Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Trans woman denied Gym membership

A new Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration bill to replace the 1995 act is currently making its way through Parliament. One of the new provisions will be to allow the self-declaration of gender identity. But I wonder, if the bill was already law, it would have helped Penelopy Mansel, a transgender woman, gain membership to a women’s gym.

As the law currently stands, a person can have their gender recorded on their birth certificate changed provided they can satisfy the Family Court that they identify as their nominated gender and have, or are undergoing appropriate medical treatment to make their appearance more in keeping with that gender. Surgery is not required. In fact in Aotearoa New Zealand, gender reassignment surgery is not an option. Funding for reassignment surgery is so minuscule, that one is likely to be on the waiting list for more than forty years before one can go under the knife. Few are likely to be able to afford to have it done privately in NZ, or overseas for that matter.

According to Penelopy’s birth certificate she is now female, but she has not had gender reassignment surgery. And this was enough for the gym to deny her membership. Our human rights legislation does not specifically ban discrimination against transgendered people or others who are not gender conforming. According the the Crown Law Office, and its advice to government, it’s unnecessary as the comprehensive coverage against sex discrimination effectively covers transgender rights as well. However, this has yet to be tested in court.

Court cases over discrimination are relatively rare in NZ as complaints regarding discrimination are referred to the Human Rights Commission. The Commission prefers education over prosecution, and so the testing of whether or not discrimination against transgendered or other gender nonconforming people is illegal may never reach the courts. The new Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration bill does nothing to clarify the matter.

In the video clip linked to below, Renee Gerlich argues that “The legislation undermines a lot of the work that suffragettes did, they fought for the women’s vote, they wanted to give women a way of making political demands that pertain to our sex when, we can’t do that once the definition of what a woman is has fundamentally changed”. It does appear that she is confusing sex and gender. The legislation will allow for self-identification of gender (a socially defined atribute) not sex (biologically defined).

The argument that the new legislation will distort statistics is, I believe, a red herring. As only 1.2% of the NZ population self identify as trans, and about the same number identify as gender nonconforming, their numbers are relatively small. Where it is important that statistics refer to sex and not gender, such as for funding of breast and cervical screening, then I’m sure appropriate adjustments can be made. In fact, it seems that our five yearly census will cover this well, as in future it will ask about both sex and gender.

Some speakers in the following clip refer to WINZ. This term is familiar to all Kiwis, but others may not know that it is an acronym for Work and Income New Zealand – the government department that oversees social welfare benefits and pensions, and supports the unemployed and those on a low income into work and to find housing.

Wellington transgender woman denied membership at female gym

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What’s wrong with some Kiwis??

In a recent Colmar Brunton poll conducted for TVNZ’s One News, 18% of the population believe that our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s ability to govern the country will be negatively impacted by the birth of her first child in June. That means almost one in five Kiwis believe motherhood is incompatible with running a country! I thought we were beyond that sort of thinking.

There have been several PMs (Prime Ministers) in the past who have had children while in office, but I can not find a single poll that queried the nation’s opinion and about whether or not the upcoming birth would have a negative impact.

The difference? The other PMs were male. Strangely, although the number of comments by the public in the media are few, there does not seem to be a significant difference of opinion by gender in how becoming a parent might affect her ability to run the country.

Most comments have been around the fact that due to the many sleepless nights ahead, the PM will not be in a condition to make wise decisions. For goodness sake! This is Aotearoa New Zealand. Most Kiwi fathers will have just as many sleepless nights as their partners, and during the night might even change the baby’s nappy (nappy = diaper) more often than his partner, leaving her to perform the one task he is incapable of: breast feeding. The odds are that previous PMs have also been just as sleep deprived as Jacinda will be.

Why did One News think up the idea that a poll on her ability to govern was even newsworthy? This has me somewhat baffled. Perhaps they thought it might be more controversial that it turned out to be? There’s no doubt in my mind that news media are just as capable of creating news as they are of reporting it.

Perhaps they wanted to show how progressive we as a nation are. If so, that fact that one in five of us think that motherhood is incompatible with a major role outside the home reveals we are not as progressive as we like to imagine.

