value, and it suggests the perfect issue: sedition. I have a bill already drafted; all we need is for someone to step up and take it forward.


Euthanasia is an issue that refuses to die

Ho ho...

Posted by Anonymous : 10/04/2005 07:28:00 PM

Actually, if anything, these election results just go to prove how resilient the centre-left voting block is. I don't see any reason why the centre-left can't rule parliament and continue reform for the foreseeable future, Swedish-style.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/04/2005 09:19:00 PM

While euthanasia law reform will face intense opposition from the NZMA and won't pass the select committee or second reading stage, I suspect that the third incarnation of the Death With Dignity Bill might end up at the select committee stage.

As for gay adoption, hmmm. The Greens, ACT's two MPs and possibly NZF's Brian Donnelly would support
it, as would the aforementioned Nats- including potential leader
John Key! If there was a bill this term, the LGBT community would be
quite willing to fight for it, and
Labour's social conservative complement dropped one when Pita
Sharples defeated Tamihere. As for the Maori Party, hmmm. I wouldn't be averse to greater formal recognition of whangai adoption myself.

I suspect that it'd look very much like the Tory defections that occurred when Britain passed its gay adoption laws in 2003.


Posted by Anonymous : 10/05/2005 08:59:00 AM

Ah, but who said *Labour* has to be the ones to introduce progressive social legislation?
The Greens (bless 'em)tried to jump the gun over adoption law reform. I'm sure that they could be prevailed upon to do so again.

If it just happens that Labour, the Maori Party and centre-right social liberals vote for it, ah well, this sort of thing happens...


Posted by Anonymous : 10/05/2005 09:07:00 AM

I think you've done a fairly good job at trying to fairly present a relatively balanced view of this, although I personally do not share your views on all of those laws.

Where I think labour tends to shoot itself in the foot is when it starts 'legislating morality'. If it does anywhere near as much social engineering in the coming term as it did in the previous one, I think it will go down in flames at the next election. Well, it may do that anyway, given the 'it's time for a change' ethos.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/05/2005 12:43:00 PM