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Free to speak on classical liberalism

  • March 21st, 2008

Under National Party rules I could not make public statements  during the selection period. The purpose is to avoid Clinton/Obama style fraticide (though voters generally benefit from that searching exposure even if the Democrats do not in the short term).

I could maintain this blog’s posts during that period on condition they did not mention the selection process or attract MSM attention.  Statements as Wellington Rugby League chairman were also permitted.

The gag chafed. I avoided Kiwiblog to reduce the urge to comment. Catching up now, I wish I’d participated in some of the conversations on my selection. I’m grateful to the decent people who injected  fact into comment strings, but I could have linked to the Hansard reports of debates to counter others’ dishonest or ignorant meta references. 

The distortion of my position on the Prostitution Reform Bill is typical. I ended up chairing the Select Committee on it. We soon found that prostitution has not been a crime in New Zealand for over 100 years. Only pimping and brothel keeping were crimes. The Bill was therefore largely a linked set of dishonest slogans. It created more vague new crimes than it eliminated, and removed defences that are fundamental to our notions of guilt and innocence (for example with strict liability  for  publishing an ad for a prostitute under 18, knowingly or unknowingly). Police of course now do not enforce much of the new law.

The Bill served its political purpose. Proponents were badged as social liberals. Opponents as conservative.

I voted against the Bill because it was simply bad law, with provisions designed not to be enforceable. Many speeches in support were deeply dishonest, especially about child prostitution. What’s happened since bears out my fears.  

Through-out my time in Parliament I tried to debate what bills actually did as rules, in contrast to their symbolic status as badging passwords of tribal membership. I found that few MPs read the law they were debating, so most debates centred on the claims in introductory summaries and purpose clauses. They are commonly deceitful (to sample Orwellian current practice try the purpose section of the EFA).  

I will be pilloried for failing to shout the right password at these tribal challenges. I was debating the effect of words in the bills. The others were proclaiming their own moral virtue.

A civil union example illustrates the point. Many years earlier a prominent National MP sought my views on the Homosexual Law Reform Bill. In response I developed notes based on Lady Wolfenden’s famous summary “the law has no place in the bedrooms of the nation”. The MP used the notes almost verbatim in supporting the Bill.

So I started without prejdice against Tim Barnett’s Civil Union Bill. I like him and worked constructively (as deputy chair to him)  on the many bills that came to our committee.

By the end I could not vote for the bills. We had tearful submission after submission on the need to pass the bill to end the practice of hospitals refusing deathbed access to partners because they were not married. Georgina Beyer’s speech picked up the theme and tore the heart strings. Only problem was that as far as officials could find out there was no such current practice, and certainly there was nothing in any law about it, and neither the Marriage Act nor the Civil Union Act touch on it then or now.

On the other side we had hundreds of submissions from religious people essentially complaining about the state’s gutting of the legal meaning of marriage. That was not in the bills before us. That occurred 30 years earlier, without significant protest from established religion. 

But the civil union bills did complete Margaret Wilson’s conversion of de facto status to a form of non-consensual (but devalued) marriage partnership.

Probably 4 out of the 600 submissioners we heard had read the bills well enough to pick up what was actually being done in the nearly 100 statutes that the civil union companion bill amended.

I unwisely complained at a Waikato University meeting one day about having to endure days of grumpy christians and whining gays. I regret the rudeness, but not the sentiment. Our committee room was set up by the government as a theatre for their long-running tribal battle.  But the submissions on both sides had next to nothing to do with the law we were passing.

I eventually voted against the civil union bills for many faults including because of what they did to people who did not even know they were in the firing line – deliberately unmarried and non “united” partners. 

My directness ignites the politically correct.  In Parliament I stuck to exploring issues bluntly as a personal defense against being infected by the fog of spin and hypocrisy in which most political debate is conducted.

Of course there’s a price.  Political speech is calculated and cowardly for good reason. Vivid phrases will be plucked from their context and retailed to oohs and aahs of simulated distress. Specially valuable for this purpose are phrases crystallising opinions specially demonised to distinguish superior consciousness from that of ordinary people.

I trust that enough Wellingtonians will want to see that hard work in Parliament again even if they don’t always agree with me. I think enough want genuine compassion. I look at the effect laws have in reality on the people they pretend to protect. Many people working in policy and implementation tell me they want me back, to puncture pompous political speech balloons they’re being forced to write. They want me to stand for law that means exactly what it says.

Many genuine Wellington liberals (not collectivists who’ve stolen liberal clothing) are also keen for someone they can trust to look behind the spin, and then not use it in talking to them. I will not  treat Wellingtonians as children to be humoured with PC euphemisms.

We’ll know how many by the end of the year. 



This is exactly why I think the NZ Parliament needs you back, Stephen. Congrats on your deserved selection!

(Cheeky question: are you going to put your selection speech online?)

My three biggest concerns now are:

– the damaged state that NZ will be in by Nov 2008 (another Labour “scorched earth” economy for National to rescue again)

– that John Key’s breed of National party will be too timid to make the hard decisions necessary to get NZ back to the country it should be (the sort of thinking from which he has publicly distanced himself, because it came from Roger Douglas).

– that National will not reverse or fix the social engineering laws of this Labour govt (eg Anti-Smacking, Prostitution…)

  • francis
  • March 22nd, 2008
  • 11:56 am

good job here, Stephan. Looking forward to your campaign!

  • Roger Dewhurst
  • March 22nd, 2008
  • 12:09 pm

What is your position on anthropogenic global warming?

  • Neil Johnson
  • March 22nd, 2008
  • 3:33 pm

Congratulations on your selection, Stephen.

I’ve been a life-long supporter, voter and even (briefly) employee of the Labour Party but I’m disappointed at where it has now brought us.

For me there are three key issues: welfarism and the erosion of personal responsibility; the failures of our justice system; and the gradual shift towards making homosexuality and prostitution more visible, acceptable and respectable in our society.

Your attention to the language and the morality of politics is most welcome. We need more of this, not less.

I very much hope you are elected to Parliament.

I might not agree with you on everything but it seems to me that you will 1) raise the standard of debate in the House and 2) introduce a degree of self-respect and respect for others which is often missing in our politicians.

With my best wishes,

Neil Johnson.

  • dave
  • March 22nd, 2008
  • 5:08 pm

Good post Stephen, looking forward to more. I`ll have to link you in my blogroll

  • Nicholas
  • March 22nd, 2008
  • 5:27 pm

It’s all very well very & good opposing a law because of technical flaws. In fact your anti-spin approach is bloody refreshing. Emotive arguments can often harm a cause than help it.

But… the trouble with such an approach is that it’s hard to work out what you exactly stand for. Are you pro or anti prostitutes/gay rights? Are you a social liberal or social conservative?

My view is that making laws for minority groups isn’t the way to go, because as long as the people isn’t stealing, or harming another person…. then what ever you’re doing is fine & there’s no need to legislate (after all laws = control).
But I recongise that sometimes these types of laws are needed because of prejudices; to help give social acceptance to an often denigrated minority. In saying that any such law should be written properly.


Let’s see about those classical liberal credentials.

Stephen, if you were already a National MP, would you have voted for the Misuse of Drugs (Classification of BZP) Amendment Bill?

  • Nick Kearney
  • March 22nd, 2008
  • 10:08 pm

Brilliant summary Stephen. Those reasons are precisely the reasons everyone should have when standing for parliament. Good luck.

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