On the other hand, if the intent was to create controversy by illustrating how conservative and traditional we are in contrast to our image of ourselves as being progressive and liberal, especially regarding gender roles, the result must be disappointing. The response from the public has been much along the lines of “(Yawn) So? (Yawn)”.

For those who missed the results in the clip above, the results of the poll How do you think becoming a parent will affect Jacinda Ardern’s performance as Prime Minister? are:
59% No difference
18% worse than now
15% better than now
6%  don’t know
1%  refused to answer

Thank goodness, no one has conducted a poll regarding the appropriateness of the PM being in a relationship that is not formalised in the manner of a marriage or civil union. I can be reasonably confident that the reason for there being no such poll is because (a) more than 90% of the population would consider it irrelevant, and (b) it would bring out the very worst of the very small number religious fundamentalists who like nothing better than to vilify anyone who doesn’t conform to their ideas of morality. While controversy might be good for business, being seen as vehicle for hatred and bigotry is not. Perhaps this is just a “Kiwi thing” that extreme views are not encouraged.

When I think about the fact the the leaders of the two political parties that make up the current government (Jacinda Ardern of Labour and Winston Peters of New Zealand First and who are also Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister respectively) are not married to their partners, yet no one here thinks anything of it (the few religious fundamentalists excluded), or considers it in any way remarkable, perhaps we are somewhat progressive in our thinking after all.


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The land of awkward terrorists, communists and fascists

For several weeks, I’ve been struggling with completing a post regarding the Kiwi propensity to avoid conflict and how it has a tendency to neutralise extremist views. Today I stumbled across an opinion piece first published in April 2017 which neatly summarises what I was attempting to write, and even poses a question very similar to what I wanted to ask.

So in the interests of getting a post out at all, I have abandoned writing my own, and refer readers to the Stuff article New Zealand: the land of awkward terrorists, communists and fascists.


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The far right is poisoning New Zealand!

How the far right is poisoning New Zealand is an opinion piece in the Washington Post, and I suspect most who read it and are not familiar with the politics of Aotearoa New Zealand will reach the conclusion headlined in the piece.

But do the “facts” used to support the headline stack up?

First of all, what is meant by the far right? I don’t think we’ll all completely agree what is meant by far right in politics, but this definition from Wikipedia seems reasonable:

Far-right politics is a term used to describe politics further on the right of the left-right spectrum than the standard political right, particularly in terms of more extreme nationalist, and nativist ideologies, as well as authoritarian tendencies.

The term is often associated with Nazism, neo-Nazism, fascism, neo-fascism and other ideologies or organizations that feature extreme nationalist, chauvinist, xenophobic, racist or reactionary views. These can lead to oppression and violence against groups of people based on their supposed inferiority, or their perceived threat to the nation, state or ultraconservative traditional social institutions.

With that out of the way, let’s look at some at the claims made.

New Zealand First has traditionally been an afterthought in New Zealand politics. Really? The New Zealand First Party has been a coalition partner in 3 of the last 4 governments. Its leader, Winston Peters has held the post of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in two previous administrations, and held the role of Treasurer in one.

And no matter what one’s of opinion of Peters might be (and mine are not very favourable), those under forty are unlikely to have known a time where he hasn’t been in the headlines. There’s no doubt that he’s a populist, cares little for political correctness, enjoys controversy and being in the spotlight. Peters formed NZ First in 1993 after resigning from the National Party, and has been its leader ever since. The party and Peters are so closely intertwined, that the two names are frequently used interchangeably. Being an afterthought in NZ politics? Absolutely not.

Mack then stated “a far-right party that received just seven percent of the vote had the power to decide who would rule“. Two problems here: far right and power.

New Zealand First policies do not fit with the definition of far right as defined above. Most political commentators here call the party centrist, fitting somewhere between the two major parties: National (centre right) and Labour (centre left). To put the left/right divide in NZ into perspective, the centre right here is further left than the centre left in the USA.The left wing of the American Democrat party would be in alignment with the NZ National party.

