Kevin Hague

Family First, own goals and desperate measures

by Kevin Hague

I guess Family First is in a hard position. They really don’t want Louisa Wall’s marriage equality bill to succeed but they’re faced with a situation where most New Zealanders support it, where it passed its First Reading with an emphatic majority, and where the Select Committee that heard submissions has given the Bill a ringing endorsement.

What makes it harder still for them is that the main argument they have previously used – scaremongering about restriction of religious freedom – has been nullified by the Select Committee’s unanimously agreed changes to the Bill which put it beyond doubt that churches will not be required to do or say anything different to what they do now.

So, it’s no surprise to see Family First stooping to desperate and irresponsible measures and amongst these have been a number of own goals.

Who could forget their theft of “Marry You” by Train (who in fact support marriage equality) on their website? Or their extensive reliance on a “study” on “gay parenting” that was later reviewed as worthless by experts and caused the journal that had published it to apologise, saying it didn’t meet basic scientific standards?

Or the public opinion poll they commissioned, which, despite rigged questions, still demonstrated a clear majority in favour of the Bill over those opposed to it?

Last week saw more scaremongering, which I responded to on Whale Oil, where Family First supporters were convinced that the words “husband” and “wife” were being outlawed or somehow expunged from New Zealand law. In reality there are some Acts in which gender-neutral language has to be used (as it already is, in most Acts that refer to married couples) in order for the law to make sense, but in about three quarters of the Acts where they appear, those words can be and are being retained.

Another of their recent themes has been that the Select Committee process was rushed. David Farrar at Kiwiblog has very helpfully pointed out that this is nonsense, and that the timetable is essentially set by Parliament’s standing orders.

Today, Mr McCoskrie has published what he thinks is his “smoking gun”, an email from Ministry of Justice officials setting out some timing considerations for producing their report about submissions, which refers to the Committee’s “desire to progress its deliberations quickly”.

Unfortunately Bob has it wrong (yet again). In the sometimes arcane world of Parliament, “deliberation” refers to the specific process whereby select committees make their final decisions about their report and the amendments being recommended to the bill they are considering.

It is certainly true that the Committee did wish to conduct its decision-making process as expeditiously as possible. That is because we wanted to hear as many oral submissions as we possibly could and so extended hearings as close as we could to our reporting deadline of 28 February, which was set by Parliament in August last year. In other words, the tight window the Select Committee set for deliberations was to enable as many submissions to be heard as possible.

In the end, both the departmental report (which summarises the submissions and the issues raised, and makes recommendations to the Committee) and the Committee’s report have been extremely well received.

It’s true that there were people who would have liked to make an oral submission who did not get a chance to (probably more in favour than against, in fact). But I am absolutely confident that every member of the Committee, both those in favour of and against the Bill, would put hand on heart to say that the submissions we heard were a fair reflection of the entire range of arguments that submitters made in their written submissions.

I think most reasonable people would conclude that it is reasonable to stop when hearing more submissions will not add to the Committee’s understanding of the issues.

Published in Justice & Democracy | Society & Culture by Kevin Hague on Tue, March 5th, 2013   

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