Craig Young says The ACT Party needs to abandon its current ruminations about the abolition of the Human Rights Commission. Even if it isn’t abolished, nor should its neutrality be compromised.
When it came to the Commission, established in 1977 under the Muldoon administration, its abilities and scope were circumscribed. It took sixteen years to include homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, and HIV status in the updated Human Rights Act 1993, as well as disabilities. Since then, there have been repeated calls to expand the ambit of the legislation to directly cover gender identity and intersex status, as well as lessen the copious number of exemptions allowed when it comes to providing employment, accomodation, and services for disabled people.
From time to time, we hear calls from the far right for the wholesale abolition of antidiscrimination laws. They first surfaced in the late seventies, when a fundamentalist Christian Christchurch garage owner threw a temper tantrum when he found that he couldn’t specify a co-religionist would get special treatment at his facility when it came to employment. Absurdly, the Muldoon administration then gouged out a special discriminatory employment ‘rights’ section for fundamentalist ‘religious’ employers. Fortunately, that didn’t survive the enlargement of the legislation in 1993. The abortive fundamentalist Christian Coalition was then heard to call for the Commission’s abolition, which angered the disabled community as well as our own. The Coalition failed to enter Parliament in 1996 and disintegrated during the next year.
Other calls have come from libertarians. Or, to be more precise, libertarians under the influence of right-wing US philosopher Ayn Rand. These individuals do not believe in antidiscrimination legislation, calling it ‘statist’. Alarmingly, it has included lesbians and gay men who’ve signed up to this dogma, such as Lindsay Perigo. Apparently, in the past of Randian libertarianism, her acolytes also opposed civil rights legislation for African Americans – even some African-American Randian libertarians themselves. It should be noted that there is also debate over the inclusion of conservative Catholic “natural law” philosophy within its original formulation, although some Randian libertarians acknowledge Rand’s error in doing so. Based on this principle, employers, accommodation, and service providers “should” be able to impose their subjective prejudices when it comes to selecting employees, tenants, and clients. Fortunately, the Randian ‘Libertarianz’ political party shut down several years ago, but we are currently witnessing the unwanted revival of this extremist perspective within the ACT caucus.
And I believe we must say “No. Absolutely not!” When it comes to sexual orientation, our rights under the current legislation have been in place for thirty years. Merely because ACT has an aversion to Treaty accountability and biculturalism, is no reason to pander to the radical religious and libertarian right and attack the concept of freedom from subjective and unlawful discrimination.
An alternative proposal is politicising the Commission, stacking it with apparatchiks of the centre-right. To see what would happen then, one only needs to look at the ghastly UK Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, and its Minister, Kemi Badenoch.
We’ve witnessed the damage this does. National and ACT need to back away from these radical populist nostrums before they start to damage their prospects of long-term electoral survival.
They’re already alienating us over Relationship and Sexuality education. This will only add to LGBTQ+ determination to work toward the end of this government’s tenure.