Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Grumpy Kiwi

I know I complain mostly about US politics, but sometimes things in New Zealand politics annoy me, too. Not surprisingly, it’s conservatives that make me grumpy. Here are three things I saw today.

WHO paid for that water, hm?

In a press release praising the National-led government for spending 80 million taxpayer dollars to be a “bridging investor” on irrigation infrastructure, the IrrigationNZ chairperson said: “For many years farmers have personally carried the cost of water infrastructure, which can run into the millions of dollars, yet benefits regional economies enormously…”

Hang on a minute, WHO paid for that?! The government paid for the dams that made large-scale irrigation possible in many areas, and ratepayers—including plenty who are not farmers—paid for local and regional projects. The National-led government even deposed the duly elected regional council in Canterbury because it wouldn’t give farmers all the water they wanted. To ensure there are no restrictions on farmers, National has refused to restore democracy to Canterbury. Clearly the people of the Canterbury region have paid a very high price, indeed!

Priorities, priorities

Speaking of the National-led government’s failures, they have done nothing to deal with high unemployment, the housing crisis is getting worse all the time, and the Novopay debacle continues on and on and on. They’re unable or unwilling to do anything about these very real problems facing ordinary New Zealanders.

So, what’s a do-nothing government to do but ban magnets? Yes, seriously.

The newly elevated Consumer Affairs Minister, Simon Bridges, announced today that the National-led government will ban the sale of sets of small high powered magnets. Their reason is that they’ve “caused serious injuries in New Zealand and at least one reported death in Australia”. That’s their stated reason—the real reason is that it’s far easier than dealing with the hard problems ordinary New Zealanders have to face every day. Glad they have their priorities right.

‘Culture’ doesn’t turn wrong into right

When the Select Committee hearings on the Marriage Equality Bill arrived in Auckland, we saw the usual suspects testifying against it: Colin “god bless” Craig said homosexuality was a choice, so it’s okay to discriminate against gay people and block them from marriage because there are separate toilets for men and women. Old Colin’s been quiet for a long time now; clearly that was a good idea.

Also performing was my pal Bob “Slippery Slope!” McCoskrie, who again said that allowing loving same gender couples to marry must—it just HAS to—mean allowing incestuous and polygamous marriages, too. Why? Well, because it just does! Oh, and we’ll be forbidden to use the words husband, wife, mother and father, too, because someone somewhere said something, or some foreign government made some bureaucratic change that has nothing to do with New Zealand, but it will nevertheless force change here, too! Slippery slope, people!!

But the winner in my book was the Tongan Methodist Church who argued that allowing loving same-gender couples to marry would “destroy [Tongans’] traditional social structure”. Wow!! Centuries of European missionaries and armies failed to destroy Tongan culture, but allow two New Zealand men or two New Zealand women to marry, and POOF! (so to speak…), Tongan culture is gone!

A Samoan “mother of three” declared, “We have fa'afine. We have a gay community that is openly homosexual. But our gay community said, 'We are not going to be out there saying [gay marriage should be legalised], we are going to say we have our boundaries, we know that marriage belongs to the religious part of our culture'."

Apparently, she personally knows and has spoken with every gay Samoan or Pasifika person, so I wonder how she missed the quite active Pasifika activists backing marriage equality. Not all of them are gay or lesbian, of course, but their existence shows she’s wrong.

The problem is that neither culture nor religion can be used as an excuse to justify something that’s wrong, and discrimination against GLBT New Zealanders in marriage, despite what Colin thinks, IS wrong. If Tongans, Samoans or other Paskifika peoples want to preach against homosexuality, that’s their right. However, they have no right whatsoever to impose their culture or religion on all of New Zealand, the vast majority of whom don’t share their culture or religion. There are plenty of ways for that mum to make sure her kids “grow up in traditional culture” without imposing that traditional culture on everyone else.

Religious freedom means freedom for all—including pro-LGBT churches, as well as people who have no religion—or it means nothing at all.

• • • • •

So: That’s the NZ political stuff that made me grumpy today. Clearly it’s all much milder than the antics of conservatives in the USA, More often than not, they exasperate me more than make me merely grumpy. Actually, that’s something I really like about New Zealand politics.

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