Peters is guilty of making racist comments in the past, although never when in government, and I think he would qualify as a bit racist, but he has shown no animosity towards immigrants and ethnic groups already in NZ. The party is anti immigration, although they support an increase in the number of refugees being admitted to the country. The party is socially conservative and Peters voted against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 1980s, civil unions in 2005 and marriage equality in 2013, but as far as I can see, neither the party nor Peters has advocated repeals of the legislation. At one time he and the party campaigned for a repeal of the so called “anti-smacking” legislation, but that seems to be off the radar for the time being.

In many ways Peters is an enigma: Highly combative yet liked and respected by political allies and foes alike. I’m not fond of his style, nor many of the policies held by NZ First, but it really does take a vivid imagination to paint either as being far right.

If one does the maths, there were some 15 different possible scenarios that could have been played out in the formation of a stable government after the September elections. Some, admittedly, were unlikely to happen but there were a number of scenarios that could have formed stable governments without the involvement of NZ First. To claim that a party with 7% of the popular vote had the power to decide who would rule, is a failure to understand the nature of negotiation. Labour, the greens and NZ First reached an agreement to form a viable government. Let’s see: Labour 36.9% + NZ First 7.2% + Greens 6.3% = 50.4%. I think that’s sufficient public support to give them the right to form a government. National did not have a moral right to form a government simply because it had 44.4% of the popular vote.

Mack claims that Peters and NZ First held the country to ransom by delaying a decision for weeks while making increasingly extreme demands. Huh? Negotiations started the day after the final vote was declared, and were concluded ten days later. Given that any agreement had to be ratified by members of three political parties (four if you include the negotiations between National and NZ First that were going on at the same time), it was quite an achievement to conclude negotiations in less than two weeks.

And what were the extreme demands that apparently Ardern had kowtowed to? Slashed immigration? A plank In labour’s election platform was the reduction in the net migration gain, currently running at over 70,000 per year, which is placing a strain on housing stock and infrastructure. The section of the coalition agreement on immigration starts with “As per Labour’s policy…” So no far right plan imposed on the new government.

Mack also claims they’ve also put forward legislation banning non-citizens from owning property. Ah, no they haven’t. The proposal is to prevent overseas investors from purchasing and speculating in existing housing stock. There will be no restrictions on non-citizens who reside here from doing so. And foreign investors will still be able to build and own new housing stock. This has been Labour policy since 2013.

So what has NZ First achieved? An increase of the minimum wage to $20 per hour by 2020. This is about $2 more than labour had proposed. The biggest “concession” gained by Peters is funding of regional development to the tune of 10 billion dollars over 10 years. There’s also an agreement to review the existing Super Gold Card with the possibility of replacing it with a new generation Super Gold Card. If these are extreme demands from the far right, I’ll eat my hat.

As for the white supremacists clashes outside Parliament: Six National Front members were holding an annual rally on the steps of parliament when they were glitter bombed and man-handled by several hundred anti-racism protesters. If this is a sign of increased support for far right ideals, what should I make of 60,000 who took part in a far right rally in Poland?

When we look at the new Labour NZ First government, it must be noted that 41% of the executive are Māori or Polynesian, and within the combined caucuses of Labour and the Greens, 50% are women. Hardly a good sign for white supremacists and bigotry.

Before I close this rant over the Washington Post’s appalling journalism, I need to point out that governance agreements between parties in New Zealand tend to form very loose coalitions. To maintain party distinctiveness, the agreements have “agree to disagree” clauses. These allow parties in government to vote against each other on matters important to them.

An example of this is likely to arise when the TPP free trade treaty comes up for ratification in Parliament. Both NZ First and the Greens oppose the treaty and will most likely vote against it. This will not be a threat to the government due to the agree to disagree arrangements. In this particular case, the government will be able to rely on support from National, but there will be other occasions where it will be unable to raise the support necessary to pass legislation, even with major concessions to other parties. However, such events are very unlikely to bring down a government.

If you’d like to know more on how our novel arrangements for multi-party governance is developing in New Zealand, you might like to read the PDF document MMP and the Constitution published by the Victoria University Faculty of Law. It’s a little old, being published in 2009, but it does illustrate how pragmatism rather than ideology influences how the country is governed.

