No Right Turn: The Prospects For Progress
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.