Family First is a key pressure group in quashing the Relationships & Sexuality Curriculum. Craig Young examines their influence on NZ First.

Family First was founded in 2006, primarily in opposition to the end of parental corporal punishment as the Clark Labour government repealed Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961. It happened anyway and has never been repealed. Bob McCoskrie, has a Masters degree in accountancy and tax policy from the University of Auckland, and founded the Papatoetoe Adolescent Christian Trust in 1994, before moving on to the conservative Christian Radio Rhema outlet as a talkback host, before founding Family First eighteen years ago. His opposition to Section 59’s repeal led to a nine-million-dollar referendum in 2009.

Every general election Family First regularly publishes Value Your Vote voter guides (more recently for Auckland’s mayoral elections as well), holds annual Christian Right networking ‘Forum on the Family’ events and networks regularly with international Christian Right pressure groups such as the Family Research Council (US), REAL Women of Canada, the Australian Christian Lobby, and Christian Concern (UK). He has also provided input at international Christian Right ‘World Congress for Families’ events, as well as a ‘Church and State Summit’ meeting in Brisbane earlier this month.


The organisation doesn’t have a particularly effective track record. It failed to prevent the repeal of Section 59, then failed to achieve the recriminalisation of street sex work, failed to halt marriage equality and inclusive adoption reform, failed to prevent the erasure of historical consensual adult homosexual ‘offences’ before 1986 and homosexual law reform, failed to halt official document rectification reform for trans people, failed to prevent the prohibition of anti-LGBTQI+ conversion therapy in Aotearoa/New Zealand and failed to prevent the decriminalisation of abortion and euthanasia in 2020. To date, its only successes have been a narrow referendum victory when it came to thwarting the legalisation of cannabis and the more recent attack on the Relationships and Sexuality Education curriculum. 

What has he recently had to say about this? Opposition to transgender rights has been a long-term Family First objective, ever since it became aware that anti-trans political endeavours were afoot in Britain, the United States and Canada. It has usually copied material from US Christian Right pressure groups and UK tabloids, given its dependence on rhetoric, propaganda, tactics and strategies from these aforementioned sources.

In a recent McBlog on the Family First website, McCoskrie attacked the teacher unions and Katie Fitzpatrick (the author of the manuals in question), Radio New Zealand, TVNZ’s Breakfast, as well as Inside Out and the Family Planning Association (who he described as ‘radical groups’). McCoskrie cites Fitzpatrick’s comments about ‘knowledge’ and ‘facts’, and questions about ‘harm’. The New Zealand Education Institute and Post-Primary Teachers Association were accused of wanting to ‘indoctrinate’ people. And inevitably, former Labour Minister of Education Jan Tinetti was castigated for correctly noting that it was an ‘imported culture war.”

McCoskrie is also opposed to the abundant use of professional expertise and evidence-based research within the Relationships and Sexuality Curriculum. It’s interesting that in his remarks on the Relationship and Sexuality Curriculum, he deliberately pays little attention to the specific professional expertise in this context. Most conservative Christians do not have appropriate scientific/medical expertise when it comes to evaluating these policies. Therefore, they are susceptible to prepackaged populist conspiracy theories about the alleged ‘malevolence’ of professional expertise that underlies projects like the Relationships and Sexuality Curriculum. They’re also divorced from mainstream information sources and thus liable to consult Christian Right websites, fundamentalist agitprop ‘current affairs’ outlets and pressure groups like Family First or the conservative Catholic Family Life International organisation.

It’s a little rich that he accused the group ‘Action Station’ of philosophical and political bias when Family First also regularly does so when it comes to opposition to transgender rights, marriage equality, abortion rights, euthanasia law reform, criminalisation of corporal punishment and so on. It’s why the Charities Commission and Supreme Court struck it off the Charities Register and abolished its tax-exempt status because it is a lobby group and not a legitimate charity.

