Cracker by Damian Christie

The Act Party: Hookers & Drugs

I don’t know who writes ACT MP Muriel Newman’s press releases, but they’re on to a winning formula. My favourite titles to date:

“Stop Beating Around The Child Support Bush”

“The Grinch who stole hard-working families' Christmas" [Steve Maharey, FYI]

Not to be beaten on the cliché front, Heather Roy has a nice little think-piece called “Has Political Correctness Really Gone Mad?”

And then on Tuesday, this little beauty:

“ACT New Zealand Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks today expressed a fervent hope that Santa does not slide down a chimney to deliver presents, and come face to face with one of the 242 inmates being granted early release for Christmas.”

I don’t even know where to start on that one.

I’ve been puzzling this year over the direction in which ACT has been heading, and I’m not alone. In the early days the party had some sort of cohesive direction, founded as it was on the work of Sir Roger Douglas. Its positions were clear. But it’s funny what Parliament can do. Within one term Sir Roger was rumoured to be unhappy with his acolytes, particularly with those responsible for putting together its muck-raking scandal sheet ‘The Goss’. Not the sort of thing a Knight of the Realm would expect from his chosen few.

These days the muck is left largely unraked, but the principles the party was founded on are even less visible than before. There has always been a tension inside the party between the socially liberal and the socially conservative. While some Act staffers smoked pot on the front steps of Parliament after the Voluntary Student Membership Bill passed (I was with them, but didn’t inhale), and others placed advertisements in the NORML News during the last elections, the party hasn’t come out either way on the cannabis issue.

Given the policy statement on Act’s website “That individuals are the rightful owners of their own lives and therefore have inherent freedoms and responsibilities,” you'd think their cannabis policy would be a gimme. But a search reveals nothing.

I’m not the first to have noticed the silence, either. I called Act HQ. “No firm policy” was the response. It would come down to a conscience vote, apparently. Obviously ACT’s “individual responsibility” only goes so far as to allow its MPs to make up their own minds whether you should be able to get high. Interesting huh?

The prostitution issue resulted in a similarly confusing stance. Deborah Coddington wrote in her ironically titled “Liberty Belle” column why the Prostitution Reform Bill wasn’t a good idea.

It’s fairly typical of Coddington’s muddled thinking (more on the hotly debated “Saving/Supporting Public Radio” later).

Yes, as someone who holds liberty as the ultimate value, I do believe that sex between consenting adults is private and the state should in no way intrude. But let’s deal with this issue in context. We’re talking here about prostitution and I think that’s different from the act of two adults making love to each other.

There are those who argue trading sex is the same as any other commercial transaction. I can’t agree with that. For starters, we’re not allowed to do it in public.

Correct me if I’m wrong, and you probably will, but is she arguing that because you can’t do it in public, it shouldn’t be viewed as a commercial transaction? Five things off the top of my head that you can’t do in broad daylight, but can quite legally pay for:

Pretty much any surgery
Mare servicing
Developing photos

Coddington goes on: “We also have good taste and decency laws governing the promotion of sex…”

So because we have laws about it, we shouldn’t decriminalise it? Did anyone say muddled?

And if selling sexual intercourse to a willing purchaser is no less moral than selling a haircut, then answer me this: Why do so many prostitutes get hooked on drugs because to try and survive mentally they must psychologically remove themselves from the reality of what they’re doing?”

I think the real question is why do so many drug users turn to prostitution? Because drugs are expensive, and prostitution can be quite lucrative. Maybe if drugs weren’t illegal? It’s a chicken and egg argument. I’ve known a lot of people in jobs involving odd working hours or huge deadline pressures, who develop speed habits in order to stay up and get the job done. What should we do about that? Ban the hospitality industry? Outlaw commercial film shoots?

And then, the compelling:

Around 70 per cent of sexworkers... were sexually abused as children, and many of them began their life on the game before they turned 16. I’m prepared to accept there are a very small number of informed, educated, emotionally stable hookers who chose their careers for fun and high financial returns. But they’re the exception and I’m concerned about the pattern.

So because a woman has been sexually abused, she should forgo the right to make her own decisions? And those that are informed and educated, and emotionally stable? Just too bad, it would seem, you’re not the majority, so your individual rights go out the door. Quite the lover of liberty, this Liberty Belle.

Perhaps Act should update its central policy statement as such:

“That individuals [other than those who have been sexually abused as children, those that are informed, educated and emotionally stable but represent the minority of any group, and anyone who wants to smoke pot] are the rightful owners of their own lives and therefore have inherent freedoms [other than those that are already prohibited by law, because they’re illegal] and responsibilities."

I was a bit wary to wade into the debate over Deborah Coddington’s Saving/Supporting Public Radio report. However, now that I’ve taken the time to read all 44 self-serving pages of it, I feel obliged to write something. Not today though. It’s Friday afternoon and all this writing is making me thirsty.

Postscript: I've since been informed that despite the above Liberty Belle article, Ms Coddington ended up voting for the prostitution reform bill. Of the Act MPs, 4 voted for, 4 against, and Richard Prebble did not vote. I think rather than proving me wrong, this only serves to underline the split and inconsistency within the "party of principle" that is ACT New Zealand. Cheers.