Hard News by Russell Brown

All the fun ...

The fallout from yesterday's "civil unions on a knife-edge" story in the Herald has been interesting. At least two of the apparent flip-floppers - Don Brash and Tariana Turia - went on the radio to confirm their changes of mind, but reports of the demise of the votes of Act MP Heather Roy and National's Pansy Wong appear to have been considerably exaggerated.

Roy emailed a number of people after the Herald story was published yesterday to say she had been misrepresented and still fully intended to vote in favour of the Civil Union Bill. Bizarrely, she's not even mentioned in today's follow-up, which does note that Pansy Wong, another supposed waverer, is "likely" to vote in favour as well. Herald reporter Ruth Berry will presumably be speaking to her sources.

Meanwhile, Labour's Muslim MP Ashraf Choudhary surprised everyone by declaring that he had examined his conscience and would be voting favour of the bill, rather than abstaining. The bill will pass its second and third readings, and not just by one vote.

I heard Turia give a rather strange interview to Noelle on bFM, in which she advanced a series of rationalisations for voting against civil unions: because they weren't "necessary"; there should be a referendum; and because it should be full marriage or nothing (but she refused to say whether she would vote for same-sex marriage). She also claimed that the majority of the same-sex couples who had lobbied her office were against civil unions. Que?

Brash had the virtue of clarity in his interview with Mary Wilson on Checkpoint (but what exactly was she working off when she put it to him that the public was "very strongly opposed" to the CUB?). He was concerned that the government had "ignored" the 90% of submissions against the CUB; that "hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders" were deeply concerned about the bill and therefore there should be a referendum, in which he would vote in favour of civil unions.

It sounded reasonable, but it didn't make sense. Yes, there were many submissions against the bill (although not as many as, say, marched in the hikoi to Parliament), but many of them were form jobs and some of them were plain sick. They were largely driven by well-funded organisations whose members tend to do as they are bid.

It is absolutely the democratic right of those organisations and individuals to make their representations. But when actual opinion polls have all run in favour of civil unions, are the submissions really to be taken as evidence of a great public groundswell?

Indeed, as the Campaign for Civil Unions pointed out in a release last night, in the two polls that have also asked questions about party support, National voters have backed civil unions by a margin of nearly two-to-one. Who exactly is representing them in the Parliamentary caucus? The comparison with the law reform era - where MPs were miles out step with the public mood, and cowed by a well-organised conservative campaign - becomes more apt by the day.

(If you want to join the fun yourself - just to show that relaxed, liberal, happy-within-themselves sorts can lobby too - The Campaign for Civil Unions now has a page for emailing MPs. I'm normally a bit wary about mass-mailing gizmos, but this one has been done quite nicely, with the intention of preventing abuse.)

And apart from anything else, protection on grounds of sexual orientation was added to the Human Rights Act by a National government. Since when did that minority right need to be endorsed by referendum? (And, for that matter, how keen would Turia be on a foreshore and seabed referendum?)

Brash, Turia and other MPs have noted that they have been subject to furious lobbying. Unfortunately, in some cases, that appears to have deprived some of them of their principles. I really can't read Brash's motivation here: if it's poll panic I don't think it's going to work. Moral bugaboos don't usually work very well on New Zealanders.

Meanwhile Garnet "Gazza" Milne, of the Campaign Against Civil Unions, continues to try and play the victim, claiming to have been "attacked" by Tim Barnett in a reply to one of his own emails, the full text of which is this:

From: Tim Barnett
Sent: Tuesday, 30 November 2004 9:01 a.m.
To: Garnet Milne
Cc: Tony Milne
Subject: RE: A plea for the afflicted homosexual

Dear Garnet,

I vote with the knowledge that your grossly misinformed and dangerous beliefs about homosexuality are much more a threat to the peace of our nation and that welfare of our people than anything I could ever do as a politician.

Best wishes,


Golly. Perhaps Gazza should hire private security in case the homos come and get him. Ironically, Milne's cry for help was posted only a few minutes after this rambling grab-bag of personal accusations and blathering about "immoral, unhealthy and dysfunctional" gay sexual activity. He's a right old laugh.

The Rasputin of Hobson Street, TVNZ commissioning chief Tony Holden, has brought in Jason Daniels - the Grundy soap specialist who helped develop Shortland Street - to work on a new, in-house soap at state TV. Some other people have been recruited, but anyone deemed to have been too well-connected to Shortland Street's producer, South Pacific Pictures, has not, it appears, been welcome.

So why is TVNZ trying to work up a new soap when it has previously said it wouldn't be producing drama in-house, and when it already has a well-established and popular nightly soap?

Because Holden (who had a very bitter separation with SPP) wants to "break up the big production companies", and SPP in particular, as he seems to have been happy to say to a few people? Why would that be a good idea? Where does strategy stop and personal agenda begin?

There is a long and undistinguished history at TVNZ of successive generations of management having to climb out from underneath the agendas of their predecessors. It would seem to be going strong.

While we're with Shorty et al, I've been enjoying reading the comments on Idolblog in response to my Listener column about Idolblog and its founders, who recently launched the fan site Street Talk.

On which topic - and I think I may have asked this before - did anyone ever archive that star of the early days of the New Zealand Internet, Shortland Street Interactive? It was a series of mock Shortland Street scripts written progressively by readers, and at its best it was screamingly funny. Web servers being a little hard to come by back then, it was secretly hosted at the Crown Research Institute where its founders worked. I'd love to see it again.

But wait, there's more! Through the kind offices of Karajoz, Public Address is able to offer a hundred-odd readers a free preview of Team America: World Police next Tuesday, in Auckland. RSVP here. See you there...