Family First needs to face the consequences of its actions. The debate over the Relationship and Sexuality Curriculum will not go away. If the current government is intent on its abandonment, then LGBTQI+ communities, inclusive political parties, teachers’ unions and our other allies will maintain evidence-based rebuttals of its claims and maintain pressure in the other direction. They won’t get away with this. And given the ongoing battles over the divisive Treaty Principles Bill, abandonment of Smoke-Free legislation at the behest of tobacco corporates, Palestinian rights emphasis within foreign policy, the abandonment of safety regimes for ‘alternative health’ (sic) products and countless other fronts, does this government need to antagonise our communities as well? This is a temporary setback. By pandering to New Zealand First and Family First over this, the Luxon government has effectively galvanised our communities to ensure that the duration of the current coalition is as short as possible.

We can take some comfort that policy reversals and setbacks don’t last within LGBTQI+ legislative reform and professional practice. The Homosexual Law Reform Act was passed without a clause that would have included anti-discrimination coverage for lesbians and gay men, but that was remedied only seven years later in 1993 under the Bolger administration when the Human Rights Act was amended to include lesbian, gay and bisexual sexual orientation, disability and organisms within the body causing disease (ie HIV). The Clark government passed civil union and relationship equality reform, but the effect of including Winston Peters in its third-term ruled out marriage equality and inclusive adoption reform – which meant that John Key’s National government did so in 2013 when liberal National Party MPs voted alongside Labour, the Greens, United Future and ACT for those reforms. Bill English was hesitant about the subsidisation of PrEP and the erasure of historic ‘homosexual offences’ before 1985/6, but the Ardern government passed those measures, as well as an anti-LGBTQI+ “conversion therapy” ban and trans-inclusive official document reform.

As if to epitomise this, Prime Minister Chris Luxon received a chilly reaction at Big Gay Out this year, from both transgender rights and LGBTQI+ Palestinian solidarity protestors who were annoyed at different aspects of retrograde government policies. Several news media outlets- TVNZ’s Breakfast, Radio New Zealand and TVNZ News- all discussed the events of the weekend, as did Tova O’Brien in Stuff. Commendably, Jenny-May Clarkson interviewed Labour’s rainbow spokesperson, Shannan Halbert, on what had happened, and Halbert took the opportunity to reiterate his party’s forthright opposition to the abandonment of the Relationships and Sexuality Curriculum and the launch of a new Labour Party petition against the abolition process. The Prime Minister has said that he will be attending future Big Gay Outs, but frankly, what does his government expect? By pandering to New Zealand First and Family First on this issue, they’ve mobilised our community and its voting public against their policies and this issue won’t go away.

Indeed, that shows no sign of happening when it comes to continued media coverage, either. On February 22, Spinoff author Gabie Lardies published a commendably comprehensive article on that online platform about what is currently involved in the Relationships and Sexuality Curriculum, based on the aforementioned manuals available to teachers from Katie Fitzpatrick and the Ministry of Education. This is a good beginning, we need to ensure that we and our cis/straight counterparts keep up the pressure for the duration of this government’s term.

Winston Peters isn’t backing down though, given that in Palmerston North for his “State of the Nation” address on March 17, he explicitly mentioned the Relationships and Sexuality Curriculum in his speech, drawing substantial applause. Why should that happen, unless New Zealand First’s audience disproportionately consists of fundamentalist Christians and allied conspiracy theorists? Indeed, after the conclusion of the meeting, an anti-vaccinationist and anti-co-governance attender voiced their appreciation for Peters’s message. It seems obvious what has happened here, namely that New Zealand First has been subverted by members of extremist pressure groups and no longer represents ‘middle New Zealand’.

What Luxon needs to do now is to sit down with Winston Peters and explain that the Relationships and Sexuality Curriculum abolition is off the table and announce a new policy concession to New Zealand First in another area  Unless they do that promptly, National and ACT may reap the fallout within metropolitan electorates where our communities mostly live.