Friday, April 19, 2013

New Zealand

New Zealand may be only three hours' flight from Australia, but it is light years ahead on equality. Feel free to resort to a sheep joke or an accent jibe while I cite some evidence.

This week's passage of a law allowing same-sex marriage is proof, if more is needed, that while New Zealand may be a small, young country, it is among the world's most mature.
New Zealand gave women the national vote in 1893, a year after it elected the British Empire's first woman mayor - one Mrs Elizabeth Yates of Onehunga. Save for women in Adelaide, half the Australian population had to wait until 1902.

In New Zealand, Maori men were enfranchised in 1867, before even white settler men who owned no property. Most Aborigines could not vote until 1965.

Two Kiwi women have been prime minister, two have been governor-general and one chief justice. No prime minister has been Maori or gay (two rare lingering achievements-to-come), but even a brief glance at its Parliament shows one far more reflective of its people than Australia's.
Perhaps that helped make this week's vote possible. The higher proportion of Maori and people from the Pacific makes for a more diverse, respectful nation, as does its political system.
Since the 19th century, seats have been reserved for Maori, and proportional representation means the House of Representatives is actually representative. There is no advantage in major parties pandering to marginal electorates: it is the sensible centre which matters.
The government has paid hundreds of millions in cash, land and valuable assets as compensation to Maori for tribal lands lost after colonisation. While a Liberal MP from WA this week told an Aboriginal woman on Twitter to ''get over colonialism'', New Zealand understands that in recovering from the generational effects of asset-stripping an entire people, a little compensation might help.
New Zealand has three official languages - English, Maori and sign language - and the staid and conservative rural seat of Wairarapa, once sent a transsexual to Parliament. Georgina Beyer, the Labour candidate, beat by 3000 votes the centre-right National Party's Paul Henry in 1999. New Zealand allows permanent residents to vote, but Australia reserves that right to citizens and Britons who got in before 1984. It's happy to take residents' taxes, but won't give them a say on how they are spent.
And this week, marriage. New Zealand's Parliament allowed same-sex couples to wed. The reaction was celebration. One of the main news sites changed its masthead to rainbow. The vote was 77 to 44, almost two-to-one in favour. The vote in the lower house in Canberra last year was more than two-to-one against.
In New Zealand, both conservative Prime Minister and Labor's Opposition Leader were for it. In Australia, Labor Prime Minister and conservative opposition are against.
When the vast, fantastically rich and usually welcoming Australian nation is compared with the shaky isles to the east, it comes across as having a mean tendency to say no when it can, not because it should.
In Sydney, Roads Minister Duncan Gay won't let the other gays keep a colourful pedestrian crossing on the Mardi Gras route.
This week, New Zealand chose love despite the trouble. It chose equality and respect for all its people.
Australia has taken a different course, on which it will stay for the forseeable future. The states may move on their own, as Premier Barry O'Farrell indicated on Thursday. But if they can't cope with a rainbow on a road, they won't know what to make of two ladies cutting a cake.

New Zealand understands the majority is judged on whether the minorities are equal before the law. History shows it takes a little longer for Australia to work it out.

(With thanks to Tim Dick in the Sydney Morning Herald, a Kiwi now living in Australia, thankfully I moved the other way).

Thursday, April 18, 2013

One of many great speeches last night

Whoo Hoo New Zealand

New Zealand has just passed the third and final reading of the bill to allow same-sex marriages. New Zealand has become the 13th nation in the world to do so.
I am so proud of my adopted country. The final reading was passed 77 to 44.