Sorry Ben Mack, but if New Zealand is being poisoned by the far right, then the rest of the world must be in its final death throes.


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What’s so special about today?

I don’t know if today has any significance in your part of the world, but here in Aotearoa New Zealand  the 19th of September is a time to reflect on a major milestone in our country’s history.

It was 124 years ago today that women won the right to vote, making New Zealand the first self-governing country where women were able to vote. However it was not until 1919 that universal suffrage was attained – the right to vote and stand for election. So in this regard, New Zealand was somewhat tardy.

While considerable progress has been made since then – for example, 46% of senior position in the public service are held by women, we still have some way to go. Women are underrepresented in Parliament (only 30% of members of Parliament are women) and in senior management roles in the private sector.

There’s still a pay parity gap. Women on average earn 9% less than men. This is mainly because many of the roles traditionally undertaken by women, and where today women still greatly outnumber men, are undervalued and and are paid poorly. For example nursing, childcare, and teaching.

In the legal and medical professions, the majority of graduates since the early 1990s have been women, yet less than 20% of senior legal partners are women, and much the same applies to senior management in the medical profession.

So while we should be proud of the progress made, it’s also a time to reflect on what each of us can to to bring about true equality.


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The Jacinda effect, or how a week is a long time in politics

Is it a Kiwi thing to name political events after the first name of politicians? For example when Laissez-Faire economics was flavour of the decade in the 1980s, it was dubbed Reaganomics in the US (after Ronald Reagan), Thatchernomics in the UK (after Margaret Thatcher), but here in Aotearoa New Zealand it was called Rogernomics, (after Roger Douglas).

For the past month we have been faced with a new political event named after the first name of a politician – the Jacinda effect, also dubbed Jacindamania. Named after Jacinda Adern, it has turned a what was expected to be a boring and predictable general election into one balanced on a knife edge, with the major political parties leap frogging each other with the publishing of each new opinion poll.

Under our MMP electoral system, party representation in Parliament is determined by the nationwide party vote, and opinion polls can give a very accurate prediction of election results. During election campaigns, support for the major parties do not vary by more than a few percentage points. This year it’s very different.

At the commencement of this year’s campaign in July, the National party was polling at around 47% support while the Labour party was at 25% and falling. Of the minor parties, the Greens and NZ first were neck and neck with 10% each. Other parties were polling at 1% or less. The outcome was predicted to be that either National could form a government on its own or in cooperation with its current allies, NZ Futures, ACT and the Māori Party.

So what happened? First, the admission by Metiria Turei, the co-leader of the Greens that she failed to declare to Work and Income (the government department responsible for handling most social security benefits) when she was a solo mother and university student in the 1990s, that flatmates were contributing to her household income. Surprisingly, this omission, dubbed fraud by her opponents and an economic necessity by her supporters, saw her personal popularity rise, and the Greens rising dramatically to 15% support in the polls, and Labour dropping to 23%. Support for National also rose to 49%, making the election result an almost forgone conclusion.

Then the unexpected happened. With less than two months until the elections, Andrew Little, the leader of the Labour Party, resigned. I guess we’ll never know whether he jumped or was pushed, but clearly the resignation was due to his very poor personal ratings in the opinion polls and the effect that was having on the Labour Party. The party elevated the deputy leader, Jacinda Adern to leader, and the results were astounding.

Within days, the Jacinda effect saw National and Labour polling within a few percentage points of each other, and they have gone on to take turns at being the most popular party. Currently they both sit at around 40% – 43% support, depending on the poll. It seems certain neither party will be able to govern on their own.

The Jacinda effect has not only had a detrimental effect on National. It has had a devastating effect on the minor parties. Whereas the Greens had 15% support and NZ First 12% support – 27% between them, the Greens dropped to just under 5% support and NZ First to 7%.

Under MMP, a party gaining less than 5% of the party votes is ineligible for any party seats unless it also gains an electorate seat. That could mean that the Greens might not make it to the next Parliament. That would be a shame, as that leaves NZ first as the only potential government partner. And there’s nothing that Winston Peters, the leader of NZ First, likes better than being seen as the “king maker”.

