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Letter from Elsewhere: Bedrock values

Anne Else 's Letter from Elsewhere

Bedrock values

I knew it was a long time since the last Letter, but I hadn’t realised HOW long. I have a good excuse, of course: I was finishing off my PhD, otherwise known as “getting doctored”. Then I went away for a while to recover, and when I got back, I discovered that I couldn’t face writing anything whatsoever at all. Now I feel a bit like Noisy Nora, in the last line of Rosemary Wells’ great kids’ book: “I’m back again!” said Nora, with a monumental crash.”

The depressing thing is that I seem to have resurfaced into some kind of ghastly Groundhog Day. This week, who should pop his twitching whiskers above ground again but the very same Don Brash (a fellow Doctor, natch) who starred in my last column.

But wait a minute: something very strange must have happened to him in his long hibernation, because he doesn’t sound like the old Don at all.

Last year he was absolutely sure that the only people who really mattered were “mainstream New Zealanders”. He wasn’t quite sure who these people were, but he knew who they weren’t: gay people, Maori people, and people who voted Labour, for starters.

What’s more, he was perfectly happy (I think “delighted” was the word he used) to accept large amounts of spending on campaigns designed to help National get elected by people who are firmly convinced that women do not have the same status or rights as men, do not permit their adherents to vote, and refuse to let those who leave their sect have any contact with family members who remain in it.

But this year, what a transformation! Now he publicly rejects the stand against the wearing of burqas by his outspoken backbencher Bob (“Testicles”) Clarkson. He declares that National is not interested in what people wear (or, presumably, don’t wear), provided they share “bedrock values” such as religious and personal freedom and sexual equality.

Okay, so - that would include the freedom not to be heterosexual? And if so, to have the right not to be discriminated against? I guess that rules out the Exclusive Brethren, then – no subscription to bedrock values there.

Or the freedom to be Maori, and not to have politicians tell you that you don’t exist, because so few of you have the correct fraction (not quite sure, but from his speeches I think that for Don Brash this probably means at least half, as in “half-caste”) of “Maori blood”?

As far as I know, Don Brash is consistent about one thing – he still wants to abolish the Maori seats. Now here’s a general knowledge teaser for him, and for you, gentle reader: in this wonderfully free and equal country of ours, where we are all one people, in which general election were Maori first permitted to stand for general seats? 1893? 1918? 1935? 1969?

Believe it or not, the correct answer is 1969.

“Only after 1967 were New Zealanders with full Mäori ethnicity permitted to stand for general electorates, as well as (the then) 4 Mäori electorates. The 2002 and 2005 elections are significant in that, for the first time since the 1890s, the proportion of Mäori in the general population (15 percent) was also reflected in the composition of the New Zealand Parliament.” [LINK]

As for sexual equality – hmmm. I think the Exclusive Brethren rule themselves out on this one too. But National’s track record isn’t all that flash either. In the current Parliament, 32 percent of MPs are women. The Greens have two-thirds women (4 out of 6 MPs), and Labour has 19 women among its 50 MPs (38 percent). National has managed to muster just 12 women (25 percent) - the same percentage as the Maori Party.

Throughout its history, National has fought against virtually every measure designed to make equality between men and women a reality. When it got back into power in 1990, its first act was to repeal the pay equity legislation.

So I’m delighted to have Dr Brash’s support in getting rid of this lousy inequality. I’ll watch out for the leaflets in my letterbox next week.


- Anne Else is a Wellington writer and social commentator. Her occasional column will typically appear on a Monday. You can subscribe to receive Letter From Elsewhere by email when it appears via the Free My Scoop News-By-Email Service

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