I want to start by saying that I support gay marriage and, if I had been in parliament, I would have had no hesitation in voting in favor of Louisa Wall’s marriage equality bill. It sits perfectly with the Labour values of fairness and equality.
Despite that, I am not happy about it!
In a role I held earlier this year I wrote a strategic document in which I warned that Labour must not get sidetracked from going hard on the major issues that New Zealanders are telling us are important to them. The National government have a proven ability at creating side issues in order to deflect media and public attention away from the issues that matter. Labour MUST NOT get sucked into the game of responding to these periphery and/or manufactured issues because it would risk losing focus, momentum and credibility.
Little did I know that it wasn’t the Nats who would create the side shows (how ever worthy they may be), but Labour themselves. Louisa’s Bill was ill-timed. I believe it’s the sort of Bill that a Labour government introduces in its first year in government (the fact that it was drawn out of the ballot was unlucky for Labour). For the past month or so this issue has been at the forefront of the mainstream and social media. In the meantime, the state assets sales programme is in trouble, farms have been sold to the Chinese, educationists decry the rise of charter schools, the poverty gap is increasing at an alarming rate, Kiwis are heading to Australia in record numbers, our unemployment rate is climbing, and there is at least one dreadful health story a day that should be in the papers.
Both David Clark’s $15 minimum wage bill and Clayton Cosgrove’s bill on state asset sales were both drawn in the same ballot as Louisa’s bill (how many knew this?). Both these bill’s represented headline Labour policies at the last election, and were very popular across a wide range of voters. These are prime examples of Labour concentrating on issues that matter to a significant number of good hard working Kiwis, yet many of those same struggling Kiwis have no idea that we are still fighting hard on their behalf. Both issues have, by-and-large, been lost in the melee caused by the marriage equality bill.
The genie is out of the bottle, so what has to happen now? Louisa has to hold back. The vast majority agree that her bill is morally right and should be passed into law, but now it needs to take a back seat and let the issues of health, employment, education and finance come to the fore, otherwise there won’t be anyone left in New Zealand who can afford to get married.
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