What’s the problem with that you may ask. Look at it this way. Think of Donald Trump as Winston Peters on steroids. While he’s nowhere near as egocentric as Trump, he’s the most xenophobic, nationalistic politician we have. The name of his political party – New Zealand First – gives a clue to where he stands. And when I say his party, I do mean his party. Winston created it, leads it, and when he eventually leaves politics, so will NZ First.

What I like about our political system is that under MMP no party has been able to govern on its own. The major parties must rely on minor parties to form a government. Typically these are not coalitions, but agreements on matters of confidence and supply. This means that the governing party is not able to railroad legislation through Parliament, but must negotiate support for each bill, and not necessarily from their supporting partners.

It also means that other parties don’t automatically oppose every piece of legislation that comes before the House. I like to think that legislation is more considered and debated rationally as a consequence, instead of the “It’s good because we wrote it” and “It’s bad because they wrote it” mindset that occurred in the days prior to MMP. In those bad old days, it was not uncommon for bills to pass though Parliament without amendments, only to be found wanting after they came into effect.

Our unicameral legislature inevitably means that some poor legislation sneaks through, but these days, the lack of absolute power in Parliament for the governing party, and scrutiny that legislation undergoes through our select committee system means as it’s nowhere near as common as it once was.

The problem with Winston Peters is that he’s likely to demand full coalition instead of the more loose arrangements that have become more or less the convention. If he has a talent (apart from the ability to spend ten minutes not answering an interviewer’s question), it’s getting what he wants in political negotiations. While he makes politics in this country interesting, I really wouldn’t like Winston and his party to be the tail that wags the dog.

As to where my party vote will go, that’s no-one’s business but my own. But I will say this: I have voted every three years since 1969, and not once in all that time has my vote gone to a party forming the government. The odds are that it’s not going to be any different come the 23rd of September. So no matter which party or parties form the next government, it’s unlikely that I voted for them.


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The Orange Guy

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All Americans know who the orange guy is, and for that past year, so does most everyone everywhere who is not a cave dwelling hermit. It’s the guy to the right.

For most of us he’s the butt of jokes and provides current affairs programs with something to fill in time when news is otherwise in short supply.

But there is another orange guy who’s been around for for several decades here in Aotearoa New Zealand. As far as we know the guy doesn’t have a name, so is only known as the Orange Guy. The Kiwi orange guy is very different to tRump, except that he too is fake.

Our Orange guy is a gender-neutral, ethnic-neutral, political-neutral amorphous blob that appears for a few months once every few years and then, unlike tRump, completely disappears. The guy has been around for a couple of months now and I quite certain we’ll see no more of the person after the 23rd of this month.

Personally, I think our Orange Guy is much more likeable than the other orange guy. I can’t find any recent clips of the Orange Guy, but here’s one from 2014.


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Sexism in politics

Having grown up in a family with very liberal ideas on gender roles, I sometimes forget that not everyone holds similar values.

This week a TV interviewer put his foot into it by asking a question he really should have known not to ask.

This is Aotearoa New Zealand and the twenty first century. If he has been an employer, he would have been in deep doo doo for asking the question to an employee or prospective employee.

Thankfully his question raised the ire of the interviewee and a significant proportion of the community.

The question was to the new leader of the Labour party, who has a remote chance of becoming the PM (Prime Minister) after the general elections in September.

So what was the question?

“Is it OK for a PM to take maternity leave while in office?”

The question and the anger it has raised seems to have been reported around the globe. See CNN and The Guardian as examples.

I’m disappointed that there are still men around who hold nineteenth century views of gender roles, but I am pleased that most Kiwi males have moved on.


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Trump’s ban on Trans in the military doesn’t go far enough

Trump is on the right track but banning Transgender people does not go far enough. Not by a long way. Hopefully tomorrow, he’ll correct the situation by banning Gays, Lesbians, Bi, Queer, Inter-sex and all forms of gender and sexual diversity.

But he shouldn’t leave it there. There’s two other groups that do even more harm and cost even more due to huge numbers in the military. They should be banned too. These are the Straight and the Cis-gendered people. Think of all the medical costs and veteran costs that would be saved, not to mention how little disruption would occur within the military with these two groups banned as well.